Mag
Articles
The Bars Of Weekends Past

The Bars Of Weekends Past

Published June 13, 2012

Running a bar in Reykjavík has never been the most stable of businesses. Indeed, for the past twenty years, 101 Reykjavík has seen hundreds of bars open their doors briefly before vanishing into the ether (or bankruptcy). Most of them have a short lifespan and are mourned by few (mostly their creditors), but some have left a permanent mark on the city’s consciousness. One can regularly hear veterans of the nightlife reminisce over them. The following list is by no means complete and is based on no scientific data whatsoever.
Sirkús
Location: Klapparstígur 30
Lifespan: 1999-2008
Peak: 2003-2005
Clientele: Artists, foreigners, heavy drinkers, a melting pot of hipness
Painted in turquoise and green with palm trees on the front entrance on Klapparstígur, Sirkús looked like a tropical haven in the middle of an urban desert. The 40 square metre ground floor supported steel tables, old chairs of various kinds and only two toilets. This was the place where a big chunk of the Icelandic creative task force gathered any day of the week, musicians, writers, visual and performance artists. Frequent guests were the whole krútt-scene, like the kids from múm, Sigur Rós and Seabear. “I’ve never known a bar that had so much good music. Bodies exploding on the dance floor, sweat dripping from the walls, people cheering for their songs. High on life, high on love,” Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir, former doorwoman, describes the atmosphere to me.
It hosted a moustache competition before they became fodder for cancer awareness campaigns. When Sirkús closed, over 200 musicians, from Sigur Rós to Páll Óskar, performed a music marathon in the bar over a whole weekend to protest the planned demolition of the house (which never happened, mostly because of the economic collapse). The bar on the other hand was closed but the legacy lives on. As a testament to its influence the whole bar was recreated as an art installation at London’s Frieze Art Fair and a bar with the same name was founded in Þórshöfn in the Faroe Islands with the intention of preserving its heritage.
Kaffi Thomsen
Location: Hafnarstræti 17
Lifespan: 1996-2002
Peak: 2000
Clientele: Club kids, dance music enthusiasts, people who didn’t want to go to sleep
There has never been a strong club culture in Reykjavík. Many attempts have been made but one of the few successful ones was Kaffi Thomsen which was located in Hafnarstræti. It started as a small café on the upper floor but as a result of the booming dance music craze of the mid to late ‘90s it slowly morphed into the decadent monster of a club on two floors it was during its peak around the turn of the century. It had a massive sound system and the finest DJs in the country spinning techno, drum ‘n’ bass, deep house and whatever sub-genre of electronic music you can think of every weekend. During the summer of 2000, the Reykjavík city council was experimenting with free opening hours for bars and Thomsen was the place where everybody went when other bars closed. Walking out from a nightclub at 9 AM and stepping into the morning sun feeling like a vampire is an experience I haven’t enjoyed since.  
KARAMBA
Location: Laugavegur 22
Lifespan: Spring 2009 until summer 2010
Clientele: Young indie kids
Karamba had a short but good run and seemed to fill a certain void that had emerged after Sirkús but before Bakkus. The crowd was young and wild and the atmosphere during weekends was like a zoo on amphetamines. People dancing in the window ledges and up on every table was not an uncommon sight after 2 AM and bands like Retro Stefson and FM Belfast played frequent concerts there. Unnsteinn Manúel, singer of Retro Stefson, resident DJ and bartender told me “There were no rules at Karamba. You could play any song you would think of and nobody was playing it cool”.
Tunglið
Location: Lækjargata 2a where the bookstore Iða is now
Lifespan: 1987-1998
Peak: Early to mid ‘90s
Clientele: Concertgoers of all kinds
Tunglið served a similar purpose as Nasa has done for the past ten years, a medium sized concert venue open for all kinds of music and debauchery. Prodigy performed there in 1995 and Ham performed their infamous final show there in 1994. The club went down in flames when the house burned to the ground in 1998 and was sincerely missed by the whole spectrum of music lovers in the city.
Rósenbergkjallarinn
Lifespan: 1991-1998
Location: Lækjargata 2a, in the basement of Tunglið (see above)
Clientele: Rave kids and rockers
Peak: Ca. 1994 around the same time as Reykjavík rave culture
It started out as a hybrid between a rock bar and a dance club but was soon overtaken and became headquarters for the country’s emerging rave scene. “It was a down and dirty party basement where sweat dripped from the ceiling” DJ Kári told me. Rósenberg was later sold and became more of a rock hangout again before it burned down alongside Tunglið.
Bíóbarinn

Location: The corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata
Lifespan: 1991-1999
Peak: Mid ‘90s
Clientele: Movie buffs, bohemians and music lovers
Located on the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata and was a sort of precursor to Sirkús as a gathering place for musicians, bohemians and indie kids. It used to show movies on the upper floor which was covered in movie posters and memorabilia, while DJs like KGB and Kári hosted dance parties in the sweat soaked basement. Legendary Icelandic bands like Quarashi, Stjörnukist and Botnleðja all performed there.  



Mag
Articles
Two Days Of Criminal Activity

Two Days Of Criminal Activity

by

People thought we were nuts at the time, when in reality we were suffering from good old Icelandic gung-ho enthusiasm. This year, we ought to know better. Three of us—Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and I—got together last year to organise a small crime fiction festival in Reykjavík. After all, how hard could it be? We had all been to a few of these, and it didn’t look like it could be all that much of a headache. It had seemed odd to us that Iceland didn’t have its own crime fiction festival. After all, there are plenty of them elsewhere.

Mag
Articles
A New Wave Of Protests

A New Wave Of Protests

by

Tension has been rising in Iceland of late. An estimated 4,500 people attended a general protest against the government on November 4, almost completely filling Austurvöllur by Alþingi. This marks it as one of the biggest demonstrations this year. The event was initially inspired by a Facebook rant from singer-songwriter Svavar Knútur, wherein he bemoaned the current coalition government’s favouritism of the rich and powerful. Instigator Svavar Knútur began the demonstration by addressing the crowd. In his speech—which has been widely shared across social media since the event—he likened the rally to the first of three warnings his father used to

Mag
Articles
Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

Arrest, Injury, Aftermath

by

Standing by the door of a two-storey building in the Höfði industrial district and not finding a doorbell, I call Chaplas Menke, who says he’ll come down to let me in. My interview subject made local headlines this September, after being reportedly brutalised by the police. Since then, the story has gone quiet. A short while later, he invites me to his abode. He is of average height, dark-skinned, with sunken eyes and a svelte frame. He has a thick accent and speaks hesitatingly, picking his words carefully. I ask him how he’s doing, and he modestly says okay as

Mag
Articles
News In Brief: November

News In Brief: November

by

Icelanders have once again grown fed up with their elected representatives, staging a massive protest demonstration in front of Alþingi last Monday. Thousands stood at Austurvöllur, Reykjavík’s hip spot for protest meetings, to denounce a veritable cornucopia of bad policy decisions (police estimated 4,500 attendees at the protest, while some attendees estimated that they were in fact closer to 7,000). This particular time around, the political party actually leading the country–in this case, the Progressives–have most recently polled at just under 9%. Remember, folks: the last time a ruling coalition stepped down, it was because one party didn’t want to

Mag
Articles
Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

Who’s Afraid Of November 9?

by

After DV revealed that the police had just acquired some 150 submachine guns from Norway, Chief Superintendent Jón Bjartmarz—who refused to answer any of the newspaper’s questions—explained on RÚV’s Kastljós that they have possessed machine guns “ever since after the Gúttó-fight.” “The Gúttó-fight” was a violent clash between police and workers, who were protesting announced wage reductions, back in 1932. The reference is as significant as they get. An Icelandic State Police authority, as opposed to a municipal one, was established in the aftermath of that fight, to ensure that authorities would henceforth have the upper hand against demonstrators. This

Mag
Articles
Pippa’s Wish

Pippa’s Wish

by

A particularly heart-warming story made the rounds recently when a crowdfunding campaign called “Pippa’s Wish” hit its required target, after a month online. The GoFundMe campaign was started by family friend Tamara Antonelli Comerford to take Pippa—a disabled seven-year-old Sigur Rós fan from Missouri, who suffered a stroke at birth that left her with Cerebral Palsy, among other medical conditions—on the family holiday of a lifetime. During an extended convalescence after an operation to reshape her pelvis and straighten her legs, Pippa was in severe pain, but responded with fascination to the soothing beauty of Sigur Rós’ tour documentary ‘Heima’,

Show Me More!