Kaffibarinn is no ordinary bar. It just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary—and in the ever-evolving nightlife environment of Reykjavík, this really means something. And, well, there’s a reason for its longevity. The bar has thrown many legendary parties over the years—it made the news recently when the drummer of renowned electro-pop band FM Belfast crowd surfed out of the bar, down the street, and back in again. GIven all this, it’s no surprise that Kaffibarinn has been listed by The Guardian as one of the top 20 nightclubs in Northern Europe.
The original barfly
It’s also no everyday event for a bar to release a book with portraits of their regulars, staff and other people that form part of its history. But in November 2018, Kaffibarinn released the second edition of just such a book.
When the bar opened in 1993, then owner Friðrik Weisshappel wanted to create an ad that would make Kaffibarinn stand out in the 101 downtown district. The bar had already established itself as a social hub within 101, with a who’s who clientele of musicians, artists, fashion designers, journalists and other creative types that it’s still known for today.
Einar and Eiður Snorri, known collectively as the Snorri Bros, were commissioned for the job, and consequently shot around 15 portraits of regulars and staff with a nostalgic Hasselblad polaroid camera. Happy with the outcome, 60 more portraits were commissioned. The results were shown in an exhibition. “It was 1993, you know,” Einar Snorri chuckles. “We just called everybody who was in our phone book. Everybody who happened to be home came, the others didn’t.”
The photos were added to the media databases of local newspapers and were published again and again, accompanying articles about the people who’d had their portraits taken. It was marketing done right.
Good things take time
But, a portrait book was not released until 2008, when powerHouse Books discovered the photos and decided to publish them. “Barflies: Reykjavík” went on to become a popular among locals and foreigners alike.
In 2018, and Kaffibarinn celebrated its 25th anniversary, and the idea to do another portrait book came up. “‘Barflies: Reykjavík II’ is not just to publicise the bar,” says Kaffibarinn manager Guðný Jónsdóttir. “It’s about saluting the loyal customers and staff without whom we wouldn’t be anything.”
Naturally, the Snorri Bros were hired to do the job once more. But this time, there would be 400 portraits, taken with the same camera, the same lense, and the same lighting. Many were shot in Kaffibarinn, but with Icelanders scattering around the world, there were also photoshoots in Berlin, Copenhagen and New York City, which is in itself a testimony for the diverse and expansive crowd that’s connected to the bar. 280 portraits made it into the book—both fresh faces, and recognisable figures from the first book.
As with everything in life, challenges had to be faced. “I almost lost the films of the shoot in Berlin,” recounts Einar. After having dinner in a restaurant in Berlin, he only realised in the taxi on the way home that he had forgotten his backpack. Luckily, after about half an hour of stressful uncertainty, he managed to find the restaurant and his backpack with the film still inside.
The spirit of Kaffibarinn
Even at 25 years old Kaffibarinn manages to gather a bustling social crowd of 101 faces, regulars and newcomers. With a DJ every night, its popularity is still going strong.
“Friðrik Weisshappel brought the spirit of hospitality to the bar when he opened it in 1993,” Guðný explains. “Since then, it has had many good managers that have continued with the same spirit.”
“It’s also just a great place, in terms of its energy,” Einar says. “It’s a very solid spot, like an anchor in Reykjavík’s nightlife environment. The energy has always been good.”
‘Barflies: Reykjavík II’ is not only a book with aesthetically beautiful portraits, but also a time-capsule of a moment in Reykjavík’s creative scene and nightlife, and an ode to the diverse and loyal crowd that calls Kaffibarinn a second home. After all, they are what kept the place alive all these years. So, cheers to the Barflies of Reykjavik!
Barflies: Reykjavik II is out on powerHouse Books now. Buy it in Iceland at Kaffibarinn or general bookstores, or order it online.