There’s a tendency with Icelandic festivals to exaggerate the importance of foreign stars that are performing. Reykjavík Bar Summit seems to have gone the opposite route, since many of the bars that are being represented at the festival could rank among the best on the planet. Now, of course these kind of bar rankings are pretty silly, a person’s favourite bar can easily be an unrepentant shithole that couldn’t tell a highball from a beer mug. But if it’s a hip speakeasy cocktail you’re hankering for, then Reykjavík Bar Summit delivers with representatives of famed watering holes such as New York’s Attaboy and Employees Only (respectively, the fourth and fifth best bars in the world, according to Drinks International’s top 50 for 2014).
The first night went off without a hitch. At the opening shindig at Slippbarinn, one of the absolutely best places to grab a cocktail in Reykjavík, guests gorged themselves on baked wheels of oozing brie, fried calamari, Spanish flatbread, and truffle sausages. To help it down, Slippbarinn offered one of its most popular cocktails, the basil gimlet, a deceptively simple gimlet speckled with cracked black pepper topped with a single leaf of basil.
Following the mandatory speech-making, hobnobbing, and elevator DJ-ing, the crowd was ushered to a whale-watching vessel to give them a look at the famed Northern Lights. Watching tipsy mixologists getting shaken and stirred on a February night in Iceland was the highlight of the evening. Those within the three-drink limit had the perfect mechanical resonance to sway in rhythm with the choppy waves. The Northern Lights were a no-show, but no one had anywhere better to be, and there were plenty of drinks onboard.
Miraculously, all were spared the reappearance of the night’s hors d’oeuvres, although those over the five drink limit looked like they were starting to pine for the fjords by the end of the trip.
The first night culminated in a free-for-all open bar at Slippbarinn. Standout cocktails of the evening were the brilliant Winter Sour (apple and cinnamon infused bourbon with pear syrup, lemon and a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg) and the aptly named Borderline (vodka, stout liqueur, some very lightly whipped cream, and roasted hazelnuts). Borderline is the drink formerly, and infamously, known as “Apartheid” and is undeniably delicious despite having to overcome the stupidity of its original name. Essentially the cocktail is a White Russian mated with Ferrero Rocher and I can’t think of a better way to end a night that began with a tart gimlet than with a thick coating of milky hazelnuts.