I originally set out to make an overview of “cocktail culture” in my favourite city, Reykjavík. There is a bit of a beer revolution going on, with craft beers and microbrews becoming more readily available downtown. While cocktails are becoming more widely available, there has not been a real culture built around them, other than a strange fascination with mojitos in the past. This could be for many reasons, but it’s most likely due to the fact that they’re a bit pricey.
Summer is finally here, with temperatures consistently breaking ten degrees Celsius and nearly no darkness. A certain manic fervour is taking control of our overlit minds and giving us the energy to sip heartily from the cup of life… or any cup, for that matter.
So why not enjoy a Saturday with drinks, friends, and witty conversation? I have devised a guide to give you a day worth remembering, even if you don’t.
11:30 — Snaps Bistro, Þórsgata 1
Brunch is what early risers call an “early lunch” and normal, sane people call breakfast. There are two classic cocktails for morning libations: the Mimosa (semi-sweet) or the Bloody Mary (salty). If you stayed in on Friday night, feel free to start off with Eggs Benedict (1,590 ISK) and a Mimosa (1,200 ISK). The semi-sweet Mimosa complements the creamy Hollandaise sauce, keeping anything from being too rich or too sweet. The small portions also keep you from being bloated early in the day. For those still recovering, or still going, it’s time for Croque-Madame (2,200 ISK) and a Bloody Mary (1,800 ISK). The Bloody Mary is a good electrolyte restorative and the heaviness of a Croque Madame gets you back on track for the day. Feel free to mix up the combinations based on your own current mood or well-being. PRO TIP: Pancakes don’t go with Blood Marys.
13:00 — Loft Hostel, Bankastræti 7a or Prikið (Upstairs), Bankastræti 12
The next stop is about slowly waking up, allowing your surroundings to build up your energy and for conversation to quicken and increase over the next couple of drinks. There is no need to force the day. It’s coming. The two choices are based on weather: Loft Hostel in the sun or Prikið in the rain. At Loft Hostel, there are standard beers on tap and some special bottled varieties. I would not recommend going to beer yet, though. It’s too much fluid too early. Loft Hostel has one of the best prices on a bottle of Prosecco in town at 3,990 ISK and a wonderful rooftop balcony for smoking, chatting, and seeing the rooftops of Reykjavík. The bottle will get two people about three drinks each—brightening up your day with some bubbly without filling your gut. Prikið upstairs is the perfect rainy-day afternoon spot. It’s cosy, warm, and you can get a cup of coffee (290 ISK) and Baileys (800 ISK). PRO TIP: No more than two coffees and Baileys.
15:00 — Take A Walk or Go to the National Gallery, 101 Reykjavík
Again, this is weather-dependent. The Reykjavík pond connects to a beautiful park and a nice stroll is the perfect way to enjoy the mid-afternoon buzz. It also helps pace the conversation. No doubt that by your third glass of Prosecco, the energy was up. This gives you a chance to level out again and use the rapport built on Prosecco to delve into deeper, more meaningful matters. Or it’s a great way to get the other person to shut up for a bit while you enjoy your buzz. Sit next to poet Tómas Guðmundsson (1901-1983) on a bench at the south of the pond. It’s a great place for a cigar, cigarette, or whatever the kids are smoking these days. The National Gallery (admission 1,000 ISK) is a great indoor place to pace the conversation, with occasional grappling insights into the art being curated. PRO TIP: You can stroll the pond in the rain and see the National Gallery while it’s sunny. I’m just organizing my thoughts logistically. You are the master of your own destiny.
17:00 — Kaffibarinn, Bergstaðastræti 1
This should be your first beer of the day. Kaffibarinn won’t be loud, and it’s a great place to bring the energy back up—either post-walk or post-gallery. Grab a seat in the front bar, grab a pretzel and order either a Kaldi Blonde Lager or a Brewdog Punk IPA depending on whether you took a stroll (Kaldi) or were checking out the gallery (IPA). Also, conveniently, the bathrooms are large and nice (at this time of day). Reykjavík has strange public bathrooms and their usefulness declines rapidly throughout the night. PRO TIP: Poo now (in case you didn’t get the hint).
19:00 — The Pizza Place With No Name, Hverfisgata 12
This will be an adventure. Drinking and pizza go together, but the Pizza Place With No Name amplifies your pizza experience to a more epicurean standard. I wouldn’t recommend getting a pizza each. It’s much better to decide on a pizza and share the experience together (obviously, groups larger than two can follow a different rule). You’ll be eating again later, so don’t eat too much—especially considering the calorie content of the drinks you’ve ingested. Order the Beet Root Pizza (2,550 ISK) and an Old Fashioned (1,900 ISK) for the perfect sit-down nibble and sip.
If you’re not a beet or whisky fan, try the Beef Pizza with Spicy Cabbage (2,850 ISK) and a Dirty Gin Martini (1,900 ISK).
20:00 — Mikkeller and Friends, Hverfisgata 12
After your pizza, head upstairs to what is arguably the best craft bar in Reykjavík, with 20 beers on tap, and a flavour palette ranging from hoppy to sour to sweet. A beer here can act as a digestive after your meal or a dessert. The prices on the beer range from just under 1,000 ISK upwards. This is the type of place where you need to ask the bartender about the beer. Let your taste buds guide you. It’s nice because beer is a conversation starter. With the rise of craft beer around the world, it’s nice to be a beer snob for a few minutes. Don’t worry, you’ll fit right in. PRO TIP: Try a sour beer. They are perfect after a rich meal like the Beet Root Pizza.
21:00 — Concert at Húrra, Naustin
Húrra, as I often describe it, is a hip nightspot. The music varies greatly weekend by weekend, but it’s important to immerse yourself into whatever is going on. Húrra is the home of the enthusiast. Whatever is playing there, the fans are out in full force. Admission at the door varies, but it’s never much more than 1,500 ISK. Grab a beer (900 ISK) and settle into the show. This is a good time to start dancing if you can and shake off some of your day’s drinks. The smoking section is one of the more social in town and, for some reason, it stays in your mind: the orange, the prison bars, and the Orwellian graffiti. If you get hungry, head over to Bæjarins Beztu for a quick hot dog. PRO TIP: Don’t drink too quickly here. The show is to occupy your time and pace your consumption. You still have a lot of night to get through.
00:00 — Paloma Basement, Naustin 1-3
Paloma’s basement is downtown’s grungy little secret. Filled with art students and the fringes of society, but never a dull moment. It’s the perfect place after a concert at Húrra. Its strange and peculiar vibe has been known to really knock people off balance. Fit in or fuck off is my general attitude to social awkwardness and I suggest you follow that here. Grab a beer (900 ISK), dance, and talk about the concert. You’ll feel your inner diablo rising with each sip. Legend has it that a group of Harvard Business graduates ended up there one night, burgundy-topped and khaki-bottomed. They got so uncomfortable they started singing the American national anthem and quickly left—probably to English Pub or Hressó. PRO TIP: This is your last beer of the night.
01:00 — Paloma Upstairs, Naustin 1-3 or Prikið
You have a choice to make: open dance floor or tight spaces and swinging lights. Paloma is definitely a dance bar, but if your energy is waning, it can be a bit deflating. Paloma is better for a bigger group, or a determined duo. Prikið has the almost mystical ability to pick up your energy as soon as you get in. The tight fit along with the almost Gatsby-like hedonism of swinging lights and dancing on tables gets even the most motivationally weak person back in action. Your drink is Gin and Tonic (1,290 ISK). I would recommend a double. You sip slower and it’s not as cumbersome as a pint of beer in the tight quarters. PRO TIP: Order one drink downstairs and one drink upstairs. This increases your chance of running into friends and unconsciously slows your drinking to a reasonable rate.
02:30 — Kaffibarinn (again!), Bergstaðastræti 1
It’s time to see what everyone else is doing. This is the great cap to the end of the night. The smoking section is filled with friends, enemies, and Icelandic celebrities—even British ones inquiring about the bar’s ties to Blur. Order a double Gin and Tonic (1,950 ISK) at the front bar, one Magic Carpet (950 ISK) at the back bar and shots of Fernet Branca (750 ISK) upstairs. This place is an institution. This is where your night ends. There’s a super tall and good-looking bouncer to great you on your way out. PRO TIP: Go in the smoking section even if you don’t smoke. There’s always someone or something to see. If you do smoke, don’t be aggravated by the ashtray near the door: no one can find the hole in that thing after 1am.
04:30 —Home, Pizza, Hot dogs, or After Party
Home is the best idea at this point. You’ve done it. If you’re a little too drunk, grab a slice of pizza or another hot dog or a waffle or a hamburger… it’s up to you, but I don’t recommend it. If you have some diablo left, and have friends who can stand more of you, head out to an afterparty. Just remember that Snaps has Bloody Marys (1,800 ISK) and Croque Madame (2,200 ISK) waiting for you in the morning.