There’s no doubt that ‘Mad Men’—television auteur Matthew Weiner’s conflicted tribute to an America that was—left a great big legacy behind as the series came to a close this spring. Aside from inspiring countless water cooler conversation about racism, sexism and consumerism, protagonist Don Draper single-handedly brought the Old Fashioned cocktail back to prominence. In between chasing tail and navigating the contentious sociopolitical landscape of the 1960s, the ad man would lounge around, meandering from one genius idea to another, his signature cocktail in hand.
The Old Fashioned was indeed rather old by the time Don and his fictional cohorts took Manhattan—it goes back at least 134 years—although it hasn’t been much in fashion recently. However, the drink has enjoyed a resurgence since ‘Mad Men’ became a hit, even making it to the shores of Iceland. For this I am grateful, as my attempts to order an Old Fashioned before were usually met with bartenders telling me they couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t know how to make the drink.
Since finding an establishment that serves Old Fashioneds has become much easier of late, my quest has shifted to determining which place in Reykjavík makes the very best one. To accomplish this, I picked four joints that I knew for a fact made the drink and carefully reviewed each one, which are presented in the order in which they were visited. Read on to find out where to go for Reykjavík’s Best Old Fashioned!
This unique pizza restaurant has earned its great reputation through word of mouth, offering inventive toppings and a really cosy atmosphere. The place has a great bar section, and on several occasions I’ve been blown away with their sweet gin-based cocktails. As they have the Old Fashioned on their list, I figured it’d be a good place to start.
The dim light and jazzy music created the perfect atmosphere to enjoy the dark orange-coloured beverage. The bartender seemed to have squeezed the orange peel perfectly, because the citrusy smell was absolutely spot on, but unfortunately the taste was subdued. They used the right whiskey, Bulleit Bourbon, but something must have gone amiss with the measurements, as the alcohol taste was not front and centre as it should be in a proper Old Fashioned. The drink went down smooth, and the aftertaste was good, but it didn’t quite deliver what I was hoping for.
Slippbarinn, Mýrargata 2
This is one of Reykjavík’s go-to places for cocktails. They have a good selection of custom concoctions, and the bartenders are always happy to make you the classics. The bottle-jockey on duty whipped up my Old Fashioned with panache, procuring the same Bulleit Bourbon as Hverfisgata used, but using a much more visually attractive glass and ice cube. Like at Hverfisgata 12, the measurements must also have been a little off, because this Old Fashioned was much more alcoholic than the last one. I took a moment to let the cube melt to take the sting from the whiskey, only to detect another hitherto unknown taste: syrup! Replacing sugar cubes with syrup makes economic sense, as it significantly reduces the time it takes to make the drink (and is generally an accepted way to make it), but as the beverage became more drinkable, I couldn’t help but be put off by the sugar coating that formed on my tongue.
Apótek, Austurstræti 16
This new restaurant has a lot of good things going for it. Good seats, chic setup, and a great selection of cocktails that they like to refer to as “painkillers,” “stimulants,” “tranquillizers,” and “placebos” (because the building used to be a pharmacy, you know). When I asked for my drink, the bartender confidently asked, “What kind of bourbon do you want?” I left it up to him, and he didn’t disappoint. Using Woodford Reserve bourbon, and taking the time to grind a large sugar cube, he fashioned a cocktail whose initial taste was not too strong, but left a healthy burning sensation. The bartender used a little more bitters than I thought were called for, but it helped round out the otherwise sweet taste. The orange also looked remarkably fresh, and the glasses sleek. I took my time to enjoy this drink.
Kolabrautin, Austurstræti 16
This restaurant bar is located at the top of Harpa, and it offers a gorgeous view of the harbour, as well as a good cocktail happy hour deal. Once I placed my order, the waitress took a moment to double check the measurements. She said it’d been a good three years since she made the cocktail as it’s not in high demand, but insisted it was one of her favourites to make. She brought out Bulleit Rye whiskey, to which I nodded gratefully, as it’s the same kind I usually use when making the drink. They had run out of oranges, however, so she replaced the ingredient with a lemon and added a little bit of soda water to even the taste out. The drink was nice and sweet, and had a lot of things going for it, but there was too little alcohol taste to it, and the syrup used brought it down a little bit.
All of the bars have good things going for them, but the best Old Fashioned was without a doubt at Apótek. The drink was mixed in a way that was tasty yet not too sweet, the fragrance was wonderful, and perhaps most importantly, it looked suave. The only thing I could complain about is the price, as Apótek was the only place that didn’t have the drink on its happy hour special. You don’t have to be a Don Draper to afford it, but it would help.
Apótek won the “Best Place For Cocktails” award in our Best of Reykjavík issue. Check out the full list here.