We’re sitting by the window seats, overlooking Tjörnin. It’s a wet Saturday morning, but outside, resolute tourists and renegade seagulls are locked in their mutual feeding frenzy/photo opportunity fervour.
It’s quaint to be watching this everyday spectacle unfold from the warm comfort of what is today, arguably one of the most charming timber structures in downtown Reykjavík. Built upon the completion of Tjörnin in 1896, and initially a union house for workers, Iðnó is a storied and recently revitalised destination for all things social, cultural and musical.
René Boonekamp, an artist and champion of the sustainable—together with chef Pálmi Jónsson from Bergsson Mathús—has turned the wings by the main hall into a cosy café area. What better spot to people watch, geese gaze and catch an indie concert after?
A place for the people
René displays an infectiously calm demeanour as he explains what his intentions for the house are. ‘’We really see it as a public place,” he says. “We want folk to come in, have some coffee, read a paper, meet some people, see what’s going on in the evenings.”
Iðnó has always been a popular venue for weddings, wakes and everything in between. The eggshell blue main hall continues to host private and corporate events, and intimate music concerts, and the new management has kept a low key profile.
“We haven’t gone all-out about the changes,” says René. “We have an event almost every day. That’s what’s exciting about a space like this. Every day can be different, with everything from a children’s play, to a political gathering, to a party. Everything is possible.”
Visitors to Iðnó are now greeted by a cheery bar instead of a front desk. It was a deliberate choice. “We wanted people to see the bar when they walk in,” says René. “You’re welcomed by the people that work here.”
This people-first attitude seems to be the reason why Iðnó even has a café. “We wanted it to be not too fancy, and not too crazy,” says René. “A place where different things are always going on—and some good food as well.”
Chef Pálmi Jónsson appears on cue, with a-moment-of-silence-worthy plate of pickled herring, the generous slices of silky silð piled high over toasted rye, with pickled and fried onions. Honestly, I haven’t tasted better. The menu is suitably small, the prices affordable, and the beer and coffee free-flowing. It’s a comfortable and casual environment that warrants long, leisurely afternoons.
Iðnó is one of a handful of spaces in Reykjavík that manages to nail nostalgia without veering into tourist-trap gimmicks. It has an honesty, sincerity, and a sense of genuine community shining through the space. “We want to respect the culture and history of the building as a cultural place,” finishes René. “Culture always changes and moves on, and it’s that combination of old and new that you get here.”
We couldn’t agree more.