According to Oscar Wilde, “illusion is the first of all pleasures,” a cynical but true remark that Irish pubs around the world have to live up to: creating an illusion of Irishness is their trade. The two Irish pubs in downtown Reykjavík, The Dubliner and the Celtic Cross, both belong to the same owner, an Icelander. And both are ready to fight anyone who questions their Irishness – including each other.
“The Celtic Cross was designed in a Scottish way,” says Dennis O’Brien, the manager of the Dubliner. His place, though, seems as Irish as Saint Patrick. It was first opened in 1959 by an either homesick or profit-driven Irishman with a knack for interior design. Today, the dark wooden floor, ceiling and pillars make for the real feel along with pub-memorabilia including a picture of Charles and Camilla, football on TV and David Gray singing in the background.
What makes the illusion complete is the smell of the cleaning agents that hangs in the air of every good Irish pub. You are, indeed, in Eire… Until you get a pint of Guinness. Which comes without a shamrock. The cloverleaf that usually tops off a Guinness seems a rare sight in Iceland, and you can’t blame that on the climate. The good news is: people who object to a shamrock for political reasons but pay willingly for the Guinness itself, thus supporting an Irish company financially, not ideologically, will NOT be offended!
A potential clientele might indeed be offended are people under the age of 22 who won’t be served alcohol, because according to the manager, “there’s plenty of other places for young people in Reykjavík.” Apart from Icelandic locals, a lot of tourists come in to enjoy the live music upstairs.
Though the Celtic Cross is somewhat off the beaten track, it too attracts a lot of foreigners at this time of year. The staff seems a little overwhelmed with this fact, occasionally replying in Icelandic instead of English. The Celtic Cross actually has an Icelandic answer to almost everything: instead of football, they show American soaps, instead of playing David Gray, they play Bubbi Morthens songs. One clear advantage to the Dubliner’s unreliable stereo is that the Celtic Cross – Scottish, Icelandic or whatever – stores its music on a computer. As for the live music, that comes in either English or Icelandic respectively.
Due to the height of the building, the interior of the pub is less cozy and authentic than the one in the Dubliner. In fact, you get the feeling this place might have been designed by giants, the counter being far too high when you sit on a stool to sip your Guinness – which, again, comes without a shamrock.
The manager of the Celtic Cross, Hanna, is partly shocked, partly amused to hear about the so-called Scottish decoration in her pub. With a doubtful glance around the room she says: “everybody says this is an Irish pub…” The pictures of Irish writers above the fireplace pay tribute to that. Expressing my concern about the endangered shamrock, Hanna realizes it is payback-time: “I am no good at it, but we have one boy who can do it!”
Conclusion: Wilde’s remark might have to be adjusted and altered to “illusion, if not properly achieved, is the last of all pleasures.” Also, a feeling remains that Ireland, nowadays, might be a more peaceful place than some might think.
The Dubliner: Hafnarstraeti 4, 101 Reykjavík,
The Celtic Cross: Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavík, Phone: 511-3240