From Iceland — Don’t Despair, Skuggabaldur Is On The Prowl

Don’t Despair, Skuggabaldur Is On The Prowl

Published May 26, 2021

Don’t Despair, Skuggabaldur Is On The Prowl
Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

“I’ve always wanted to open up a jazz bar,” Jón Mýrdal says. A stand-up comedian and TV personality turned bar owner and restaurateur, he’s one of the better known names and faces in the local scene. Now he, along with his business partner musician Snorri Helgason, are making that dream come true with Skuggabaldur, their new jazz bar opening June 1st.

The importance of improv

Jón has almost a cult-like status when it comes to running bars and restaurants in Reykjavík. His first project—the fish restaurant Messinn—became an instant hit in Reykjavík with its sophisticated yet classic take and homage to the pan-fried fish of the Westfjords. Along with that, he’s known for founding the legendary Húrra, which became one of Iceland’s most beloved music venues for the indie crowd. In fact, it was there that he discovered for himself the power of jazz.

“I started these nights on Mondays at Húrra. We called it Mánudjazz [a play on the word for Mondays in Icelandic ‘mánudagur’] and there were around 200 guests in the house, which was unheard of in Reykjavík at the time,” he explains.

Along with Húrra, he also started another bar, Röntgen, just before the pandemic hit. In true Jón Mýrdal style, it was another hit, quickly gathering a loyal following among the city’s cultural elite. That said, COVID changed everything and during the pandemic, Jón’s views began to morph. Along with that, he’s a bit older now—all this led him to look for a different nightlife vibe.

“We don’t want to pin this down, but it’s gonna be a party.”

“Yeah, I’m getting middle aged,” he laughs. “I haven’t drank for eight years now, so I want something more serious,“ he adds. That said, serious has never been his style. Jón imagined a new music venue/bar, with a young house band filled with talented musicians at its core. On weekends, there would be a lunch hour with concerts by some of the best musicians in Iceland and at night, a party funk band. And what’s more, each show would be free. And what’s even more—the kitchen would offer some of the best food in town.

Well—he made that vision a reality.

Enter Skuggabaldur

The term ‘Skuggabaldur,’ the name of Jón’s new enterprise, has a pretty weird history. A skuggabaldur is a mythical creature—a mix of a cat and a fox that can’t be killed by a gun. The creatures are often treated like shadow men, sneaky animals or evil spirits.

In one old tale, it is said that a farmer managed to corner a skuggabaldur and kill the beast with his bare hands. But the creature could talk and cried out a mysterious statement before it died. Then, later that night, the farmer repeated the monster’s parting words while bragging about his victory. At that moment, a wild cat appeared out of nowhere, biting the farmer in the throat. He died straight away.

But what does this have to do with a jazz bar? Well, it’s pretty outrageous, isn’t it? And that’s jazz.

“We don’t want to pin this down, but it’s gonna be a party,” Jón says. Then he hesitates. “Or perhaps this is gonna fail completely,” he chuckles.

The new beat

But what about COVID-19? Is Jón worried to open at the end of a pandemic?

“It’s almost over, isn’t it? And besides, it wouldn’t have changed anything for me,” he answers. “This is a passion project.“

When the jazz joint opens on June 1st, we reckon it’ll be a serious contender for the new summer spot. Icelanders will be looking for the right beat after COVID-19. It could be just what we need.

Skuggabaldur will open (hopefully) June 1st at Austurvöllur, next to Hotel Borg.

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