The recovery from the Bar Summit was a little longer than anticipated (!), here is the long-awaited conclusion to our Reykjavík Bar summit coverage.
The first competition
Tuesday and Wednesday marked the actual competition between individual bars from both sides of the Atlantic. Both days were capped by impressive levels of debauchery.
The cocktail competition took place at Iðnó, a pleasant 19th-century house by the Reykjavík pond, haloed by tourists and goose droppings. The competition was held mid-day and mid-week so attending the event was outside the reach of regular working stiffs like myself. Judging by the piles of hollowed-out pineapples, however, the theme was somewhat tropical.
The judges and bartenders were holding up nicely from the previous night, although some displayed battle wounds from wrestling with Reykjavík’s icy sidewalks on their way home.
The judging panel consisted of Stanislav Vadrna Brand, brand ambassador at Nikka whisky; Dan Priseman, brand ambassador at Four Roses; Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, founder of Foss distillery and numerous restaurants; and Saga Garðarsdóttir a comedian and actress. Curiously enough, Saga hadn’t been a drinker until that week, but I guess three days of non-stop cocktails is as good of a way as any to get inducted into insobriety.
The Brennivín spa
After the first judging event, the crowd was ushered into two buses by City Hall and driven to the Fontana geothermal spa at Laugarvatn. “Geothermal spa” has always felt a little generous as there is precious little difference between Fontana and most rural Icelandic pools (although it is certainly prettier, and pricier).
The bus was one of the tightest fits in recent memory and our guide’s speech, delivered with a thick Icelandic brogue, was not complimented by the broken PA system. But all things come to an end, even bus trips at rush hour in terrible driving conditions, and eventually we arrived at Fontana Spa, where guests were greeted by a buffet, DJ Óli Dóri, and a steady stream of Brennivín cocktails (mixed with celery bitters, pears, red apple, and a sprig of tarragon, among other things). This was easily the finest use of Brennivín I have seen in a cocktail. The rest of the time was spent lounging over saunas fed by vents straight from Satan’s bowels, watching the Brennivín evaporate and spike the fumes.
After this, another bus ride. This one was rather reminiscent of the last ride, except now you could add a couple of points of blood alcohol level and several free bottles of Brennivín being passed around the bus to raise it further.
You would think that a slow bus ride through darkness, following a relaxing dip in a hot tub would sap people’s energies.
The art museum prison riot
The next, and final, stop was The Reykjavík Art Museum (Hafnarhúsið) and what followed was a had-to-be-there kind of moment. The small army of mixologists descended on the place like a nest of mezcal worms and immediately started flinging out cocktails, some of which reached their targets and most of which seemed to consist of an acidic fruit juice with a splash of spirit and some third thing to give it a little flair (chili, in two cases).
The plan was for a competition between continents, with the American bars grouped together on one side and the European bars on the other, in two long rows down the length of a makeshift wooden bar to compete for the drink tickets of the patrons. It was a great idea in theory but it was clear so early on that no one was taking this too seriously.
For once it wasn’t the Icelanders who were responsible for the worst drunken shenanigans, as they had to bow out in the presence of trained dipsomaniacs.
The Reykjavík Art Museum looks like a dystopian prison block and by the end this could have passed for a flamboyant prison riot. Mixologists ripped their shirts off, threw drinks and bottles at each other, formed human pyramids, danced awkwardly, gyrated, all while DJ KGB blasted his records at a volume far exceeding what the sound system could handle (again).
The night concluded just before things got too Coyote Ugly.
On Wednesday, we observed the second half of the competition. Most of the Grapevine staff lacked the stamina to turn up at 2pm for more drinking. Like the day before, the contenders skills were measured by how well they could whip out a martinez, a daiquiri, and a mystery box drink. The crew seemed low on energy, and the competition saw some delays, but eventually Strom of Copenhagen managed to emerge victorious after a showboating display involving glowsticks and more nudity.
After the party it’s the afterparty
Following the verdict, the crowd was driven to a secret location which turned out to be the headquarters of Skiltamálun Reykjavíkur (“The Reykjavík Sign Painting Company”), a crew of former graffiti artists who also seem to be have some connection to half the tags in downtown Reykjavík.
Skiltamálun proved to be welcoming hosts and the bar was lined with various adventurous gin cocktails made from gins Hammer & Son, Geranium, and Old English.
One of the more adventurous cocktails was based around birch infusions and sheep brains although the results were what you would expect. The brains were no doubt intended for the mouth feel, but the drink didn’t land. Best of show were the gin and amber liquor and the pine-infused gin & tonic. It seems that people are quite taken with the idea of sticking bits of wood into gin.
A limited edition batch of Grandalandi, the graduation design project of one Ingi Kristján, was passed around. “Landi” is the Icelandic term for a type of moonshine distilled from sugar and “Grandi” refers to the Reykjavík harbour area where the party was held. It is unclear at this point whether Grandalandi will be going into full-scale production but sources indicate that it’s a possibility.
The night ended with an awesome performance by one of Iceland’s finest live bands, Mammút.
After the show, all that was left to do was to grab one of the complimentary Bæjarins bestu hot dogs and steal a taxi from one of the bartenders, much like they stole our liver function over the course of three days of misadventure.