The first thing you need to know is, if you just arrived in Iceland, you better have bought some booze at the airport. Especially if you’re visiting someone. No forgiveness on this one. Still, if you’re here, we guess you have to deal. A large beer in a bar will cost you 600 ISK (about ten US dollars) on average, but it is possible to drink both cheaply and with quality in Iceland, provided you know where to go.
Any night out involving drinking should begin with a trip to “Vínbúð,” also known as The State Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly of Iceland. A half-litre of Víking beer, which in a bar goes for 600 ISK, is only 216 ISK at Vínbúð. Stock up here, go home, get your drink on with some friends and then go out around midnight (the bars don’t begin to get interesting until then anyway) and you’ll end up spending a fraction of what you normally would on a night out.
For those who are more interested in quality spirits than getting wasted for less, Vínbúð not only has a decent variety of quality wines, but the price of a good European wine is often lower than that of a cheap American wine. For example, while 750mL of California’s Delicato Merlot goes for 1,220 ISK, the same volume of France’s Le Piat d’Or is only 920 ISK. That’s right: now you can act like a Sideways-style wine snob without killing your budget. Except of course they drink California wine in that movie… and we just dissed American wine… ahem.
In terms of liquor, keep in mind that low quality spirits often sell for about the same price as top shelf stuff: 700 mL of Smirnoff costs the same as the same volume of Finlandia, 2,990 ISK. This is because prices for liquor are determined by alcohol content and popularity, so you can drink like an adult instead of a college freshman for the same money.
If you need something particularly exotic, like sake or absinthe (albeit hallucinogen-free), you should know that not all Vínbúð outlets are created equal. You’re more likely to find more obscure products at the larger outlets. For Reykjavík, this means either the Kringlan mall or Heiðrún, which is in the east of town.
If you still don’t find what you’re looking for, there is one more option for those who’ll be here for a while: ordering. You can ask Vínbúð to order any particular beer, wine or liquor from any of the distributors Vínbúð already does business with.
Lastly, try to get to Vínbúð during the week, as Friday and Saturday afternoons will be packed with teenagers buying so much beer you’d think Prohibition was beginning in a week. Fortunately, they mostly go for the cheapest crap they can find, so anything other than Tuborg and Bacardi Breezers should remain untouched.
For more information on your alcohol options, plus locations, you can check out Vínbúð’s website at http://www.atvr.is/.
Vínbúð at Kringlan
Vínbúðin Austurstræti (downtown Reykjavík)
Vínbúðin Heiðrún (best selection)
Stuðlahálsi 2 Tel. 560-7720