In order to nurse the wounds of Airwaves weekend, I went on a Tuesday afternoon hunt for the elusive Icelandic Bloody Mary.
This spicy little comfort blanket is not a drink I was particularly accustomed to before moving to the UK a few years ago, so I set out with minimal hopes and as expected, hit a few speed bumps along my way. A couple of interesting takes on the drink were to be found at places that don’t open till after 6 o’clock, which completely defeats the point of selling a universal hangover cure. In addition to that, I came across a few places which had been drunk completely dry by the Iceland Airwaves patrons. They therefore couldn’t serve me one even if they wanted to. But this isn’t particularly surprising. For a country that legalised beer in 1989 and has only recently come to terms with the idea of a glass-of-wine-over-dinner, our drinking culture doesn’t provide much leeway for people who enjoy a breakfast drink. And as it turns out, Icelandic law apparently prohibits serving alcoholic drinks before noon. That on its own cuts acceptable Bloody Mary time from five to three hours (until this experiment, I had never had a Bloody Mary after 3 o’clock).
I found my first Bloody Mary around 2 o’clock in the afternoon at a bistro called Snaps. My order sparked the day’s first of many desperate searches for celery to garnish my drink, but after it was found I was served a perfectly acceptable, yet non-descript, airport bar type Bloody Mary. The usual suspects, Tabasco and Worcester sauce, were elevated by the addition of Iceland’s own Reyka vodka, which is head and shoulders over most of the bottom-shelf vodkas I was yet to be treated to. The surroundings, the relatively reasonable price (1,800 ISK) and the vodka selection make Snaps’ Bloody Mary your best bet if you’re trying to find a place where your drinks order won’t spark subtle judgment from your fellow customers.
Prior to this mission of mine I had been told by various sources that I’d find Reykjavik’s best Bloody Mary at Slippbarinn. Not completely willing to blow my load this early in the day I tried to order one at various hostels and bars on my way down there. Kex? No tomato juice. Bunk Bar? Nada. Bast? Maybe in a few weeks. This fruitless roam around town meant that I didn’t have my next Bloody Mary until 4ish. Slippbarinn’s version of this drink is a perfect example of how far you can stretch its recipe. Homemade tomato puree served in a jam jar with a spoon, it resembled a thick gazpacho type soup more than a drink. It contained pepper infused vodka and soy sauce and was beautifully garnished with ginger, a slice of lemon and lightly pickled and shaved celery. A very interesting take albeit way too much of a meal to serve its function as hair of the dog. It was by quite some distance the most intricate Bloody Mary I’ve had and at 2,200 ISK, it was bizarrely not the most expensive drink of the day.
Some of the best Bloody Marys I’ve enjoyed have come from dive-y American diners that you’d never associate with great cocktail making, and whilst Laundromat could not be referred to as a dive, it is a pretty straight up American diner, and I therefore had to try. My 17:30 order sparked another frantic search for garnish and whilst my bartender’s colleagues looked for celery, he proceeded to put a splash of Cointreau in my otherwise fairly standard Bloody Mary. I’m not one to turn my nose at experimental cocktail making, but sickly sweet orange liqueur mixed with tomato juice and Tabasco? I ended up ordering a beer and leaving my 2,100 ISK cocktail pretty much untouched.
Having already covered a hotel bar, I didn’t really feel like going to 101 Hotel for a drink, but after wandering around for forty or so minutes without finding anything, I was forced to admit defeat and reluctantly roamed towards the-way-too-swanky-for-my-liking 101. With expensive cocktails, expensive looking furniture and expensive sounding lounge jazz, 101 is the type of place that made me feel dirty upon entering and even dirtier as I ordered a brunch drink around 19:30 in the evening. Shame on me. Seeing as 101 boasts a fairly extensive cocktail menu that actually includes a Bloody Mary, I was pretty shocked when my drink arrived void of any garnish or spice. A shot of Absolute vodka mixed with tomato juice and nothing else of notice. This was the budget airline version of a Bloody Mary. Although at the crazy price of 2,350 ISK it could hardly be called budget.
So, where to turn in times of need?
First of all, the main thing I took from this experience is that nobody should ever attempt to drink more than one, or in severe cases, two Bloody Marys. This adventure of mine started a whole vicious cycle by leaving me in need of another one the morning after. Terrible idea.
If you are someone who thinks they’ll be in need of a Bloody Mary whilst roaming around town, my best advice is to carry a bottle of chipotle hot sauce wherever you go. A splash of some smoky chilli would have made all my drinks considerably more enjoyable. But failing that, I wouldn’t dare to go anywhere but Slippbarinn or Snaps to enjoy this particular tipple.