Walking from downtown over to Vesturbær, the westernmost district of Reykjavík, things quickly become residential. Souvenir shops are swapped out for apartments, restaurants replaced by backyards with children on trampolines, and soon enough, you’re almost at the oceanfront. You might be surprised, then, to find Kaffihús Vesturbæjar, a relatively new addition and the sole café in the 107 postal code.
Beckoning passersby with large, open windows, Kaffihús Vesturbæjar would fit right in among the sleek downtown cafés. But the café’s location—away from the city centre. and right across from the much-loved Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool and Melabúðin grocery store—was deliberate, according to the café’s manager, Margrét Marteinsdóttir, who has been living in the neighbourhood for at least two decades.
Because Vesturbær doesn’t have a lot going for it in terms of stores and cafés, the café, as Margrét described it, is a “little social project” in a way. The café began with a conversation between Margrét’s brother and some of his friends. “They were saying, ‘There should be a café here in Vesturbær— why isn’t there a café?’ And many people in Vesturbær were talking about it, but still no one opened a café,” Margrét explained. They had been eyeing the current building—then, a pharmacy— for a while, and in June 2014, the owner gave them the go-ahead to take the spot. In October, Kaffihús Vesturbæjar was born.
A long-awaited café
The effect on the community, according to Margrét, has been palpable. “Every day, people are a little bit happier,” she said with a wide grin. “This neighbourhood was ready for this café. I think people have been waiting for it for many years.”
Margrét pointed to the location, too, as a strength not only for the café— a short walk from downtown, minutes from the waterfront, and right near the pool—but also as a contributor to growth for Vesturbær as a whole. “We thought maybe there would be less business at the pool, but there’s been more!” she nodded. “That’s what happens when there is something going on in neighbourhoods—everything gets bigger and happier.” Margrét emphasised that with café, she and the owners hope to encourage Vesturbær residents to get out of their homes and walk or bike around more.
The café is comfortable, with simple, rustic décor and soft lighting, but has a breathable feeling to it—airy and full of natural light thanks to its broad windows that overlook the street. Margrét stared off at the windows to admire them, highlighting the atmosphere they create in the café. “This is just a great window—there are no mountains outside of it, ok, I can find those somewhere else. But it’s just the life out there—the people, the dogs, the cats, and everything that’s going on,” she gushed. “I love it—it’s just my neighbourhood, but I love it.”
The regulars have moved in
Kaffihús Vesturbæjar has already attracted a steady group of regulars, both from the neighbourhood and outside. The most adorable of whom was probably a four-year-old girl from next door who ran over to our table, dressed in a pink tutu dress. “Every day she gets macaroni,” Margrét said, giving the girl a warm hug. “One of our best customers.”
The café offers the standard fare of coffee from Reykjavík Roasters, as well as several food options including steak, soups, hamburgers and vegan burgers, and Margrét emphasised that they try to buy locally and provide vegan options for customers. “When we do a vegetarian dish, we want to make it vegan, because then everyone can eat it,” she explained. “A vegetarian doesn’t mind if it’s vegan, but a vegan minds if it’s only vegetarian.”
If you come for lunchtime, though, you can grab the cauliflower soup, the café’s most popular dish, which attracts cauli-fans from 107 and beyond. “It’s the best in town—it is!” Margrét said, wide-eyed. “We were thinking, maybe we should make another soup for the summertime, because cauliflower is maybe more for the winter. But then the customers were really crying.” Another specialty is the mussel soup, made by a chef from Belgium. “A Belgian knows how to do her mussels,” Margrét nodded.
Another particularly pleasant feature in the café is the record player, along with a substantial selection of records to choose from—some of which have been donated by Icelandic artists who visit the café. The café had a few events back in the fall and winter—such as music performances and poetry readings—and Margrét hopes to host more in August.
In the meantime, Margrét and company are planning on just continuing to care about the coffee and food and the people who enjoy it, and enjoying the love and loyalty that they’ve received from the community so far. “People are so thankful and so happy, and we want to thank the people that are so thankful!” she laughed. “It’s been nine months, and it’s still open—this is just like pregnancy. We are on the ninth month, and everything is going very well. Yes, this place is our baby.”
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