We’re back to the dead leaves and pumpkins month, so it’s time for me to rattle my ossified ass out of the house and go haunt some cocktails. Follow in my footsteps with this shambolic cocktail pub crawl that takes you from the rim of the Grandi area, through the ground zero of Iceland’s nightlife and up to Hallgrímskirkja, sampling some of the best in Icelandic cocktails along the way.
Slippbarinn has been a leading force in injecting cocktail trends into the Reykjavík pub scene. Nestled by the marina and based on the ground floor of the aptly-named Hotel Marina, it’s a strong contender for the best place to kick off a Friday night. The cocktail list is made up of dozens of drinks spread out over two menus, mostly courtesy of Slippbarinn’s head mixologist Alana Hudkins. One of her stand-out creations is the smoky, habanero-laced Summon the Dark One (2800 ISK) but, for the faint of heart, there’s always an abundance of basil gimlets to be had.
What gives Slippbarinn a leg-up in the pregame department is their daily Cocktail Happy Hour from 15:00 to 18:00 and a solid selection of bar snacks for sharing.
A brisk 5-minute walk from Slippbarinn, you’ll find the restaurant Fjallkonan. It’s is the most recent addition on this list and they seem intent on throwing their hat into the cocktail ring. The main distinction here is their range of sweet desserts, including a Paris wheel of miniature cupcakes and other bite-sized treats. The cocktails skew a little sweet as well but a stand-out is the Gucci Collins (2690 ISK) which offsets the sweetness of the fassionola tiki syrup with the raw-and-herbal notes of Icelandic gin Himbrimi—a brand that threw open the doors for the abundance of gins now available in Iceland.
Straight out the door, hang a left and head up Austurstræti in the direction of Laugavegur. If Slippbarinn fired the opening salvo, Apótek may have entrenched itself as Reykjavík’s current favorite cocktail spot. Apótek is a spacious, upscale restaurant whose cocktail creations have picked up a bundle of local awards. With regular guest bartenders, diverse cocktails, and head pharmacists Hrafnkell and Sean fixing to shake up the menu, this is the place to try something new. We recommend the spicy Stranger Tides (2890 ISK) with an amaro and whisky base.
Session Craft Bar
Time for a cocktail break—a break from the cocktails that is. Head to Bankastræti, and up the hill about as far as you care two when three cocktails deep to craft beer pub Session, overlooking the main drag from the second floor. It’s a modern, minimalist, four-walls-and-some-beer kind of place with soft music and seats where Icelanders react to gossip and sinister plots in ingressive sounds of shock and delight. It’s impossible to recommend a beer as the selection is broad and ever-changing, but the bartenders are always quick to make a suggestion.
If you are honestly doing all this drinking in one night (we don’t recommend it) then it’s time for you to grab a bite. Up Laugavegur and on your first left, on the corner of Hverfisgata and Smiðjustígur, is one of Iceland’s best places for a light meal. Mat Bar really captured the vibe of an old Mediterranean wine bar, so we recommend washing the meal down with some autumnal Italian red like a Ricossa Barolo 2012 (2490 ISK/glass).
Did Mat Bar feel a little too Euro-puro for your liking? Good news, across the street and two houses up you can wash away the memory of the wine with the pink cocktails and rolled-up blazer sleeves of Miami Hverfisgata. Decorated like the bastard child of John Waters and Don Johnson, this isn’t the place for subtlety. Grab a velvet ottoman and forget about subtlety, whether it be the UnFortunate Mistake (2590 ISK) with Mozart-kügel and coldbrew coffee or the period-appropriate Punch Bowl (2590) with rum, tequila and Carmen Miranda’s weight in mixed fruit.
Straight up Klapparstígur from Miami, on your left-hand side, sits Veður. You will be in safe hands with any of the resident bartenders there, but if you catch Tomas on a shift, he may just make you the best cocktail of your trip. No food or frills here, grab a seat by the bar and ask for a recommendation. If in doubt, order their take on the classic Paloma.
It should be getting late now and time to let your hair down. No more 8-ingredient cocktails or craft beer. Midway through a Friday night, there are few better stops than Papaku (formerly Bar Ananas), helmed by the living combo of beard and pompadour called Jasmin. It has the constant feel of a European university bar or budget hostel, and we mean that in a good way. Foosball, pool, a tiny dancefloor and Moscow Mules for the unbeatable price of 1200 ISK. What you do from this point on is between you and Reykjavík.
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