One can’t be blamed for confusing the new bar on Naustin with one of its former tenants. A stylishly whimsical logo graces the front of the building, heavy black curtains still line the inside of the glass-panelled doors, and a similar sensory overload that blends elements of psychedelia, naiveté and irony await inside. The dance floor is small but the music is fun and retro in that classic John Hughes movie soundtrack kind of way. Familiar faces of musicians, artists and bar-entrepreneurs line the stools at the bar. The staff are a déja vu. They may have different parents, but Harlem sure looks like Bakkus’ younger sibling.
Make no mistake though; while they share the spitting image of being born from the same local scene that embraces musical inclusivity and an exuberant DIY aesthetic, Harlem does not wear hand-me-downs and, like a lot of younger siblings, it seems to have learned from the failures of its elders.
Fourth time’s a charm
“We wanted to open a place that was colourful and fun and different from the other places in town,” says Kristjana Björg Reynisdóttir, chief of staff and head of the bar at Harlem. “We didn’t want to go with a theme because we’d like to have some longevity.” This is an ambitious goal to have for a location that has seen three different bars come and go in less than four years—the last being Þýski barinn (“German bar”), which was there for less than a year.
Kristjana co-runs the bar with Steindór Grétar Jónsson, Villý Þór Ólafsson and Dagný Ósk Aradóttir Pind. She landed on the bar’s name as the team were brainstorming through cities and countries for inspiration. “It reminded us of something that was rough and also up-and-coming, so we went with it,” she says. “You could say that I christened the bar.”
Even without a theme, Harlem does stand out as a living work of art. Nearly every square inch of the place has been emblazoned by the paintbrush, pen or print of a local artist or designer. “There’s so much and it’s all so different,” Kristjana says. “You could spend days in here just looking at the walls!” This was orchestrated by artist Árni Már Erlingsson, who was put in charge of the bar’s décor. He gathered sixteen artists, a mix of up-and-coming and fairly well recognised names who, along with carpenters Sigmar Freyr Eggertsson and Örn Ingi Guðnason, built and painted the place in three weeks.
Party all the time
Their other claim to hopeful glory is their booking schedule. “Our goal is to have events every night,” Kristjana says. “The people that come here are really diverse, too—people of all ages and all styles. It’s a really nice atmosphere.” For this reason too, they try to keep their events as varied as possible with DJs, small live concerts, cult television show pub quiz themes, bad movie nights and weekly screenings of NBA games.
Additionally, they have rebuilt a wall that had been torn down in 2010 to merge Bakkus with the short-lived show room, Venue. (A new concert venue named Volta, owned and managed by the same team, will open in the space next door on February 8.) The goal of this was to keep Harlem small and cosy unlike its sibling-like predecessor. “We will be running both places, but we want to keep them completely separate,” Kristjana says. “We want to keep Harlem the way it is.”
Harlem is located at Tryggvagata 22, 101 Reykjavík. Find more information and their complete event listings at www.facebook.com/HarlemBar. Their happy hour is every day from 18:00 to 22:00 with beer for 550 ISK and wine for 700 ISK.