Compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK has always been, at best, a half-absurd proposition. As much as we love our city, it is a tiny one, a miniscule one. It is a city that hosts exactly two competitors for the category of ‘best Indian food’, in a country where the Prime Minister ceremoniously and reverently chomped down the first Big Mac served at the island’s first McDonald’s franchise back in ’93 (miss u, cheap cardboard hamburgers and delicious fries).
Yet, compiling the BEST OF REYKJAVÍK, half-absurd as the act may be, is always a deeply satisfying endeavour. The best part is: it is an opportunity to give kudos and profess gratitude to the various establishments and phenomena that enrich our day-to-day, that make life in Reykjavík a tad more bearable. Just as importantly: it provides a welcome chance to do a little inventory of the city we hold so dear, to poll friends and strangers and you reader types out there on what awesome stuff we might be missing out on—and then traipse around sampling various goods and services. Fun times!
Browsing through our old BEST OF issues (we made the first one way back 2009) is in many ways akin to opening a time capsule—the further back you go, the more the BEST OFs feel like a sort of partial census of what was going on back then, what people professed to like at the time, where their ambitions lay (say, being fancy and slick, or beardy and rugged) and which places were around in general. In post-collapse 2009, for instance, being “affordable” was a very important factor of any given establishment’s appeal (for a fun comparison, measure that yardstick against our 2014 BEST OF list, featured in this very issue).
Browsing through those old BEST OF issues is also sure to make any Reykjavík mainstay well up a little. The city is a chaotic, fast-changing beast, and its commercial ventures especially are notoriously fickle, prone to vanish at the drop of a pin, just as quickly as they sprang into existence in the first place.
Below, a sampling of some establishments that we used to love. And now they’re gone. Good night, sweet princes. Fare thee well.
Best Goddamn Restaurant, 2009
Segurmo was our first ever BEST GODDAMN RESTAURANT—in fact, we created the category specifically so we could reward Segurmo for being so wonderful. It was everything a BEST GODDAMN RESTAURANT should be: plentiful, consistent, tasty and cheap.
Segurmo was situated within the confines of still-going-strong Laugavegur bar Boston, where chef and proprietor Númi Thomasson (now of perennial BEST GODDAMN RESTAURANT Snaps—coincidence?) concocted a fresh menu of newfangled takes on Icelandic classics every week, the fare priced to fit the budgets of lowly students and freelance workers alike.
Oh, how sweet it was.
The dream was short lived though. A mere month after we declared Segurmo to be Reykjavík’s BEST GODDAMN RESTAURANT, and less than a year after it opened for business, the place shut down for good. While many speculated that their mark-ups had simply been irrationally low, eating up any potential profit, chef Númi commented to the press that Segurmo was just too much work, that he needed some time off to read books and meet his friends (selfish much?).
Regardless. For a brief period of time in the late noughties, Reykjavík’s serfs and peasants could start off their night at the city’s trendiest bar by gorging on a meal fit for royalty. It was beautiful. And we are thankful.
The first cut is the deepest. Segurmo, we hardly knew ye.
Best All-Round Bar, 2009
Popping up unexpectedly in the spring of 2009, Karamba was all whirlwind, heat and flash for a very brief window of time, before fizzling and fading into eternity. Like probably a third of every Reykjavík bar that’s ever existed, Karamba was located on the street level space at Laugavegur 22 (currently host to the wonderfully neutral, always welcoming Bravó).
In retrospect, it’s kind of hard to discern what made Karamba so special for a few months in the summer of 2009. Aside from sporting wall decorations (by folks like Grapevine comic artists Hugleikur Dagsson and Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir), it was pretty much like any other bar out there.
Except, it wasn’t! For the couple of months that passed after Karamba’s crowd expanded beyond inbred 101 artiste regulars (and before that expansion started encompassing obnoxiously drunken teenagers. Note to bar owners: nobody likes teenagers), Karamba was a glorious place to visit at any time of day or night. Bloody Mary afternoons over boardgames, intense dance parties at three AM and the occasional impromptu concert, Reykjavík’s bars have spent years attempting to synthesize the atmosphere Karamba so effortlessly oozed during its peaks, to no avail.
Best Soup, 2010
Back in the day, hip, culturally conscious youngsters would head to the Reykjavík Art Museum at lunchtime. Why? To gorge on affordable, inventive and fairly priced soups at Súpubarinn (“the soup bar”). Those soups, they were delicious, they were affordable, they were slurped down in a very artful, Erró-heavy environment.
And now they are gone. No soup for you.
Best Family Restaurant, 2010
Piri-Piri was some brave entrepreneur’s attempt to recreate fabled UK chicken chain Nando’s by the Reykjavík harbour before that area was all the rage (without having to pay any pesky licensing fees). Piri-Piri’s take on Nando’s was pretty decent, although nothing to write home about (unless maybe you have a really boring life and the only other thing you could write about was your trip to the post office to mail that very letter). However, the restaurant’s saving grace was its gargantuan, luxuriously outfitted play area, where despairing parents could safely dump their kids while they enjoyed some overtly moderately spicy chicken and a beer.
Best Newcomer Bar, 2010
You know that place, Gaukur á Stöng? That slightly rock-themed bar-slash-live venue by Hafnarstræti that’s always playing host to some metal concert or other and has chilled Jäger shots on tap? Or is it called Gamli Gaukurinn now? Or perhaps something else? Just Gaukurinn, maybe? Well, in 2010 a group of ambitious music lovers opened up a slightly rock-themed bar-slash-live venue in that very same space. During its brief lifetime, Sódóma Reykjavík played host to various metal concerts and sold many shots of chilled Jäger.
It was pretty great, while it lasted.
Hvíta Perlan (2010-2011) / Úrilla Górillan (2012)
Best Place To Watch Sports Over A Beer
Hvíta Perlan and Úrilla Górillan were high concept sports bars where you could watch sports over a beer. If memory serves, one succeeded the other at the same Austurstræti location. At least one of them (possibly both) had 3D TVs, back when those were a thing. Anyway, those places are gone now, but televised sports still remain, and so does beer. Don’t be sad.
Hemmi & Valdi
Best Place To Start The Night (2010/2011)
Nicknamed Hemmi & Valdi, this cutesy bar/café in the legendary Hljómalind building (miss u, Kiddi Kanína) on Laugavegur was a somewhat essential stop for any cultured persons making the rounds in 101 a few years back. An extremely chill locale, Hemmi & Valdi was a perfect place to sit down with a pint or two and enjoy some audible conversation (even from nearby tables)! And if you’d start feeling rowdy, you could always climb to the second floor and work off your agitation at the foosball table. The bar even doubled as an impromptu concert venue, with many of Reykjavík’s current crop taking their first steps towards stardom.
As all the wonderful establishments that have been operated at that location, Hemmi & Valdi was eventually forced to move out to make way for some dumb real estate monstro-deal that never actually gets built (thank god, though). It is currently the site of MacLand, where the responsible hipster gets his Mac on.