From Iceland — A Safe Place…For Topless Table-Top Dancing

A Safe Place…For Topless Table-Top Dancing

Published August 6, 2014

What to expect in the home of Reykjavík’s queerest dance party

A Safe Place…For Topless Table-Top Dancing

What to expect in the home of Reykjavík’s queerest dance party

Picture the scene: It’s 2AM. You’ve tried your best fitting in with the ultra-modern hipsters at Paloma and failed miserably. Downing those 12 apple sours shots didn’t mix well with cool-kid ‘minimalist-psychedelic-techno’? Almost collapsing but never quite there, you want real, old-fashioned, feel-good fun and dancing. You’re heading for bright neon lights, bright music and an even brighter décor.

You’re heading to Kiki Queer Bar.

What’s The Point Of This Tropical Coloured Monstrosity?

Rising from the ashes of Barbara Sunshine in February 2013, Kiki is the anchor-point of Reykjavík’s LGBTQI scene—its only gay bar. According to Kiki’s owner, Árni Jóhannsson, its main attraction is the safety and complete acceptance it provides.

So why, in 2014, do we need a bar designed for the LGBTQI community? “Unfortunately, there’s still the possibility of harassment for a lot of us, particularly for trans people,” Árni explains. Kiki puts a stop to that. “We tolerate no bullshit,” he explains. “People should feel comfortable letting their hair down.”

With a raft of progressive LGBTQI-inclusive legislation, Iceland tends to be seen as a rainbow-adorned utopia, but Árni says many are still fearful of heading past Bankastræti, with places like Pósthússtræti seen by many in the queer community as being too rowdy and unsafe.

Despite the vast majority of Reykjavík’s bars being vocally LGBTQI-friendly, Kiki is the only one that solely focuses on providing an inclusive experience for Iceland’s ‘hinsegin’ (that’s the Icelandic equivalent of ‘queer’) community. Its location at Laugavegur 22 is both a return to the queer palace of old and a place where many have come to terms with who they are, meaning that a night out to Kiki is a return to something like home.

A Never-Ending Cycle of Queer Clubs

However, the lack of an ‘officiated’ gay club until the early ‘90s has made their history a complicated and surprisingly recent one. It was only with the opening of Club 22 that a coherent queer scene was noticeable, Árni says, but this quickly gave way to a complex succession of queer bars (and always only one or two…) that have been quick to disappear only to re-appear under different ownership.

This frequent cycle seems to be for various reasons. Árni describes a tendency for previous club owners to view the LGBTQI club-goers as only “peripheral in the wide variety of people they cater for.” Whilst not placing all the blame on it, the heterosexuality of the owners created “a distance from the particular wants and needs of the LGBTQI scene.” It’s seemingly for this reason that Reed Ide, a visitor to Reykjavík, in a description for Gay Iceland, dismissed Reykjavík’s two gay bars as not being “100% gay.”

Strangely, this ties into Reykjavík’s modest, town-like population, and an-even smaller queer populace. Aware of this, it seems bars have attempted to lure in as many of Reykjavík’s rat-arsed punters, meanwhile alienating the audience they originally intended to amuse and ‘protect.’

Disco Moves, Not Modern Grooves

Yet, despite its evident catering to the queer community, Árni insists that you leave any concerns about who you are or who anyone else is at the door. “Even if you’re a 2 metre tall straight guy, you can have a Bacardi Breezer if you want to,” he jokes. “We don’t cater to people who like really Icelandic music, but if you want to get topless and dance on a table top…”

Thanks in part to its welcoming and completely non-judgemental ethos, Kiki is also the quintessential downtown dancing spot. Its emphasis is on good, clean and definitely loud fun, a fact imbued in the club’s beyond bright, rainbow-coloured exterior. With many Laugavegur bars providing serious-headed voguish nightlight for the mucho-cool, Kiki instead prides itself on playing cheesy, downright god-awful classics as well as the top 40.

A typical Saturday night experience of Kiki will find you necking shots with strangers and dancing along to something that could well be the Venga Boys if you only had a train of thought coherent enough to care about it for more than a few seconds. Meanwhile, people of all genders grind against people of all genders ad-infinitum. However, if it all gets a bit too much, it’s always possible to head upstairs for a casual sit-down on some comfy seating for a crowd that are usually more level-headed, sober(-ing) and usual down for a good natter.

We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Probably From The USA, UK Or Germany…

Kiki’s lax atmosphere has helped bolster the club’s growing popularity with tourists, who can expect anything from Scissor Sisters to flamboyant classic rock and disco. A mixed bag of old music that, if given the option, people would probably dump into Tjörnin, helps to bring in a healthy influx of queer individuals from around the world. The emphasis certainly isn’t on them, the LGBTQI folks in Iceland are only a small group, Árni says the tourists freshen things up a lot and they are always welcome.

“Like the tourists, our folks have usually travelled around and both find they have a lot of experiences they share,” he says. “Your gender, your sexuality, your personality, Kiki doesn’t give a shit. All that matters is dancing and having a good time, a sure-fire recipe to winning our affections and earning the top spot for places you can jive down to.”

What Can We Expect From Kiki During Pride?

If you weren’t convinced of Kiki’s LGBTQI credentials, it’ll be at the forefront of Reykjavík Pride celebrations. The official Reykjavík Pride bar and club will host some of the biggest and best nights during the big merrymaking. As long as you don’t mind dancing along to some of the tackiest numbers outside of Liverpool, you should find something to get down to in Kiki.

Kiki Queer Bar Pride Schedule

Tuesday August 5

Eurovision Pub Quiz

Wednesday August 6

Queer Culture Night

Thursday August 7

DJ J. Jackson

Friday August 8

‘Ship To Shore’ Dance

Saturday August 9

Kiki Queer Party



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