Once a year, we like to take a step back and celebrate our little city. It’s not that Reykjavík is a city without problems, or that it’s a place that doesn’t have plenty of ways in which it could improve. This probably goes without saying. We at Grapevine spend a lot of time being critical, after all, and by and large we’re a bunch of cynics. But once a year we like to set all that aside and appreciate the things that make Reykjavík a pretty great place to live.
As ever, our BEST OF REYKJAVÍK! issue is about big-upping stuff, giving out mad props and patting people on the shoulder. Our list is, of course, not a scientific one, and it is certainly contestable. It should be used as a starting point for a conversation; something for you to read, verify, distrust, totally disagree with, argue over, send us angry rants about and enjoy.
HOW WE DID IT: We’ve polled readers on Facebook, we’ve discussed in bars, we’ve consulted our resident experts, we’ve argued, revised, and argued some more. And we think we’ve come up with a pretty great representation of the finest that Reykjavík has to offer. Now, of course, not everyone is going to agree with our choices, and that’s perfectly fine—variety in opinion and taste adds spice to life and anyway, we love a good debate. Enjoy, and remember to send your suggestions to email@example.com for consideration in our 2015 edition.
Best Mainstreamer Bar
The English Pub
So, what do we mean by “mainstreamer bar”? A mainstreamer bar is a place where you can take your friends from out of town, drunkenly belt out tunes with troubadours, cheer on your favourite team, or just sit down and enjoy a beer any day of the week. The English Pub, being the consummate old-fashioned bar, is ideal for any of these. At English Pub, nobody will judge you for your all-fleece wardrobe, and nobody will question your affinity for Pink Floyd and Smirnoff Ice.
2013: The English Pub
2012: The English Pub
2011: The English Pub
Best Place To Start The Night
Early in the night when you still have all your friends with you and before you want to go dancing, Kaldi is the place to be. The small bar draws a large crowd most nights with its fine selection of Kaldi beers (including the ever-popular unfiltered Kaldi), and its comfortable seating areas encourage patrons to converse. Pop on in, grab a table and kick a few back with your comrades before you start your hardcore partying.
2012: KEX Hostel
2011: Nýlenduvörverzlun Hemma & Valda
2010: Nýlenduvörverzlun Hemma & Valda
Best Place To End The Night
Paloma, with its Viking longboat bar and oddly placed support beams, may have the weirdest interior of any downtown venue, but the fact of the matter can’t be denied: it is a pretty lively place to find yourself late at night. Paloma is usually filled with people dancing with reckless abandon after two in the morning, or out on the balcony, catching their breath and chain-smoking like the cool kids they are. If you don’t have an after party to go to when the bars close, just stick around outside: people from Gaukurinn and Húrra often hang around there, smoking cigarettes, finishing their drinks and being social.
2013: Harlem (RIP)
Best Cheap Bar
While not the cheapest beer in Reykjavík, Ölsmiðjan comes pretty darn close, with prices resembling those of other bars during their happy hours. The atmosphere is nicer than one would expect considering the low prices, and the warm ambiance and soul tunes often playing in the background are definitely enough to keep us coming back for more.
2011: Den Danske Kro
2010: Kaffi Zimsen
2009: Nýlenduvöruverzlun Hemma & Valda
Best All-Around Bar
An old favourite, Boston continues carrying the flame of its proprietors’ former venture, the legendary Sirkús (you wish you’d been there). Aside from being an old-fashioned establishment within which you and your pals can congregate and share a couple of frothy pints of Gull, Boston doubles as one of Reykjavík’s trendiest meeting places. On weekends, you can expect minimalist microhouse beats and suave internationals, maybe even a surprise appearance from a member of Reykjavík’s indie-celebrity clique. In addition, Boston serves a selection of Mexican food via their Santa Karamba kitchen. A great all-rounder.
Best Bar To Go Dancing
“When I start dancing,” says one sheepish Grapeviner, “I know it’s time to go home. Or I choose a place that I know I won’t be seen.” For those of you who are a bit more dance positive, however, Kiki is the place to be, a place where no one will judge you—or your moves. The only caveat is that it is only open on weekends and if you’re not into Robyn, Whitney, and/or Bonnie Tyler (which: really?!), you’ll have a much less enjoyable time here. It should be noted that our panellists were in the midst of debating several different places for this award when Kíkí was suggested, and suddenly, everyone agreed simultaneously. “It was so obvious as soon as you said it,” someone said. We know, man. We know. But returning to the present: just imagine that you’re in a shook-up soft drink bottle full of confetti or a disco ball full of love.
Best Newcomer Bar
The downtown bar scene is an ever-changing one, and it is easy to grow jaded with it, but every once in a while we get something that is truly amazing, and Húrra’s blend of bar, club and live music venue is just that. With six different beers on tap (including Einstök Pale Ale and White Ale), the place is ideal to sit down for a pint in the early evening, see a live band step on stage around 10 or 11, and then dance to sweet tunes by talented DJs until the wee early hours. Let’s just hope it fares better than the four other bars that have been in that space over the past decade.
2012: Slippbarinn, Hótel Marína
Best Place To Watch Sports Over Beer
The ubiquitous cultural link between sports and beer endures at Bjarni Fel, our back-to-back winner in this category. There’s not a better place in Reykjavík to guzzle down some brews (2 for 1,990 ISK, Monday-Friday) and bemoan or celebrate your favourite teams. With 20 HDTVs and often hordes of rabid fans, it can truly be an immersive experience.
2013: Bjarni Fel
2012: Úrilla Górillan (RIP)
2011: Hvíta Perlan (RIP),
2010: Hvíta Perlan,
2009: Bjarni Fel
Best Beer Selection
If you love beer, you’ll love Microbar. The three-time winner consistently proves to have an unbeatable selection and a knowledgeable staff. In addition to offering ten different microbrews on tap, the prices are reasonable and relatively free of pesky mark-ups. If you’re trying to get your brewducation on, they offer 170 ml samples, five for 2,500 ISK. Microbar is truly by beer lovers, for beer lovers.
2013: Micro Bar
2012: Micro Bar
Best Place To Get Cocktails
Most of Reykjavík’s bars don’t have extensive cocktail menus. If you would have asked us where to get a good cocktail a decade ago, we’re not sure where we would have sent you, but we probably would have recommended somewhere making mojitos (which were synonymous with cocktails for a while there). Today, if you go to the right place, your bartender won’t look at you with a blank face when you ask for a ‘White Lady,’ and some places, like Slippbarinn, even offer innovative drinks beyond the classics. So take advantage of their happy hour (16:00—18:00) and try their popular “Winter Sour.”
2013: Borg, Hotel Borg
Best Bar For Smokers
Hressó won for Best People-Watching Spot last year, and that goes hand in hand with this award. Who doesn’t like smoking while watching the goings on of the night (or the results of the night before)? You obviously can’t smoke in the indoor booths, which are the prime seats for people-viewing, but the semi-outdoor patio is close enough for a smoke break in the relaxing semi-nature.
2013: Reykjavík Beats
Best Place For Live Music
It’s kind of relaxing, kind of laid back, and the perfect place to let music wash over you when you’re craving that transcendental experience. Don’t let the hominess turn you away, because Rosenberg features a solid line-up of professionals every night.
2013: Volta (RIP)