From Iceland — The Party Needs To Be Monitored

The Party Needs To Be Monitored

The Party Needs To Be Monitored

Published September 26, 2008

Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by

The Reykjavík Pub-owners’ Association is working with officials to improve the situation in 101 Reykjavík. Kormákur Geirhar›sson is a founding member.

Tourism propaganda often describes 101 Reykjavík as a sort of decadent-Mecca for the north, an anything goes place where party-hearty squads of drunk Vikings and Valkyries roam sleepless nights in search of hedonistic outings. While the description is inaccurate, downtown Reykjavík does see a lot of drinking on weekends, and that partying often gets loud and rowdy. So rowdy, in fact, that a lot of downtown dwellers express fear of leaving their houses on weekends, lest they be attacked by a modern-day berserker. Many also complain that the partying is loud to the point of disturbing their sleep. These outcries are often followed by demands that city officials “do something about it”, and they in turn respond by forming task forces and committees that suggest everything from earlier closing hours to flat out moving Reykjavík nightlife to suburbia. The Grapevine met up with Kormákur Geirharðsson, spokesperson of the Reykjavík Pub-owners’ Association, to get their side of the story.

Who belongs to the Pub-owner’s Association? And why is there a need for one?  
The pubs downtown are all members, pretty much anyone who sells alcohol in 101 Reykjavík. We have a lot of things we want to work for. Especially after the smoking ban came to effect, we felt wronged by the officials in that whole ordeal. The bars and pubs – the people who actually have to enforce and deal with the smoking ban – at no point did the government approach us for comment or insight on how it would affect our business, our patrons and the nightlife.
    This is our main reason for forming the association; we didn’t have a single voice in the preparatory committees overseeing the new smoking laws – and there are a whole lot of such decisions being made without consulting those who work in the field and are affected by them. We don’t trust the people who get seats on the “nightlife committees”, as most of them don’t leave their houses after eight and don’t have a clue on what’s going on downtown and what people that seek out the nightlife want. Our aim was to create a strong unified voice that could work with city and government officials, that could have an input whenever important decisions that affect the nightlife and our livelihood are made.
Have you made a lot of headway since starting?
Yeah. We now have a presence in all sorts of groups and committees that aim at making the nightlife run more smoothly and downtown Reykjavík a better place. We meet regularly with police and city officials to review the preceding weekends to see if anything can be done better or improved. We also collaborated with city and police officials on a report on how to make downtown Reykjavík a safer place. We discuss everything from graffiti to the smoking ban, city planning and transit; anything we think needs improvement. A lot of the meetings discuss shortening the bars’ opening hours, thinking that might improve the downtown situation; we feel there are many things the city and state could improve upon before reverting to such measures. 
Such as? 
We think that visible police enforcement is a prerequisite in these things, and also steady transportation out of downtown, when some of our patrons need to get home. If these things were in order, downtown would clear earlier and we wouldn’t face the situations that sometimes occur.
    We’ve also pointed out that shortening the opening hours would drive dozens of families into bankruptcy, you can’t just make such decisions haphazardly. They must be made following a proper discussion. We wouldn’t mind closing earlier, but officials have got to realise that such actions have consequences. If you all of the sudden pull three business hours off us, it’s going to affect; people won’t adjust to coming out earlier at the drop of a hat, it takes one or two years to adjust to such circumstances and by that time the damage is done. If the state were to lower their alcohol tolls, for instance, the damage might be countered. Our research shows that the high alcohol tolls cause Icelandic bars to get the least revenue per liter of alcohol sold in all of Europe, probably the whole world. In Denmark, the pubs need to sell only half the amount of alcohol we do to make the same profit.
Would you say the current situation is intolerable?
I wouldn’t say that. Due to my position, I very frequently pass through downtown and I do not find the situation to be intolerable. I will say that there are things that need to be fixed and certain points of stress that need to be resolved, and us in the association are trying our best to fix them. As for downtown violence and disorderly conduct, I really think that a more visible police presence downtown would go a long way in countering that. Drunken people will break their beer bottles on the ground if they sense they can get away with it. They wouldn’t be attacking one another in front of a police officer.
    Everyone needs some form of restraint and supervision, especially drunk people. If you’re throwing a concert or an open air festival, you are expected to keep security and such things in check. A 10.000 strong outdoor festival will need a whole lot of security to ensure nothing goes wrong, I can’t see the situation should be different when 10.000 people convene downtown on weekends. And there have been times when there are maybe ten police officers patrolling downtown, one cop for every thousand citizens. Anyone will tell you that doesn’t sum up. 
    It’s like in school, you’ve got hall monitors to ensure the kids behave. It isn’t any different for adults, especially drunk adults. They behave like children, and they need to be monitored as such. Not to say the cops should be carrying weapons or anything of the sort, just that they need to be present in numbers to ensure nothing goes wrong. One of downtown’s biggest problems is the people that group every weekend in taxi lines and such. It creates a bad situation, one that would be greatly worsened if all the places started closing at the same time. If we do that, we go back a decade, when all the places closed at 3 AM, a situation of total chaos. Not even the police dared interfere then, the people gathered in such numbers that the they could get away with anything, even taunting the cops. That was truly an intolerable situation.
Aren’t people just drinking too much?
Well, there’s always a part of the population that’s bound to drink too much and cause a ruckus, whether you’re at a family gathering or an outdoor festival or on a plane to Spain. That’s just how people are. Again, I think the only thing that could possibly change that would be if DeCode isolated the drinking gene or something; this isn’t anything you can change instantly.    

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