From Iceland — “That’s Not Arrogance; It’s Ambition”

“That’s Not Arrogance; It’s Ambition”

Published August 11, 2006

“That’s Not Arrogance; It’s Ambition”

“I love the amount of personal space you get here, and the good company. They don’t let just anybody in here, you know.” I would hear that sentence, or at least those exact sentiments, from several people over the next few hours. We’re sitting in a large, open room full of faux gold and rich people. Peppy music is banging away somewhere in the back, but the noise level is low enough to allow relaxed conversation. This is Rex, probably the fanciest place to party in the country.
“What’s your favourite Icelandic film of all time?” says the young man who just sat down at the table with me and the photographer, seemingly at random. He receives murmurs mentioning 101 Reykjavík, Útlaginn and Sódóma Reykjavík. “Exactly, Sódóma Reykjavík. A whole film about losing the remote control to your television, awesome. I’m a filmmaker by the way, and I’m going to make the best damned Icelandic film of all time. That’s not arrogance; it’s ambition.”
Ambition is something that doesn’t seem to be in short supply amongst Rex’s clientele. Bankers, CEOs, doctors and models abound. Expensive clothes, gold chains and cigars are the order of the day. People are thoroughly looked over at the door before the bouncers decide if they will fit the ambiance, and over the course of the evening we spot several arty looking types being turned away for having scarves, hats or unkempt hair. Oh, and don’t even try to approach Rex if you’re wearing tennis shoes – the shoes are absolutely vital.
Despite the strict dress code we’re occasionally spotting older, less attractive individuals that seem to flout all the rules and still get in. These are the people whose bank accounts could run a small Central American republic for a decade, and tonight none of them seem to be capable of smiling in the least. That particular group comes here to mingle and make contacts, it seems, rather than to party.
Another highly visible minority at Rex are the foreigners, mainly tourists, who walk in off the street without knowing anything about the place. As we had been warned about systematic racism from doormen at some of the fancier places in Reykjavík, it comes as a deeply pleasant surprise to see people of all ethnicities mingling here as well. When we ask the regulars about who comes here, it also becomes clear that non-Icelanders are an important part of the clientele – especially during the summer.
As the evening progresses it becomes clear that this is a quiet night for Rex, which appears to be missing some of its regulars.
“I’m not sure what the problem is. I know it’s been a while since payday, but that’s usually not a factor here. These guys don’t exactly run out, you know?” We’ve moved downstairs, where there is a kind of chill-out area, and are talking to a truly stunning young bartender with a mischievous smile. She’s not the only attraction at the bar, though; it seems every last one of the staff at Rex are impossibly beautiful people. If you saw this scene in a Hollywood movie you’d roll back your eyes at the lack of realism: “Come on, bartenders don’t really look like THAT!”
Professional Size
Speaking of beauty, not long after we walk down the stairs my companion is mobbed by pretty blonde girls wearing pink butterfly wings. Confused and startled, I back off and watch the spectacle of all these tipsy girls lining up for sexy photo poses. A professional-sized camera is clearly the ultimate babe magnet. After the most provocative ‘model’ finally tires of pulling and pushing her clothes and assets to and fro, the shutterbug leans over and whispers: “Dude, this is so wrong. That’s my friend’s little sister! But, hey, don’t put this in the article.” He has to learn somehow.
Heading back to the warm embrace of the lower floor bar for another cocktail, I come upon two lovely girls dancing and gyrating their hips as they serve drinks and giggle. One of them gives a customer a sly wink as she takes a tiny sip from the Mojito she just made for him. The reason for their friendly behaviour soon becomes apparent: they’re getting tips. Really, really good tips. “We get a lot of foreigners in here, but they’ve all been told that you don’t tip in Iceland. It’s the locals, the regulars, who like to give us a little extra – sometimes we even walk away with more in tips than regular wages!”
As hard as it is to tear yourself away from the never-ending hospitality of the flirty bargirls, the increasing volume of the music upstairs leads us to investigate. The scene we find up there is very different from the one we left just 30 minutes ago, as the place has suddenly filled up and gotten much livelier. People are going wild on the dance floor and laughing loudly at their tables, but there’s something very un-Icelandic about the whole vibe. You see, no one is visibly drunk. Everyone is tipsy, sure, but at this point it’s almost five a.m. and this must be the only bar in downtown Reykjavík that isn’t currently playing host to something reminiscent of a scene out of the Lost Weekend. On the contrary, the atmosphere is downright civil. Until, that is, my loyal shutterbug gets briefly accosted by angry patrons on the dance floor, who object to having their picture taken. But this eases up soon enough.
The drink of the night is the Mojito, and at this late hour the bar girls downstairs confess that their hands are starting to ache from overuse of the mortar they use to crush up the ice, mint leaves and sugar. “About half the orders tonight seem to be for Mojitos, I thank God for every beer order I get at this point,” says one. I sheepishly look down at my Mojito, which just happens to be one of the best I’ve had in Iceland, and decide to switch to beer.
When time came for the inevitable… release of said refreshments, there was a pleasant surprise in the bathroom. While the bathroom itself is predictably posh and clean, it’s the addition of a glass holder inside the stalls that is the crowning touch. It could be an anti-date-rape measure, since you never have to lose sight of your drink. It could be a posh status symbol for folks that don’t want to put their glass down on any surface commonly available inside a bathroom stall. Hell, it could even be an ashtray that just looks perfect for a glass after five Mojitos and a beer – but it’s there and it serves its glorious purpose with style. Whatever it may be.
It’s now after six a.m. and the atmosphere has changed subtly. Older, single people (notably, a lot of women) seem to be on the prowl. One male patron in his twenties nudges me as a heavily modified woman in her sixties walks past: “That’s a GILF, man!” If you are familiar with the term MILF you can probably guess his intentions from the context.
My teetotaller of a photographer has been hijacked by his girlfriend who needed a ride home, but Rex is starting to feel increasingly comfortable. For the amount of money that must be floating around the dance floor in people’s pockets – everyone seems remarkably laid back. Perhaps they know they are amongst friends. Something one of the bargirls told me on my way out could lend support to that theory: “You know what? I’ll bet anything your jacket is still up there and untouched. The only time anyone reported anything missing here, it turned up half an hour later when someone realised they had taken the wrong coat by mistake. We haven’t had a single theft here – ever.” If that isn’t enough to convince you Rex is a very different place from most late night hangouts in Reykjavík, nothing is.

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