When I was invited to come check out the new Radisson SAS 1919, I had two immediate replies: 1) It’s a Radisson SAS, I think I know what’ll be there; 2) Why would a Radisson SAS be interested in what an alternative paper thinks? But of course I was interested in seeing 1919, as most locals now refer to it. Built in the old headquarters of Eimskip, the shipping company in Iceland that was once the most powerful business in the country, it’s an important historical landmark.
I entered the hotel the minute it opened, which, in grand Icelandic fashion, turned out to be a little before it was ready to open. This turned out to be a pleasure: seeing a four-plus star hotel with the glitches of a freshly veneered floor and a few panels being rushed into place is akin to seeing a supermodel with a hangover. It has a humanizing affect.
In fact, when hotel sales manager Gréta Blængsdóttir had trouble with the pass key in one of the doors, I was amused entirely because I knew this would be the last time it would happen. She turned out to be unflappable, and guided me through effortlessly, swapping keys with the staff in a sleek handshake, and continuing the tour.
“This won’t be a hotel for just one type of people. This is a city hotel, a place where everyone is welcome,” she told me as I asked to stop at the stairwell to check out the railings, artisan ironwork in a Celtic-influenced uniquely Icelandic pattern that you can only see at this hotel and at the Culture House on Hverfisgata.
The highlight of a tour for those interested in local history was the fourth floor, particularly rooms 414 and 412. These are extremely handsome and roomy suites made out of the former chairman of Eimskip’s office. If you wonder how two large suites for full living could be made from one man’s work space, you’re in good company. In addition to their size and full amenities, these suites on the fourth floor also contain small touches of the original masonry from the building’s construction in 1919.
As the tour went on, I met with owner Andri Már Ingólfsson, watching him lift carpets and help staff with a range of work that one doesn’t expect a hotel owner to take part in. It was at that point that I was told that 1919 is more local than a Radisson: while Andri Már is partnering with Radisson, the hotel is his project, and he seems to have had a hand in every piece of its construction, giving the place its local character.
The common spaces and areas closer to the bar and restaurant Salt were the most approachable for me, and the most reminiscent of the styles of city hotels that have become a part of the social scene in New York and Miami in the past few years.
By the end of my tour, the building was ready for business, camera crews filming the first man to check in. By the time the cameramen left, the hotel looked as though it had been open for business for months. With the local history, the location, and the competence with which this hotel was constructed, the 1919 will be such an institution, that few will believe it hasn’t always been a key part of the city in a month’s time.
Radisson SAS 1919 Hotel, Pósthússtræti 2, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland. Phone: 599-1000. For more information visit www.1919.reykjavik.radissonsas.com.