Going Out in Iceland: Beer, Bars & Booze
The Reykjavík nightlife is famous, even infamous, depending on your point of view. While Icelanders have always known how to party, the Reykjavík bar scene has done a lot of growing up in the last few years, with several dedicated beer bars opening their doors, as well as ambitious cocktail bars, serving up delicious concoctions.
Whether you want to have a beer in the afternoon, head out for a drink in the evening, or dance till the morning comes, the liveliest bar scene in Reykjavík is in the city center, on and around Laugavegur and Austurstraeti. Many bars double as cafés and bistros (and even triple as venues for concerts and other events), simply turning up the music as the night progresses.
Closing times differ depending on the atmosphere of each drinking establishment but the rule of thumb is that bars must close at 1:00 on weekdays and no later than 4:30 on the weekends. Some bars close earlier. The most popular drink is beer and there’s plenty of good beer to be had, but Reykjavík is also having a cocktail renaissance, so ask your bartender about the bar’s specialities before ordering.
Believe it or not, but beer was prohibited in Iceland for most of the 20th century. It was legalised March 1st, 1989, a date which is now the unofficial holiday of Beer Day! Ever since that day, Icelanders have been making up for lost time and beer is now the most popular alcoholic beverage in Iceland. Perhaps mor importantly, Icelanders also started brewing their own (delicious) beer.
For the first few years, easily drinkable lager beers ruled the roost but in the past few years, Icelanders have gotten a taste for a wider range of beers. Have a Kaldi beer at the Kaldi bar downtown or stop by Microbar and taste some of their extensive selection of microbrews. Einstök beer is good and widely available and the small-batch brews of Borg brewery are always interesting. Danish brewery Mikkeller runs a beer bar with several of their most delectable products for sale and Bryggjan brewery is a restaurant/bar/brewery where the beer is made on site!
Icelandic liquor, which hasn’t really been known for finesse through the years, is also going through a renaissance. Brennivin, the most famous Icelandic liquor, gets a bad rap (it’s also known as Black Death) but in fact, it’s brewed like an aquavit and much like its Scandinavian cousins, can be quite pleasantly sipped with smorrebrod. It’s distilled from potatoes and flavoured with caraway seed.
Apart from the traditional Brennivin, new creations like liquors, crowberries and rhubarb, even birch, are inspiring bartenders all over Reykjavík. You can also try Icelandic gin, vodka, and even wisky. Finally, Icelanders are liquorice lovers and if you share that love, be sure to check out the vodka-based Opal and Topas shots, available at most bars in Reykjavík.