Because of the uncertainty in our mode of travel, Rufio and I rarely have a detailed itinerary set for the first or even second day we plan to arrive somewhere. We may have an inkling of some sites we’d like to check out, but generally we spend the first day walking around town aimlessly – and all that walking makes us thirsty. Our impromptu pub crawls have become something of a tradition, and we are never sure when they’ll happen or where they’ll take us. Our first evening in Iceland was no different, as we found ourselves unexpectedly reveling in the midnight sun on what was hour 36 of no sleep on our very own Reykjavík pub crawl.
Blue Lagoon Bar
We landed, cramped and groggy, in Keflavik a few hours after we finally secured seats in JFK. Rufio insisted there was no better way to relax our muscles and adjust to the time change than a soak in the Blue Lagoon. Widely known, and thus very busy and expensive, the Blue Lagoon is a common first stop for travelers to the country. I’m not sure that it is commonly the kick-off to a night of binge drinking, but I digress.
Rufio started off with a Gull beer, but aiming to be healthy and responsible I used my state-of-the-art wristband to pay for a skyr smoothie instead. Even though I enjoyed the thick, creamy cultured dairy treat, my health kick didn’t last long – Rufio seemed to be really enjoying his pale ale as he soaked in the ethereal blue water. I ordered an overpriced glass of Pinot Grigio from an Alex Skarsgård doppelgänger at the Lagoon Bar before we waded off to enjoy the steaming mineral water, silica mud masks, waterfall shoulder massage and the remarkable landscape surrounding the lagoon.
The beer and wine selection at the Lagoon Bar isn’t extensive and is mostly overpriced, but the setting is otherworldly and a soak in the lagoon is rejuvenating, so I, like many before me, highly recommend a stop here before heading on to Reykjavík.
We left the Blue Lagoon for our AirBnB in Reykjavík. Our flat was a lovely 10 minute stroll from the city center, where we arrived with 30 minutes to spare before most restaurants opened for dinner. With time to kill, we stepped in to Stofan Café.
Stofan is technically a “kaffihus”, specializing in barista-crafted coffees, decadent cakes, vegan soups, bagels and paninis. Despite the brunch-worthy menu, they also offer Icelandic beer on tap and in the bottle, a selection of whiskey, wine and other spirits. We ordered half-litres of local Thule and Einstok ales and snagged a seat atop bar stools at the partition in the center of the room.
Stofan offers a very warm and welcoming atmosphere amid the sometimes harsh environment. The coffeehouse/bar a converted two-story house, which maintains the look and feel of a vintage living room and dining room. Patrons curl up on the antique couches to quietly read a book from their small library, or challenge each other to chess and other board games, available for no charge. Had we spent another day in Reykjavík, I would have gladly come back in the morning to wake up with a cup of their specialty coffee and lounge on the sofas.
After Stofan we enjoyed an Icelandic feast, paired with a bottle of wine to keep the booze crawl on pace. When we finished our meals we were full and sleepy; neither of us slept much on the plane and we were thus nearing 30 hours of consciousness. We decided to have one more local beer in the city center before returning to the flat for the night.
When we walked into the Austurvöllur square where Nora Magasin is situated, the city seemed to be buzzing with even more life than a few hours earlier. There are a few small bars and restaurants on the square, but Nora Magasin was the most inviting with its lively patio which spills into the open, chic interior. The restaurant and bar here were the most crowded on the square, a testament to its cool vibe, friendly staff and good food and drinks. Most of the patrons here were locals, evidenced by the fact we were greeted in the Icelandic before the bartender realized we were foreigners. This was my favorite stop on the tour.
The patio was fairly crowded, so we secured two empty seats at the downstairs bar. Just as I jokingly gushed over the “rugged Alex Skarsgård” bartender to Rufio, karma came back to haunt me. Quite possibly the most beautiful human girl that exists walked out from the kitchen and behind the bar. That’s right, in Iceland sickeningly beautiful people are so pedestrian that you’ll find them serving beer to tourists. Our self-esteem destroyed for the day, we ordered a Viking Pils and Viking Classic from the ruggedly handsome bartender, with whom we engaged in a friendly conversation. He informed us that the next day was “some Christian holiday”*, and as such all the bars would be open and very full of revelers until at least 4 AM, or “dusk” as he qualified it. Rufio and I first laughed at this sentiment, but then thought, “when in Iceland…”. The tone was set for the evening, so we finished our Viking ales and headed across the square.
I can’t fully recall when this quirky tradition began, but during our international pub crawls we always make a point to find an Irish or English pub so Rufio can order a Guinness. As it happened, we would visit both pub varieties on this crawl. The first was quite aptly named English Pub.
English Pub was not as busy as Nora Magasin, but the bartenders assured us raucous crowds would come pouring in shortly in celebration of the “holiday”. This bartender also seemed confused about exactly which holiday it could be. Rufio ordered his Guinness and I selected a Tuborg ale.
Seated next to us was James, a wounded American veteran traveling home from a study abroad. He taught us that the bar gimmick, a spin-the-wheel for beer game, actually favored the customer over the house. He proved his mathematical acuity by spinning only twice before winning 8 half-litres. Impressed, we drank another round with him and shared travel stories.
English Pub is the type of bar that depends on a good crowd to really impart its charm. The game of luck is an enticing draw, the beer selection is good and apparently it is one of the best football viewing spots in town, so worth checking out if a good match is on while you’re there.
James had plenty of beer drinking left to do at English Pub, so we bid farewell and set out again. We popped in and out of a few uninspiring bars before settling on Dubliner. Normally the one pub would have filled our quota and we would have skipped Dubliner, but the wind had picked up and I wanted to get off the street, so we headed directly toward the sound of live music.
The Dubliner, which is the longest established Irish pub in Iceland, is replete with dark, brooding wood accents and kitsch Irish regalia hanging on the walls. They offer a decent choice of foreign and local beers, along with whiskey and other spirits. The musician brought back memories with renditions of “Sweet Caroline” and other American classics. While I do admit that fist-pumping and chanting “So good! So good! So good!” is fun anywhere in the world, we were at this point fully aware that we were not going to have a “local experience” here. We finished our beers and headed back out.
After Dubliner we were nearing the 36 hour mark, and were fully delusional thanks to all the beer and all the sunlight. Disheartened that we weren’t going to stay up until dusk, we trudged back toward the flat.
Before leaving the city center, we stopped at Ali Baba Grill ‘N Shawerma. It receives honorary mention as part of the pub crawl because though we didn’t drink here, we obtained our customary late-night doner kebab to enjoy on the walk (er, stumble) back to the flat. I inhaled my kebab, slathered with extra Ali Baba sauce, so despite the exhaustion and possible inebriation, I’ll give it a good review. At any rate they didn’t throw me out, so that’s always worth a few points in my book.
*We never were able to ascertain which “Christian holiday” it might be.
Have you pub crawled through Reykjavík? Which bars would you suggest? Leave a comment below!