Reykjavik is one of the most independently minded capital cities in Europe, if not the world. Iceland being geographically distanced from mainland Europe has a unique political history and has asserted itself as a beacon for ideological diversity with the like of The Pirate Party winning and maintaining seats in the government, with a manifesto that reads more like one belonging to a punk band. Although tourism has slightly altered the personality of the city in recent years, the fertile and explosive cultural landscape has produced obvious trailblazers such as Björk and Sigur Rós among the exported successes. We take a trip and investigate some of the places that demonstrate the city's active counterculture.
A small, low key, but very popular bar/cafe venue which rumour has it is or was part-owned by Damon Albarn. The truth, it appears, is that the Blur frontman became a regular at the laid-back hangout and was rewarded with a one percent stake in the venue, although ownership has long since changed taking Damon's one percent with it. The bar is credited with being the birthplace of Reykjavik's trendsetting nightlife and a breeding ground for youth cultures therein. Despite being rammed with ravers by night, the charming venue operates in a much more gentle manner in the day as the place to go for coffee (as the venue's name suggests) and even cheese and wine tastings.
Another opportunity to take some coffee with your music Kaffi Vínyl is a cafe, bar, restaurant and independent record shop. Regarded as the first Vegan eatery in Reykjavik with a relaxed atmosphere, live DJ's and a good atmosphere. As you might imagine with such a musical mix of services, it's no stranger to live performances either.
In contrast to the hip nature of places like Kaffi Barrin, for those that wish to turn it up to 11, Bar 11 is the place to go for rock, rock 'n' roll, garage, metal and the like. With an exterior that resembles a haunted house, surrounded by sculptural rock features resembling the Giant's Causeway (Iceland having its own hexagonal basalt columns to rival those of Ireland) the venue is certainly an imposing one.
The English Pub
Not to be confused with those English pubs you find on Spanish package holidays, The English Pub is aimed at Reykjavik's resident anglophiles and as such hosts nightly live music from local artists. Ironically, as many proprietors start to bias their output towards visiting tourists to capitalise on Iceland's attractiveness to city breakers, The English Pub is one of the venues where locals go for grassroots sounds.
Located on Reykjavic's Tryggvagata, Gaukurinn prides itself on a diverse schedule drawing an equally diverse crowd. Poetry and experimental drag nights sit alongside all manner of rock bands and English language comedy nights. Bands from Iceland, Europe and further afield have appeared on the billings in recent years with contemporary US metal pioneers Sleep among the bigger names to take advantage of the venue's laid-back ethos.
Sandwiched between Gaukurinn and Reykjavik's Irish bar, The Dubliner, Húrra occupies the spot previously taken by Harlem, a club handed over to 16 local street artists to create a gritty underground environment suited to DJs and clubbers but which didn't last too long. Things have been more optimistic for Húrra, which fittingly translates as "hurrah", and the club has quickly established itself as the place to be for everything alternative from jazz to experimental electronic music and even underground cinema.
An upmarket, stylish looking bar, Hverfisbarinn (meaning 'neighbourhood') is actually popular with the student population, drawn in by its drinks deals, live music and DJs. Like most venues in Reykjavik, weekends stay relatively quiet until around midnight before becoming very busy and packed until after four in the morning.