You will have more fun than you ever expected on a Thursday night in Iceland’s capital city. (Photo: Rene Frederick/Photodisc/Getty Images)
By Jennifer Birn
Ah, Thursday night — the only truly social night of the week. It’s the night when babysitters are booked, friends convene, and drinks are imbibed. There are no family obligations to fulfill, no amateurish weekend crowds to elbow through — and the possibilities are endless. The night starts after work and ends whenever you want. In any city. All over the world.
This week, we’re presenting the perfect Thursday night in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Start you night here on Laugavegur Street. (Jonathan Percy/Flickr)
Friday and Saturday remain the de facto nights to go out in Reykjavik since they are the only two nights when bars stay open past 2 a.m. in Iceland’s capital city, where the majority of the population resides. But, like much of the Western world, Thursday nights are gaining in popularity, and Laugavegur, the main street of the city that is filled with restaurants, bars, and ‘clubs,’ is hopping.
Alcohol is priced at a premium in Reykjavik, and if you haven’t been warned, you’ll definitely have an eye-widening moment when you find out the price of your beer. Drink prices rival those of the swankiest New York City clubs.
Many locals have friends over for drinks before venturing to the bars on big nights. For those who don’t like to entertain, and for the tourists among us, there’s happy hour, which universally begins at 4 p.m. at most bars and restaurants and generally means two for one or half-price drinks.
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You’ll want to put on your party clothes if you’re heading to Kaldi. (Photo: Kaldi Bar/Café/Facebook)
Kaldi Bar is a happy hour favorite with the well-heeled set of Icelanders coming from work and tourists who like to get dressed to go out. MicroBar has a popular happy hour and boasts an admirable beer selection, and Nora Magasín is a boisterous bar that overlooks the main square and the Parliament building.
Watch out for the Icelandic beer. (MicroBar/Facebook)
It’s ok if you aren’t an adventurous eater. (Photo: Tom/Flickr)
It’s nearly impossible to find a restaurant that serves food past 10 p.m., so you should be at a restaurant or know where you’re going to go by 8 p.m.
I don’t have a really adventurous palate, so I liked that almost every cuisine can be found in Reykjavik from Italian to Greek, a steakhouse or sushi (Although the menu may include things like whale sashimi.) even though so much has to be imported to Iceland. This is the reason foods indigenous to Iceland are favorites of the locals. Some of these include: rotted shark (Unless you’re superbrave, I’d advise against this one.), horse steak, lamb, and various fresh fish, including cod, and puffin. We ordered puffin strips with honey mustard thinking it would be like American chicken fingers, but it turns out the puffin, which looks like it belongs to the penguin family, is actually a red meat – and the strips were served raw!
You will absolutely love the way they do smoked lamb here. (Ben Husmann/Flickr)
A great place to try local fare is 3 Frakkar (which in English, translates to 3 Trench Coats). It’s a couple of blocks off the main street, cute and quaint and frequented by locals as well as tourists.
K-bar is a new Korean fusion restaurant that Samuel Torfesson, a native Icelander, said, “Has the best kimchi you’ve ever put in your mouth.”
Some of the fantastic tapas at K-Bar. (K-bar/Facebook)
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If you’re with a group that can’t decide on a specific cuisine, Vegamot is a solid choice, with a menu that is full of options – think The Cheesecake Factory but with a better ambiance. Translating to “crossroads” in English, Vegamót is just a block off the main streets, and when the kitchen closes, it turns into a boisterous bar scene and then further morphs into a club environment as the night goes on.
The restaurant-to-bar-to-club transition within one venue is quite common in Reykjavik. But, for those who prefer a change of scenery after dinner, most of the bars in Reykjavik are within stumbling distance from one another, so it’s easy to just walk from one to the next. 101 Hotel is a classy place to get a cocktail, and Kaffibarinn, which has been going strong since it opened in the ’80s, is popular with both tourists and locals.
Rather than clubs in the loungey, bottle-service sense, a club in Reykjavik means a place where rabid dancing ensues.
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Ironically, for an American traveling in Iceland, the most popular bar seemed to be Lebowski Bar, named after the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult film The Big Lebowski. The themed bar, where they serve more than a dozen versions of the White Russian, the vodka, coffee liquor, and cream cocktail of choice of the film’s main character. “The Dude” is quiet early in the night, but the energy kicks way up after midnight.
Dude! Lebowski Bar (Dan Nguyen/Flickr)
Although the bars close earlier on Thursdays, the street stays crowded long after with imbibers getting hot dogs (a popular late night staple) or slices of pizza and mingling and making out on the streets – Icelanders aren’t shy about PDA and encourage visitors not to be either.
Hot dogs from Bæjarins Beztu. (Robyn Lee/Flickr)
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Others go home earlier on Thursday nights to save themselves for Friday and Saturday, when bars stay open until the wee hours of morning – a time that’s hard to gauge in Iceland, where in the summer, the sun never goes down. Conversely, during the winter months, daylight lasts for only a few hours.
The Reykjavik Grapevine/Facebook
Pro Tip: For up-to-date specials, pick up a copy of the Reykjavik Grapevine. Besides listing the great bars along with their addresses and hours, the articles are often quite entertaining and provide a bit of insight into life in Iceland’s most populous city.