World travelers are discovering that Iceland offers a wealth of natural wonders, from glaciers to volcanoes to the Northern Lights. And with all that ice around, you can bet bartenders are shaking some of it into cocktails. Reykjavik’s rapidly evolving drinks scene is fast becoming a destination all its own, and the easily walkable downtown makes a bar crawl feasible even in the depths of winter. Here are some of the best places to warm up on your next visit, expert coffee included.Read More
Where to Drink in Reykjavik, Mapped
Head straight to the Lebowski Bar
Located inside the Icelandair Hotel Marina and named after the functional dry dock situated right outside, this lively bar is often credited with bringing modern craft cocktails to Reykjavik. The menu ranges from classics like the negroni and contemporary standards like the penicillin, to adventurous originals with fat-washed spirits and local ingredients. The bar fills up in the evenings with locals and tourists alike, and boasts live music and DJs several nights a week.
Apótek Bar Grill
This elegant, high-end restaurant also offers some of the city’s most creative and award-winning cocktails, often featuring deft use of herbs and aromatics. Highly recommended: the intensely herbal, yet perfectly balanced “Dillagin” made with dill-infused gin, mango liqueur, lime juice, sugar, and Moroccan bitters, garnished with a few drops of dill oil.
The temperance movement still casts a long shadow in Iceland, where beer was not fully legalized until March 1, 1989. The date is now known there as “Beer Day,” and one of the best places to raise a pint in celebration is this cozy beer bar featuring only Icelandic microbrews. Sample from the eight taps, half of which are dedicated to the eponymous Kaldi brewery, or explore the extensive bottle list. Kaldi gets busy at night, but unlike many bars in Reykjavik, it’s open earlier for those seeking a relaxed mid-day drink.
Yes, it’s a Big Lebowski-themed bar, and it’s one the most fun places to drink in the city. The decor recalls vintage American diners and bowling alleys, with a rug hanging from the bar that really ties the room together. One should drink like the Dude here, obviously, and order a White Russian, or one of the bar’s many variations thereof. After enjoying one of those, the best deal is a spin of the prize wheel, which offers everything from a gutterball (nothing) to a strike (10 beers!).
Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar
Those seeking an escape from the more raucous bars along the main stretch of Laugavegur should duck a block south to Ölstofan, a casual pub co-owned by Icelandic menswear designers. The offerings here range from standard lagers to rare bottles from local breweries. The careful selection extends to the spirits list, which makes this an ideal spot to enjoy conversation over a pint of beer and a dram of Scotch.
At the first sniff of hákarl, Iceland’s infamous fermented shark dish, one might suspect that it was created as a practical joke to play on tourists, though some locals do claim to enjoy it. If you’re going to try it, you might as well do it here. The serving of six small pieces is likely sufficient for groups of six or more people, as it’s doubtful that everyone will be up for first servings, much less seconds. More importantly, there are plenty of Icelandic spirits and beers to wash it down with before moving on to more approachable dishes, such as the selection of signature hot dogs (a local specialty), and the legitimately tasty puffin in a jar.
Matur og Drykkur
Translated literally as “Food and Drink,” this new restaurant in Grandi—an industrial area that has become a hotspot for new businesses—takes traditional Icelandic preparations to an elevated level. This local approach extends to the cocktail menu, with offerings such as a whiskey sour made with tart whey and smoked lamb-washed rye (memorably garnished with a dried lamb chip), or their Icelandic answer to the piña colada, flavored with pineapple weed and angelica liqueur.
Mikkeller & Friends
Beer drinkers flock to Mikkeller bars wherever they appear. Although the beer list here is extensive, drinkers may want to take the opportunity to try one of Mikkeller’s hard to find spirits. Mikkeller distills their imperial stout at Braunstein Distillery and ages it in casks previously used to age rum, bourbon, and oloroso sherry. At Mikkeller & Friends you can choose one of these to enjoy next to a glass of their Mikkeller Black stout for a natural pairing.
The prominent mural of a surly-looking pig indicates one is in a gastropub, where the food and drink are given equal attention. Global influences abound on both sides of the menu. The beer selection spans Iceland, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, and the United States, and the drink list is rounded out with wines, Champagne, and sake. The cocktail menu leans to liqueurs, but veers occasionally into unexpected territory with ingredients such as rosemary and truffle syrup, and a homemade sriracha sauce that appears in their gin and tonic.
For evidence that specialty coffee has taken root in Iceland, look no further than the trophy shelves at Reykjavik Roasters. The cafe’s baristas boast an impressive number of wins in competitions. Coffee from a variety of origins is roasted in-house on a bright blue roaster. After a long night of drinking like a viking, it’s nice to know there’s a good cup available in the morning, and this is the place to get it.