It probably isn’t hard to guess that social life in Reykjavík varies somewhat from social life in New York. I’m not saying this just because I don’t know as many people here (and that’s changing, anyway), it really has to do with differences in people’s social expectations in both cities. And never are these differences more apparent than when considering the bar scene in both places.
New York is a drinking city. I knew this when I lived there, sure, but I didn’t realize the extent to which bars
play a role in dominate social life until I got to Reykjavík. There are a lot of reasons for the significance of bar culture in New York, but if I were going to give a guess at the primary one (besides the fact that New Yorkers just really like to drink), I’d say that people just tend to spend a lot of their free time (often the majority of their free time) outside of their frequently tiny, often shared apartments in New York. So social life gets kicked to the bars. And there’s not really a cafe scene in New York the same as I’m told there is in Seattle or Paris (or like there is in Reykjavík, for that matter). So bars become the main forum for socializing.
Here in Reykjavík, by contrast, people spend a lot more time at home, both in the personal/family context and in the social context. As evidence of this, I might point to the fact that happy hour–an almost holy institution in New York–is still relatively new here. If you go out on a weeknight after work hours to one of the bars offering happy hour specials in Reykjavík, you will yes, run into Icelanders. But my experience thus far is that weeknight/after work drinking is still primarily the practice of foreigners and tourists.
But I digress. Again. The point of all this is that at the end of January, Mark and I had two rather different, but quite enjoyable bar experiences, and ones which I think will inevitably enhance our pub-going in the future. Firstly, we decided to give a try to the Red Lion, a pub in Seltjanarnes which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, located on the ground floor of the mall under the post office (same mall as the library, matter of fact). We headed out on a Sunday afternoon to catch a soccer match (Manchester United-Liverpool, if that’s of interest) and were rather surprised when we arrived that not only was this place huge, but it was also crammed to the gills with very enthusiastic supporters. We clammored to a back room which was relatively empty and had some extra arm chairs and couches which could be turned to face either of the large tvs and enjoyed a very nice afternoon–good pizza, too.
The best part, I think, (if not the posters for a match between the local team KR and the Greek squad from the city of…Larissa) was that at half-time, a bunch of kids went out into the mall atrium and started playing their own game. Occasionally, the ball would batter the pub windows or small children would slam up against the glass (either on accident or to see what the current score was once play resumed), and I think that really added to the atmosphere.
Just shortly after our afternoon at the Red Lion, we stopped by the brand new Stúdentakjallarinn, or student (basement) pub in the…basement of the central building on campus. This pub has been under construction since before we got to Iceland, and it definitely fills a niche on/around campus. (Before this, if you wanted to get a drink in the vicinity and didn’t want to walk into town, you could go to the expensive bar at the Radisson Blú Saga Hotel or for a cheap, but kinda weird, bottle at the domestic airport. Obviously, the walk into town is not that far and well, you’d have to be in an interesting place in life to elect to go have a beer at the airport just for kicks, but, nevertheless, that was the landscape.)
The student pub offers very reasonably priced café drinks and snacks (the quesadilla wasn’t half bad), the beer is extremely cheap for students, and although the whole place was
super dark atmospherically-lit when we arrived, there were lots of people sipping coffee and working on their laptops while Saturday Night Fever played on a large screen on the back wall. The decor is comfy-chic, there’s a whole wall that is made of plants, and there are also regular events scheduled there like poetry readings and, excitingly, a popular (English) language pub quiz which Mark and I plan to attend with some friends later this month.
So, nice additions both. (If you’d like to see more admittedly dark photos of the student pub and, for that matter, other shots from the whole month of January, check out the photo blog.)