Quicktake: Reykjavik’s cocktail scene has significantly grown over the last 15 years with excellent drinks coming from cocktail bars and seasonal chef-driven spaces. Plus the locals like to drink and make gin.
When I first visited Iceland, it was relatively undeveloped and nothing like the tourist hub it has become. I fell in love with the scenery and cool local style. But food and drink options were limited (and expensive!). I went back recently to see how the Reykjavik cocktail scene has evolved over the last two decades.
Five Recommended Reykjavik Cocktail Bars and Restaurants
Jungle Bar: Modern Day Craft Cocktails
The modern day cocktail explorer should not miss the lush Jungle bar. They offer a range of cocktails from no and low ABV drinks to stylish stiff-ones. The staff picks, including a most excellent martini, showcase classics and elegant 2 part cocktails made with know-how. The vibe ranges from low-key all-day Monday happy hour to DJ party time on weekends. Do go!
Kokteil Barinn: Cocktail Bar with Champagne Train
This generically named bar (the name means “Cocktail Bar” in Icelandic) turns out drinks worthy of its moniker. They have a well curated cocktail selection and bar staff are both friendly and very knowledgeable. The menu also features a short G&T selection. Enjoy a Hanky Panky Deluxe from the plush velour seats in the beautiful vintage train car.
Mat Bar: Middle Eastern Tapas Bar & Restaurant
This trendy bar and restaurant not only showcases the uber-cool aesthetics coming from the island’s stylish crowd, but also a topnotch seasonal menu of ever-changing Mediterranean style small plates and sharp cocktails. It’s light and bright and the perfect stop for an indulgent lunch with a cheeky drink or a tapas style aperitif.
Kol: Highballs, Gin Fixes and Cocktails for Pros
This comfy and stylish restaurant features a small and sophisticated bar front and center where talented staff mix classics and house creations. The menu ranges from “Accessible Cocktails” like the Aperol Spritz to those “For the Professionals” like the Wokou Gimlet with coconut washed Awamori. Plus any bar menu that features an 8 cocktail gin fix section is alright by me.
Vedur: Seasonal Cocktails and Minimalist Scandinavian Space
This busy bar with floor to ceiling windows and a simple Scandinavian decor is worth settling into for the evening. Bartenders serve seasonal cocktails and classics on request. The menu also offers Icelandic beers, snacks and coffee. Note: there’s additional space downstairs if the ground floor is full.
Special mention for Icelandic food and drinks pairing
Well-known Matur og Drykkur specializes in classic Icelandic cuisine made with fresh ingredients and modern twists. Their six course menu with drink pairing is outstanding. Food-lovers really shouldn’t miss this stop. And, though they aren’t a dedicated bar, you can start off with a cocktail from the small menu.
More Reykjavik Cocktail Bars
In addition to the above I also enjoyed cocktails in Slipparrin and Bastard Brew & Food. I even tried the kitschily themed Lebowski bar that serves a menu White Russians (I tried the Pumpkin Spice one). If that’s your thing, they do a good one.
One spot I didn’t manage to try, but think is worth a mention is the restaurant and bar in the Harpa concert hall and conference center. Chances are you will wander over that way to admire the unusual glass facade of the building, designed to mirror the Icelandic landscape. I’m thinking a glass of bubbles at the bar would be a great way to leisurely enjoy the architecture from the inside. So, that’s on my list for next time.
While you may not yet have had the occasion to visit Reykjavik’s bars, you may well know Martin Miller gin. It’s made with Icelandic water and a familiar bottle in many cocktail bars. It seems the islanders not only have a taste for gin but also turn out a few different local expressions. And the purity of the Iceland water seems to be a big point of focus for the gin brands coming out of the country.
I visited the team of one of Iceland’s newer gins, Ólafsson from Eyland Spirits. During my tasting, I spoke to head distiller Jason Veal who talked about their use of unique Icelandic botanicals like moss, birch and arctic time – and, of course, the importance of the Icelandic water. Veal explains that Ólafsson is becoming a very popular choice locally because of its “smooth fresh start and soft middle and wrap of cleanly expressed botanicals.” He explains that “Icelanders like a really soft alcohol experience” and having tasted the gin, I confirm that it’s bright balanced palette and approachable ABV make it a very tasty way to quench your thirst.
Also in chatting with the Icelanders on the Eyland spirits team I really got the impression that the island’s younger residents are travelling but coming back and really channeling a lot of cool and creative energy into projects like this as well as other food and drink ventures with a focus on local quality products and stylish design. Basically, non-pejoratively ultra hip products and places.
Many of the bars feature dedicated gin sections on their menus, either as a cocktail base or with special fizz or G&T lists. And Reykjavik also has its own gin bar, Kaldi. Plenty of locals stop in for pints at happy hour, but the gin loving contingent come in for G&T’s with Icelandic or other gins. Chat up the bartender to determine what to drink as there is no cocktail menu.
Finally, a little pro tip: Food and drink can get spendy on this beautiful island. Do check out the happy hours at different bars. They stagger them at different times so you can get drinks for half price pretty much any time of the day if you plan right.