Iceland Mag

-5 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Nightlife

An American in Reykjavík: With Reykjavík's nightlife slow and steady wins the race

By Matt Eliason

  •  In Reykjavik, if you are NOT out when the sun rises you are perceived to be heading home early. Photo/Valli

Matt Eliason has just moved to Iceland from Chicago. In his regular column for Iceland Magazine he chronicles his first impressions of the country, its people and traditions. The subject today is the Reykjavík nightlife, which Matt compares to the endurance of a marathon.

 

A quick disclaimer before I start this section – I have only been out a couple of times in downtown Reykjavik so far. These are my initial impressions, so for good or for bad, Icelanders still have time to shape my perception of their nightlife and culture. I am open to hearing all suggestions and comments, so feel free to tweet at me @elieliason23 or email me: matt.eliason@icelandmag.com.

After my first couple nights out in downtown Reykjavik I can honestly say that Icelanders also know how to throw a party. 

Nightlife: Chicago is known for its nightlife and party atmosphere with a variety of bars and night clubs sprawled throughout all parts of the city. However, after my first couple nights out in downtown Reykjavik I can honestly say that Icelanders also know how to throw a party. Since both Chicago and Reykjavik´s nightlife are unique and exciting in their own special way, I thought it would be fun to compare a typical night going out in the two cities.

Chicago: Most nights start out with a pre-party get-together comprised of a small group of friends, known as pre-gaming. Times vary for the pre-game festivities to start, but from my own experiences people usually start arriving to drink between 8pm – 9pm. Aside from the normal conversing, drinking activities such as beer pong, card games, and other excuses for the mass consumption of alcohol are common before ever stepping foot into a bar. Beer is much cheaper in Chicago than it is in Reykjavik, which is why a culture of binge drinking appears to be more prevalent in Chicago. I´m not saying that Icelanders don´t consume their fair share of alcohol; however, due to the astronomical prices of alcohol in the city of Reykjavik, Icelanders tend to appreciate and enjoy their beers, rather than chugging them down without much thought (like your typical American frat boy).

After finishing up the beer and liquor (or if you are a girl, leaving full beers with one sip taken out of the can) at your house or apartment pre-game party, its out to one of the many bars that Chicago has to offer. The process of transporting to the bars usually occurs around the 10.30pm – 11.30pm timeframe - significantly earlier than the nightlife culture in Iceland. Since Chicago is such a gigantic city, taxis and elevated train transportation is usually necessary to reach your intended destination. Likewise, Icelanders use taxis to get to the downtown area, yet walking amongst the different bars once you reach downtown Reykjavik is no trouble considering all the establishments are located in such a convenient range.

To simplify the diverse Chicago bar/club scene for the Icelanders reading this article, I will generalize about the different areas of Chicago. First, the River North area is known as the nicest place to go out in the city, with numerous bars and clubs that attract a higher level income and a better dressed crowd. The establishments in this area are usually more expensive and can require a longer wait time to enter the bar (unless you are an attractive female, which means you get to walk right in without waiting). Next, the Wicker Park area provides a trendy spot to hang out which appeals to a more liberal crowd (hipsters). Further north, the Lincoln Park / Wrigleyville area is home to the less luxurious bars, and normally draws a younger, more collegiate crowd. The diversity exemplified across Chicago provides a market for all interests and income levels.

I know the Icelanders reading this are laughing to themselves because the bars here in Reykjavik don´t start hitting their stride until the 2am timeframe

After having your fun, partying at the bar, grinding to the music, and getting rejected by girls (maybe this is just a personal problem), the Chicago establishments start closing down around 2am. Now, I know the Icelanders reading this are laughing to themselves because the bars here in Reykjavik don´t start hitting their stride until the 2am timeframe, but I will get to that in the next section of my analysis. At this point in the Chicago night, you can see girls doing their best impression of a tight-rope walker trying to prevent themselves from falling down in their uncomfortable heels, while the guys make their last desperate attempt to pull a phone number from a group of girls waving down a cab to drive them home. All in all, the Chicago scene is one that I have become fondly accustom to and undoubtedly enjoy.

Reykjavik: As a footballer for local club Þróttur, I don´t have the opportunity to go out drinking that often. I can only experience the nightlife here in Reykjavik, when the team has a couple days off of practice or if there is a long layoff between games. However, there are two major characteristics of the Reykjavik nightlife that jumped out at me thus far in my limited time experiencing the city. First, the price of alcohol shapes the decisions you have to make when going out. With the cheapest beer in the bar around 1000 ISK (approx. $8.25) and the cheapest 24 pack of beer available for purchase at the liquor store priced at 4000 ISK (approx. $33), I have a much greater appreciation for the low price and bulk selection of alcohol found in Chicago. In turn, the drinking games that are simply not socially responsible in Chicago, are also not economically responsible here in Reykjavik. A much mellower vibe is present here when prepping with friends before a night out on the town. Slowly sipping a beer, rather than being peer pressured into chugging, is the social norm for a culture that I have found to be much more laid back than your typical city-dwelling American. Now I understand that I don´t know how to fully speak the Icelandic language yet; (I can now fluently say the words ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘scissors’ in Icelandic, but this does not get me very far in conversation) Yet, all indications tell me that the collegiate drinking culture that shapes young adults in the United States is not present here in Reykjavik. The fraternity and sorority culture that engulfs the American college scene and sticks with young adults through their mid-20s does not bear the same influence here in Reykjavik. Thus, a much calmer pre-party atmosphere can be found in Iceland.

...has actually had a physical effect on my well-being is this culture´s amazing ability to stay out all night! Please can I just go to sleep!

The 2nd characteristic of Reykjavik nightlife that has actually had a physical effect on my well-being is this culture´s amazing ability to stay out all night! Please can I just go to sleep! Maybe it has to do with the fact that the sun never entirely sets in the summertime, or that DJ Muscle Boy´s newest hit song is blasting out of the speakers…LOUDER! Both times I have made it downtown to the local bars, B5 at Bankastræti street and Kaffibarinn at Bergstaðastræti street, around 1pm. At this point the main crowd was still filing into the bars, as the general populous had not yet arrived to the downtown area. I was busy yawning and rubbing my eyes as the rest of the bar was just arriving to dance their way through the night. More depressing is the fact that due to the geographical location of Iceland, the sunlight starts creeping in through the windows before 4am while the bars are still in service. In Chicago, if you are out drinking when the sun rises you are perceived to be an alcoholic. In Reykjavik, if you are NOT out when the sun rises you are perceived to be heading home early. This distinction between the two cities has provided the biggest mental adjustment to my social behavior!

Therefore, if I were to recap the two cities in a brief summary, I would say the atmosphere around Reykjavik nightlife can be compared to that of a marathon due to numerous hours you are expected to stay out. You must pace yourself if you plan on having any energy left at the end of the night. Conversely, the Chicago nightlife is more attuned to a sprint, with heavier drinking in a much shorter time period. As a sprinter my whole life, I must now adapt to the marathon lifestyle present here in Reykjavik´s night scene.

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