Bar/fly: Iceland

By Kevin Pilley

Icelanders spend their weekend making up for lost drinking time, finds Kevin Pilley

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

A face clamped itself on to mine. Teeth crunched. I feared for my tooth enamel.

"Welcome to north Iceland," said Inga, a volcanic ash blonde, her mouth having freed mine with a plunger-like sound. "We are very warm people!"

She looked down at me from her higher altitude. There was "Egils" beer on her breath. Maybe a little "Reyka" vodka too. The look she gave me indicated she now firmly believed in elves.

"You are a runtur virgin, I think? You have not partied in the Arctic before."

It was an astute observation through lip taste alone.

She stifled a burp. "Icelanders are the happiest, most party-loving people on earth. With the Irish," she declared, nodding in agreement with herself. She stared at me in a vague unfocused way and said, "I like you".

I have always found myopia a very attractive quality in a woman.

Iceland is bad for anyone's optic nerve. The sights make your adam's apple bungy jump. Natural beauty is everywhere. The waterfalls are magnificent, the ladies maddeningly pretty and the men demoralisingly handsome. It's a scenic place.

I was in one of the world's most northerly nightclubs and bars, "Sjallinn" in Akureyri, the country's second largest city, just 100km south of the Arctic Circle.

The river Glera runs through town and Eyjafjordur is at the end of the high street.

Akureyri's population is around 17,000 and the most common surname sounds something like Fishprocessorsson.

Especially after a night out in the perpetual sun.

I was in town for the annual "Arctic Open" golf tournament which is played through the night under the midnight sun at the Jadarsvolur Club. But I was also there to have a good time.

The locals made sure of that. Akureyri is the place to indulge in tall drinks and tall blondes.

The place was loud, raucous and packed.

As we sipped analytically at our smuggled-in aquavits and in-house "Stinning's Kaldi", my golfing partner Sveinn expounded an interesting social theory in a faultless flow of impeccably slurred DVD loan words.

His eyes had a rather glazed appearance and his voice was lowered to just below a bawl.

"It's something in our DNA, man. Saturday night's ratface night!"

I nodded politely as one does when a Viking tests the acoustics of your ear canal.

Beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989 and Icelanders spend their weekend making up for lost drinking time.

Many believe the end of prohibition was the most significant cultural event in the country's long history, and something worth celebrating every week. If not every evening. A "runtur" ( meaning "round tour") is a pub crawl. All you need is an open mouth and an open wallet.

We had ticked off the Caf Amour. the Gotubarinn ( "Street Bar) and the "Bogglageymslan", ending up on Geislagata in the middle of town.

After an hour of perspiring very freely, we went outside to cool down.

Sveinn's mate Siggi was exhibiting spectacularly suppressed inhibitions by shinning up a lamppost and treating everyone to a tuneless reprise of Obla-di-Obla-da.

"We all get high at weekends," added Sveiin, oblivious to the accuracy of his observation.

"In summer in Iceland there is no dawn and no dusk. No night. No day. No night before or morning after. That is why we party as if there is no tomorrow. Because for three months every year there isn't one!"

Close by, Skuli, a truly gutted fish-gutter enjoying time off from the local fish-freezing plant, gushed sick all over the pavement. A car honked and the people in the front waved. On the top of the windscreen it said "Gunnur and Gudrun" - the Arctic circle equivalent of Kevin and Tracey. They were wearing shades. Everyone does in the perpetual light.

Plastic Coke bottles full of Campari and Southern Comfort were passed round. There was no trouble. Disorderly behaviour is rare. There are occasional scuffles but these tend to be someone trying to put their coats on in a high wind. Sometimes there is a lot of shouting.

Bevvied Icelanders like to shout at anything that moves. And very often at things that don't.

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