Here’s one thing about bars in Reykjavík: When you order a drink, you are brought not only said drink but also one of those PIN pad credit card terminals to pay for it. Insert your plastic, assign a tip value (if you want!), and sign the receipt – all while the bartender patiently waits.
Now, patronizing any bar is inherently transactional. You give money; you get alcohol. That’s the deal. But the best bars have a way of letting you forget that, however temporarily. Something about the Icelandic city’s pay-as-you-go system has always struck me as… cold. I’m already committing to pay an exorbitant fee for this 8oz pour of Aon Pecan Mudcake, can you please trust that I’m not going to sip and slip?
So, when I made my first visit to Mikkeller & Friends on a 2017 trip to Reykjavík, I practically melted when the bartender didn’t immediately whip out an electronic payment apparatus. Hell, he didn’t even ask for a card! He merely wrote down my name and watched me walk away. Three hours later, at the end of the night, he told me what I owed him. Crazy, right?
Yes, I know, it is not that crazy, but sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. And the charm of Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík is the seemingly endless collection of little things.
The irony, of course, is that there is nothing little about the Mikkeller empire. If you’re unfamiliar with the Danish company (founded by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller), Mikkeller started as a “nomadic” brewery – meaning, it contract brewed on other people’s larger systems all across Europe rather operate a brewery of its own. (I wrote about this model with regard to Brian Strumke and Stillwater, but Evil Twin and Omnipollo are a few other notable examples such breweries.) A few years ago, however, Mikkeller opened a proper brewery in San Diego, where it brews some of its beers (the juice bomb New England IPAs, in particular).
Before that, Mikkeller also got into the bar and restaurant business. Hard. It got into the bar and restaurant business very, very hard. To wit: Mikkeller has opened about dozen concepts in its home base of Copenhagen alone – a taqueria, several ramen shop, a Belgian bar, smørrebrød, a BBQ collab brewpub with America’s Three Floyds, and so on. In 2018, there are at least 40 Mikkeller concepts and locations across three continents. The logistics of it all blows my mind. Last year, I was in Copenhagen drinking a Hazy Fuentes canned in California a few weeks earlier. That’s insane! Logistics!!!
Where was I? Oh yes, Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík. Most Mikkeller bars have a certain look: clean design, bright colors, a beer chalkboard, stout pint glasses, an overall vibe that stands as the antithesis of macho posturing. (Notably, the wonderful Wet City in Baltimore draws inspiration from the Mikkeller bars.) I’ve enjoyed all of the Mikkeller bars I’ve been to, from Stockholm to San Francisco… but Mikkeller & Friends Reykjavík still feels special.
Open since 2015, it’s located near the center of downtown Reykjavík – a distinction that doesn’t mean a whole lot since Reykjavík is quite small – in an old, white building with stone base and and corrugated steel roof. (The latter feature is endemic throughout the country.) The four-story building stretches back to 1910, when a doctor named Guðmundur Hannesson designed and constructed it to house his family and Reykjavík’s first X-Ray clinic.
In the present day, the ground floor of this structure houses a swanky Nordic restaurant called Dill. On the second, you can find cocktails and beer from Hverfisgata 12 (coincidentally, the building’s address). And lastly, on the penultimate floor, directly under the metallic gable roof, is Mikkeller & Friends. (Looking at this property from the outside, you would never guess it housed three different establishments.)
To get to Mikkeller & Friends, you enter on the second floor (there is an elevated side entrance) and walk up a small wooden staircase. Having slayed those stairs, you immediately enter a cozy bar area. Maybe four people can fit at the actual bar. On the other side of it, 20 tap handles are scrunched together, and above those, the beer options are numbered and scribbled in chalk.
There is a larger seating area outside this room, though it’s hardly a beer hall. One communal table divides the room in half, a three high tables on side of it and three smaller tables on the other.
One side’s walls are lined with the individually illuminated prints from artist Keith Shore, whose drawings (most notably the recurring hatted man) are inseparable from Mikkeller’s personality. Prints from Kasper Ledet – a more diverse, irreverent artist – can be found on the wall across the room. Ledet is the in-house artist for To Øl, another Danish nomadic brewery and Mikkeller’s partner in this particular bar. (Hence Mikkeller & Friends.)
Envisioned by set designer Hálfdán Pedersen, the space is accented with brightly colored stools and red hanging lights. Not to belabor the point, but it’s intimate. It feels like drinking in your craftiest beer friend’s apartment-turned-speakeasy.
As you might expect, the bar’s imbibable offerings draw primarily from Mikkeller and To Øl, two breweries that excel in wild, tart, and sour styles. On the more broadly approachable side, there are a series of Mikkeller beers (a pilsner, a wit, a brown, and a sponta blend) made especially for the bar, and you’ll also occasionally find drafts from other European Mikkeller ventures like Warpigs and the San Diego production facility. For a beer geek, it’s well worth the price of admission.
And beer, like everything else, is very expensive in Iceland.
But at Mikkeller & Friends, it’s easy to forget about all that.
Mikkeller & Friends, Hverfisgata 12, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland, is open Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.
More Bars Worth Traveling To:
- The Bar at Hotel Particulier – Paris, France
- Alfredo’s Cantina – Monterey, California
- Container Bar – Austin, Texas
- Bellwoods Brewery – Toronto, Canada
- The Neighber’s – Omaha, Nebraska
- Maps – Portland, Maine
- Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge – Palm Springs, California
- Dino’s – Nashville, Tennessee
- Nice Guys Pizza and Beer – Cape Coral, Florida
- Zeitgest – San Francisco, California
- The Sitting Room at Delahunt – Dublin, Ireland
- Tlachiquero – Mexico City, Mexico
- The Country Club – New Orleans, Louisiana