A few years ago, agents in the Icelandic tourism industry successfully marketed Reykjavík nightlife as the hot new ticket, all wild and free and hip and crazy. Young people from all over Europe flocked here on the weekends and Reykjavík gained a reputation as THE place to party.
A couple of years later, the then-majority on the city council introduced free opening hours for bar owners. This was allegedly to combat the problem of thousands of people pouring out into the streets when the bars closed at around 3 am, with the resulting street party and people clamoring for the few available cabs to take them home.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but alas, it had a nasty side-effect. As soon as places started staying open until 6 or 7 am, people started going out later than they already did [read: 1 or 2 am, as opposed to 11 or 12] and by the time morning rolled around they were usually either pissed out of their skulls or, worse, stoned on something that would give them the necessary endurance to keep going well into the next day. It’s no coincidence that cocaine use started to become a problem in Iceland after the opening hours were extended [plus it coincided with the 2007-era and all the insanity associated with that].
In other words, in the past few years Reykjavík nightlife has become a lot more brutal than it used to be.
Last night [or, well, early this morning] AAH came home from a night on the town. She had on no jacket and was freezing cold. She also had no bag and no money. All had been stolen. Needless to say, she was a tad upset. She’d been looking forward to going out for several days: the bars opened at midnight [on account of yesterday being Easter Sunday, one of the very few times a year when bars are closed, so they stayed closed until 12 am and then opened] and all her friends were going out.
This is not the first time this happens. It’s not even the second or the third time. I don’t know how many times AAH has had her stuff stolen. She works at a popular café downtown – one that closes around 1 am , not one of the all-night ones. Even there she’s had her stuff taken from the staff room. On other occasions she’s had her wallet stolen, and her cellphone. Bags on at least two occasions, containing everything, including a sum of money that she’d received for her birthday that same day. She’s even gone to a regular house party and had her iPod stolen. She’s learned her lesson, though, and leaves most of that stuff at home now when she goes out, or to work. But even the contents of a makeup bag are very expensive if you need to replace everything. One lipstick costs around ISK 4,000 – and the contents of an entire bag can easily set you back ISK 50,000 [USD 400].
A few months ago, she was at a place called Café Óliver, downtown. She was sitting with a bunch of friends, and got up to dance. When she came back, her coat was gone. Fortunately she found it a while later, draped over the back of someone else’s chair, and took it back. About a month later, she was in Café Óliver again, and her coat was taken again. That time, she didn’t find it.
Last night AAH was there again. She was wearing a brand-new faux leather biker jacket, very cool, that she had bought the day before. She took it off and stuck it in her bag, along with her scarf, and kept the bag on her shoulder. One of her friends was working behind the bar, so another friend – whom she was with – suggested she should let her friend behind the bar keep it for her. Just in case she let her attention slip for a moment. Because she’d had bad luck before.
So AAH handed the bag to her friend, who stashed it safely behind the bar, right where he and the other bartender were working. Half an hour later, when AAH went to claim it, it was gone. Someone had actually dived behind the bar and grabbed the bag without the bartender seeing it. And it contained everything. Wallet, cards, cellphone, makeup, brand-new jacket, scarf, house keys.
This kind of thing just makes me so furious.
There are no rules, no code of ethics out there. It’s the Wild Wild West. The night she had her coat stolen a few weeks ago, she looked all over for it, and finally asked the doormen, who shrugged and told her this happens all the time. “Girls come in wearing no coat, and walk out half an hour later with a coat on,” they said, adding that they knew people came there purposely to steal things – bags, coats, whatever they could get their hands on. Óliver seems to be particularly vulnerable, according to those in the know. Possibly because it’s fairly upscale [i.e. with people who have stuff in their bags], it tends to be packed, and it’s very dark in there. And there’s a dancefloor, so people go off to dance and leave their stuff unattended.
Personally, I can’t bear to walk into one of those places. The last time I hit the town in Reykjavík was around 2006 and the place we were in – Thorvaldsen – was like a freaking black hole. People were pissed and falling into each other and it was so loud that you had to scream to talk to the person next to you. I hardly ever drink alcohol any more, and to be in a place like that sober is just kind of horrifying. Add to that the morale I’m perceiving through AAH’s misfortunes and I just give downtown a wide berth on weekend nights.
So bottom line, if you’re in Reykjavík and you want to hit the town, here’s a bit of advice: keep your belongings GLUED to your body, and do not remove your coat. And if you see someone wearing a very cool black biker jacket that looks like the one on the fifth picture down, please do me and AAH a favour and ask them where they got it. And if they say “behind the bar at Café Óliver,” then please hit them over the head with a stick.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I must go change the locks.