Renovated Kiki Queer Bar and Gaukurinn Welcome Guests Again.
Since the government-mandated closing of all bars in mid-March, many establishments have had their doors shuttered. When the gathering bans went into effect and social distancing became the new norm, bars and clubs were the first to close. After all, it is difficult to maintain the proper distance from strangers in confined spaces and we’re all more likely to forget hand washing after a few drinks.
As of now, bars and restaurants can only stay open until 23:00, which means most locals are starting their nights out downtown earlier and hosting afterparties away from Laugavegur. Deprived of any late-night dancing and in-person drag shows for the past three months, everyone is itching to get back out into audiences and onto the dancefloor.
Two establishments home to much of Iceland’s queer culture, Kiki Queer Bar and Gaukurinn, have both renovated and improved their spaces to welcome everyone home again. GayIceland chatted with the teams at both bars to get the inside scoop on what’s new.
Saturday night’s re-opening party at Kiki showed off everything from a freshly painted interior with stellar flamingo wallpaper to seven new, bright neon signs. “Kiki went a bit back to it’s campy, kitschy roots focusing on tropical fun, but in a more classy way. It’s mostly a cosmetic surgery that took place, giving Kiki a more vibrant feel to the place,” says Árni Grétar Jóhannsson, Kiki’s manager and one of its owners.
Each window of the bar’s main floor has been adorned with photo prints of Reykjavík’s best-known queens from Gloria Hole to Faye Knus. On the outside, each window has been painted a different color of the rainbow.
All night Saturday an open bar served Kiki-signature beer brewed and bottled by Ölvisholt Brugghús. Gin and tonics, Breezers, and the like were served up in new Kiki branded dance floor approved cups. The house itself got a shiny new roof and all the floors were cleaned and resurfaced.
“We were one of the first places to close when the pandemic was rising, we considered it to be the right thing to do since Kiki is a place of hardcore partying, so we could never fulfill the 2-meter rule properly,” says Árni.
“Kiki went a bit back to it’s campy, kitschy roots focusing on tropical fun, but in a more classy way.”
Even before COVID-19, business for Kiki was starting to change. “We have to face a new reality. People were already heading out earlier, which is a challenge for a late-night club like Kiki. Changes like these are just challenges we have to face and tackle. There are no rules that say you can’t sing, dance and party at 8 o’clock in the evening!
Our biggest enemy right now might just be the sun. Getting Icelanders inside if the weather is good might be a challenge, but we’ll just have to make our program even more fun!”
Next up on that program is classic Kiki parties during the next few months, from Kikioki on Thursdays and Drag Party on Fridays to Dance Party on Saturdays.
For Árni concepts like theme-nights, monthly Out of Control Drag Shows, and even a Christmas Party are in the cards …
Re-opening tomorrow, Friday, July 10th, Gaukurinn has it’s own renovations to show off. From 19:00 to 23:00 a free entry party will showcase a DJ set from Mighty Bear with free drinks from Víking Brugghús for some of the first guests. Manager Sólveig Johnsen (aka drag king Milo de Mix) says the re-opening will start with the party and a concert booked for July 11th, Pearl Jam vs. Nirvana tribute show.
Gaukurinn as a business was struggling pre-COVID with terrible storms in January and February wiping out crowds that would normally come out for shows. Closed for three months after that, Gaukurinn was nearly pushed to the edge of closing for good. “It’s the staff of Gaukurinn and the community we’ve built that are really bringing it back. The business is getting next to nothing in terms of support from the city. It’s very hard for us to get answers about government loans or other assistance, like we’re waiting in limbo. The city puts great ideas out there for discussion about financial aid, but the talks go nowhere,” says Sólveig.
Even without the aid, Gaukurinn has gotten a well-deserved makeover. The floors have been cleaned and resurfaced and the booth in the entry area has been taken out. A cozy couch area will replace the space just past it. “We’ve spent the last few weeks in our painting clothes just renovating as much as we can for next to 0 kr.,” says Sólveig.
“It’s the staff of Gaukurinn and the community we’ve built that are really bringing it back. The business is getting next to nothing in terms of support from the city.”
For now, the restaurant Veganæs will not be a part of the re-opening. Even though it’s within Gaukurinn’s building, their business is a separate entity that needs its own evaluation. Sólveig says “It’s a small businesses like Gaukurinn and Veganæs up against the large real estate companies that own many properties downtown. We’re not at the same table or even on the same playing field as our landlords. We’re a small business that can easily go under, while they own hundreds of properties.”
Gaukurinn remains one of the last vestiges for independent concerts and drag shows in Reykjavik. With places like Húrra closed and taken over by sports bars, the pickings are getting slim for venues of Gaukurinn’s size. Sólveig says: “Gaukurinn is one of a kind and we have our crew of regulars. We’re constantly making the space the way we want and really letting that shine.”
Acts coming back online in the next few weeks will include pub quizzes, karaoke, Soulflow Comedy, drag shows for pride and singer-songwriter nights. Gaukurinn will also be hosting Hinsegin Ladies Night on the 17th of July.
At the end of the day, Sólveig says “we could all just sit at home in a constant state of panic, but at some point, we just have to go for it and make the best of a bad situation. I’m more optimistic than most people. It’s also good to note you’re very much not invited if you’ve been feeling sick or showing COVID symptoms. None of us want another 20 person gathering ban.”