The transatlantic contest, which appears to have achieved cult status in its first outing, saw 15 bars from North America and Europe compete across three days in Iceland – a sub-polar island planted in the northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, diplomatically placed between the two geographical continents.
Beset by jet lag and thrust into the winter arctic blizzard for North America (or more precisely the US) was Broken Shaker from Miami, two bars from New Orleans: Cane and Table and Victory, and New York bars: Employees Only, Attaboy, Dutch Kills and The Gilroy.
While the European side was mainly made up of bearded bartenders. Representing Europe was Stockholm bars Corner Club and Linje Tio, En Raus Bar from Trondheim, Copenhagen bars Strøm and Gilt, Amsterdam’s Door 74, Paris’ Candelaria and London’s Worship Street Whistling Shop.
Each bar was represented by a pair of bartenders who were tasked with presenting a twist on a Martinez and Daiquiri, plus a drink made from a mystery box of ingredients. The main event took place over two days at Reykjavik’s Idno theatre.
As a contest between bars rather than bartenders, participants were also asked to showcase something of their bar’s atmosphere and personality. Some fared better than others.
While many of the teams presented slides, videos and wore themed dress, Strøm transformed the stage into their bar. Reluctant at first, the throng of industry onlookers were invited on stage as the music was cranked up and drinks were served. It may have been the world’s shortest lived pop-up bar but it was enough to impress the judges.
The judging panel for the event comprised: Stanislav Vadrna, brand ambassador of Nikka and founder of Analog Bartending Institute; Dan Priseman of Bitters & Twisted and brand ambassador of Four Roses; Saga Garðarsdóttir, Icelandic actress and comedian; and Ólafur Örn Ólafsson, former president of the Icelandic Sommeliers Association and founder of Foss distillery.
Vadrna said: “I have been impressed by the performers. Strøm increased the energy on stage. It was inspirational.”
The calm before the Strøm: Jonas Andersen (wearing hot pants) and Mikael Nilsson explain the multiple facets to their bar - before turning the stage into a party
On winning, the Strøm bartenders were modest and magnanimous. Nilsson told DI: “We were just proud to be here so to win is just surreal – we did not expect it.”
Andersen, grasping his puffin with delight, said: “The bars [represented] here are top notch. At Strøm we are just four walls and a great team - the reason we have been able to come is that someone is covering our shift.”
In unofficial second place was Dutch Kills, which won Best Performance and the Public Vote award but mentions were also made of London’s Worship Street Whistling Shop for its Martinez, Broken Shaker for its Daiquiri and Employees Only for its mystery drink.
Battle of the Continents
The competition also saw a Battle of the Continents round, in which Europe and North America competed before a large crowd of largely bemused locals.
If there had been a prize for hipsters with their shirts off, Europe would have won, judges alluded, but North America proved to be better at making drinks and serving them to customers, which is of course the concept of bartending. They were accordingly crowned continent champions.
Judge Ólafsson added some incisive analysis: “Some people took off their clothes and some people like that; some people did not take off their clothes and some people like that.”
A Big T-shirt Whiskey Sour Competition also took place but, though hilarious, was largely too ridiculous to translate into words. Conclusion: bartenders need both hands to shake and make drinks.
The Reykjavik Bar Summit 2015 was a non-profit event sponsored by Iceland Air and Icelandair Hotels and hosted by Slippbarinn Bar. It is set to be repeated next year, if a puffin can be sourced and stuffed in time.