|City's Best Hot Dogs, Reykjavik, January 2002|
As midnight and the runtur approaches, we aim for Laugavegur.
“Speed up, would ya?” I call back to my lagging gang. “This is supposed to be a runtur, not a walktur!”
Sirkus, our designated starting point, looks downright funereal. So does Kaffibarinn. And Prikid looks no better.
As we deliberate, young ladies catcall us from an apartment on high; we accept this as a sign from God, or the devil, to duck into Prikid for a drink.
Van Stein runs up to a gaggle of gals at the bar. They are British, also in search of the runtur, if shy and indifferent to a clump of three crazed Americans and one seriously disordered Scot.
One drink later, not much action, time to check out the lower end: Rex, a club designed by Terence Conran, the British decorator.
We’re standing on the pavement when a glass from nowhere explodes beside us. “That’s it,” I say. “The runtur has officially begun.”
Rex, of minimalist design, caters, we find, to a minimal clientele.
“Welcome,” says the manager. “We will fill up.” This is wishful thinking on his part.
“Terence must have designed this one in his sleep,” says Erik the Red.
Flashing a Press card, I weasel us into their private-membership Mafia/VIP room. Once a bank vault, this windowless basement is furnished with red vinyl booths, imported from a 1950s American diner. It is emptier than upstairs. We can stay, we’re told, if we order champagne.
“We’re not staying if you give us champagne,” I say.
Upstairs, Rex does not pick up. And midnight is upon us. Floater strolls out to investigate: How did our recon go wrong?
Floater races back inside. “This place is dog meat,” he hollers. “The new hot place is around the corner. It’s called NASA, and there’s a long line to get in!”
We drain single-malt whiskey and charge out. Indeed, the young sons and dottirs of Iceland are queued up on Austurvollur Square to join whatever is happening inside NASA.
Floater tries to grease an early entry by tipping the doorman, but this Guardian of Berserk won’t have it. So, we dance in place to stave off frostbite and curse ourselves for screwing up.
Soon, a thousand kronor (ten dollar) admission gets us inside to a berserk-ness-in-progress.
Someone tells us that Club NASA, a converted church, opened one month before and immediately replaced Rex as runtur headquarters.
Beneath a vaulted ceiling and purple strobe-lights, a sea of young Icelanders jerk to–egad!–disco music. Even worse, it is a track from Saturday Night Fever.
Van Stein perches near a railing, an unobstructed view of dance floor. He has already prepped his palette with nine colors of paint from ultramarine blue to titanium white.
“Eighty percent of an artist’s work is preparation,” he says. With a shot of Black Death Brennavin in one hand and a filbert brush in the other, he deftly captures moment and mood inside the Church of Berserk.
A stocky bouncer in gothic black trench coat approaches. “What you think you doing?” he asks, not comprehending the antics of foreign interlopers.
“I think I paint this place,” says Van Stein.
The bouncer shrugs. “Okay.”
Stooled next to the artist, I sip whiskey and watch young berserkers mix it up.
|NASA by Thomas Van Stein|
Today’s Vikings have traded their shield for a cell phone and their sword for a “short knife” (as the Icelandic sagas called it). Although their forefathers were tough and bearded, these dudes are tame and clean-shaven and, dare I say, somewhat gay.
The girls, fashionably attired, are more serious than the boys about drinking and pairing. And maybe that’s because these mostly blonde, high-cheeked Nordic goddesses outnumber the guys three-to-one.
We puff Cuban Cohibas, mesmerized by a constant stream of comers and goers. Most of them seem to know each other, like cliques at a high school dance. But unlike a high school dance, booze flows like a wild river; the dance floor is a rave, a free-for-all pulsation of sumptuous shapes. Most of these late-teens and twenty-somethings had tanked up before coming out, a local custom to save money by boozing at home until midnight.
One gal, drunk or nuts, fixates on Van Stein. She wraps herself around him and whispers into his ear while he struggles to paint. (“I wish I could understand elf-talk,” says Van Stein later. “A foreign tongue in my ear. I think she wanted to suck my paintbrush.”)
I set out for the men’s room—and a carnival. At first glance, it looks like a long line for several urinals. But it’s not a line at all. These guys are loitering. Who loiters in a smelly restroom? I weave around them, business in mind. A guy with shoulder-length hair–-the Unofficial Toilet Man–-assigns cubicles to designated males.
Drugs? Blowjobs? Maybe both.
Back on the main floor, everybody bumps off everybody else, with accompanying sound effects, like a living, breathing, heaving pinball machine.
Floater falls victim to a butch lesbian who thrashes her arms at any guy who dares check her out. Then two large women—the dancer’s friends—try to smother him with their boobs.
Women are falling over, in waves, onto the dance-floor; bumping and grinding all over each other, some in tears. The beat vibrates my organs.
Van Stein calls alla prima at three a.m.
We spill onto Austurvollur Square, where it’s colder than a witch’s tit in the Klondike yet the once eerily quiet streets are now full of young berserkers—more disturbing than the earlier calm.
City’s Best Hot Dogs has a line around the corner. We weave up the hill to Hus Malarans.
At quarter-past-three, this boozerie is winding up, now down.
A surreal mess.
Van Stein and Erik the Red charge upstairs to tackle heaving sound waves.
I need a men’s room, but the door to the toilet is as unhinged as the action around us.
Two guys are trying to fix it onto hinges while another impatiently urinates in a corner.
I walk back to Hotel Holt to use my own toilet, fully intending to return to the madness of Hus Malarans’ madness.
But the eiderdown quilt and feather pillows on my bed whisper lullaby and good night… and thus, at 3:43 a.m., it is more appealing than a dirty barstool.
Truth be known, I walked out on the runtur.