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Until 1989, beer with an alcohol content above 2.2% was illegal, and other forms of booze were tightly restricted. Alcohol consumption in Iceland is actually lower than in most European countries, but when Icelanders do drink, they tend to make up for lost time. Late Friday or Saturday night, you'll likely witness dancing on every available surface, public urination, the occasional brawl, licentious sexual behavior, and so on. At least the 2007 smoking ban has made the air more hospitable.

The legal drinking age is 20, but it's not heavily policed. Some bars and clubs have a 22-and-over policy. Drinking on the street is prohibited, but the law isn't enforced -- some bars will even give you a to-go cup. Drug laws are stricter, but recent years have seen a troubling surge in cocaine and amphetamine use. Reykjavík is a safe place, but as always, women should beware of accepting drinks which may have been tampered with. Many foreigners, usually men, come in search of reputedly loose Icelandic women and are disappointed.

Fashion in the club scene is surprisingly dressy for laid-back Iceland. Sneakers are usually frowned upon, and -- though jeans are "in" -- they'd better be hot. A certain divide has opened up between spiffier joints (b5, Thorvaldsen, Oliver) and hangouts with too many hipsters, rockers, and bohemians for any sort of dress code (Sirkus, Kaffibarinn, Boston).

On weekends, not much gets started before midnight, and clubs stay open as late as 8am. (Until a few years ago all bars had to close at 3am on weekends, but this created such mayhem in the streets that the authorities thought better of it.) Weeknights, when bars are required to close at 1am, are far more relaxed. On Thursday nights, DJs and live music often take it up a notch. Most of the clubs are cafes by day and serve food until 10pm. No bars or clubs have cover charges, unless there's live music.

Many locals save money by drinking at home and then heading out around 1am, when the lines start forming. (Icelanders don't like waiting in line and will push and shove to cut ahead.) At the end of the evening, many partiers wind down in Austurvöllur Square, near the biggest late-night taxi stand at Tjörnin Pond.

Reykjavík bars change constantly, and listings are quickly outdated. If you're not sure where to go, trust your instincts, keep on the move, and ask locals for advice. Icelanders are very accessible, especially when they're in party mode, and the nightlife scene is nowhere near as snobby as it is trendy.

For some American-style sports bar action, complete with large-screen TVs, Glaumbar, Tryggvagata 20 (tel. 552-6868), is known for its loud music and late-night partying on weekends. Then there's Sportbar.is, Hverfisgata 46 (tel. 552-5300). Self-explanatory: bar, TV, sports, pool tables. For a bit more sophistication, try the only dedicated wine bar in Iceland: Vinbarinn, Kirkjutorg 4 (tel. 552-4120), is a tasteful spot behind the City Cathedral. Many locals consider it the primo place for over-30s to meet after 11pm.

Joining the Party

  • Freaky Friday The first Friday of every month, all day and into the evening, the trendy and adventurous line up and surrender their hair to the creative whims of the talented stylists of Galleri Gel, Hverfisgata 37 (tel. 551-7733), while regulars socialize and onlookers line the walls and couches drinking beer and wine. Book ahead; beauticians take only two victims at a time (5,500kr/$88/#44 a head).

  • Night Circle Tour Nightlife comes in a package tour, starting Friday and Saturday nights at 10pm at Bar 11, Laugavegur 11 (tel. 847-5337). For 3,000kr ($48/#24) you get an hour of free drinks at Bar 11, shots at two different bars, a cocktail at a nightclub, and -- to complete the ritual -- a hot dog. Around 40 others are along for the ride, Icelanders and tourists alike.

  • Professional Partier Jon Kari Hilmarsson of Nightlife Friend (tel. 822-6600; www.nightlifefriend.is) has a lot of friends in Reykjavik, and (for a fee) you can be one of them. For around 25,000kr ($400/#200), he'll design a customized nightlife tour for up to four people, and then take you around to the hotspots, introduce you to locals, and help you cut some lines. When he started the business, he envisioned his clients as timid nerdy types, but the majority are 30-plus American males working in business/finance who see no stigma in getting professional assistance for social events.

  • Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.