Raul Apollonio,32, Austurbar Manager
How would you define Iceland in your words?
Remote, calm, full of dreams, hard for relationships.
What do you like about Iceland?
Safety, cosy and peaceful. I respect how it has a culture that tends to reward competence, even though as a foreigner the path tends to be a lot harder than for a local, but still you get a shot at proving yourself. Racism is present, but it is more due to the ignorance of different cultures than due to premeditation and malice.
One thing you would like to change in Iceland?
I would love to change the perception about Icelanders and people that live here, that in Iceland things are different and that things that are working right now in cities like London, New York, Paris, Berlin would never work in Reykjavik. Because my experience is that in the end, the trends get here, it just takes people here a lot longer time to accept change.
What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends.
Well, for me it is hard to follow trends due to the answer I gave in the previous question. But as the Manager of the only proper club in the city, I am putting in place a plan to re-educate my guests by playing different types of music, and we plan to slowly but surely stay away from the top-hits played on FM radio, that we have been doing for the last 10 years. The reduction of people downtown and the increase in the number of competitors is hurting us right now because in this city everybody tends to do the same thing.
How would you describe your journey from Bartender to Manager?
It was a natural thing. I worked and followed orders even when I didn’t believe in them, but I learned from the beginning that in order to be followed one needs to be able to follow. My reputation grew over the years, and I worked almost everywhere in town and learned from the best, but my most important lessons we’re learning from other people's mistakes and my own. Today I am at a rather interesting time in my life. I am managing around 50 people in the worst time of downtown history for clubbing (at least since I got here in 2008) and it has been a great adventure. I have been growing and learning every day.
Reykjavik has a lot of bars. What is the USP of Austur?
Solon, B5, Hverfisbarinn, American Bar etc. Basically, all of us are doing the same things and fighting for the same customers. So the only solution I see is to do something completely different from everybody else to gain an edge in town. And that is exactly what we are planning to do. We have the best cocktails in Iceland.
How is the nightlife in Iceland different compared to other countries? A funny incident while working in the bar?
Well, nightlife in Iceland used to be super fun, always full, beautiful people, really really wild and carefree. Lately, due to the increase in prices on rents and alcohol and the excessive opening to tourism, it has lost its charm, but I believe this is all a circle.
We used to see a line of cars from Hlemmur to Austurstræti, and now you cannot drive anywhere, it is all blocked. There used to be people called 101 rats, and now all housing is for Airbnb or some hotel has been built or is being built.
Funny stories, I have too many. But one really warms my heart. November 2008, my first shift at KaffiBarinn, end of a crazy night when I had never been forced to move so fast (little I knew of the nights to come), and after we clean the whole bar, the guys tell me I have to clean the men’s bathroom. It was absolutely disgusting, “water til my knees” and so I did. When I was about to finish, in comes the Manager and asks me what the hell am I doing? Well, it happened to be a prank from my fellow bartenders because I was the rookie. That was the spirit when I started in the business. We still have great people in the business, but the town is more greedy now, and there is a lot less fun just for fun. Ostentation and competition became cancer, but I am optimistic, and I truly think this is just a phase.
As a manager, you need to be a good listener. What if someone comes with a mediocre idea, and how do you say NO for that?
Well, I try to keep people in their lane and make clear that the management manages and the workers should be preoccupied in providing the best service possible. But, yes, people tend to try to talk about stuff they know very little about. There is no such thing as an invalid idea, but people just need to understand that the manager has a lot of things to take care off and cannot listen to everyone. I try to make that clear and explain that we have our own ideas and that we already following a plan.
One golden tip for any person starting as a bar manager in Iceland.
Try to fill a void, do not just try to copy someone else. It might work for a while, but in the end, you will not get the reward for building your own thing. You will never get to be the genius that did something no one thought possible. Be patient and close the window to negativity, everyone has an opinion, but you have to go with your instinct. Finally, work, really work, do not get comfortable in the position, you have got to outwork the competition. In the beginning, it will suck, and you feel like you are just wasting your time, but hard work pays off, and there are very few willing to work hard in this business.
What comes into your mind where you hear these words? One or two words only.
Most demanded cocktail in Iceland: Moscow Mule
Best restaurant: Matarkjallarin
Best bar: Austur
Bartender, you like to follow: Martin Lourenço (Kol Restaurant)
Nightlife in Iceland: Boring
Icelandic food to try: Kleinur
Pressure: Make it not boring
Next holiday: Stockholm
Icelandic language: Logical Iceland future: Bright but tough like the summer.