Monday, 6 July 2015

Travel: The Best Bars in Stockholm

Last weekend I jetted off to the Scandi city of Stockholm. My reason for visiting? To celebrate Sweden's Eurovision Song Contest victory of course!

Hmm. Maybe not... But whilst I wasn’t hunting down the winner, Måns Zelmerlöw, singing his ‘Heroes’ song at him (I really did want to do this – shameless Eurovision fan girl here), I did go and check out some of the capital’s best bars.

Stockholm’s drinking culture is very different from many other European countries; if it weren’t for all the tourists that flock to the city’s islands on the Baltic Sea, I’m not sure there’d be that much of a culture at all. Sure, there’s a Spirit Museum on Djurgården, Mackmyra’s whisky warehouse a 20 minute boat ride out in the archipelago, and there’s even an Ardbeg Embassy in the Old Town, but that said, there doesn’t seem to be as big a thirst for booze as there is here in the UK.

As you’d expect, pretty much all restaurants serve alcohol - expect to pay top dollar for it, Sweden’s £££ - but as for picking up a bottle of wine or some beers at a local store, then you’ll have to do some forward planning. In Sweden only a state-run chain of liquor stores called Systembolaget are allowed to sell alcohol. Luckily they won’t break the bank, and in the store I visited, there was a great selection of products, but the downside is that they’re only open until about 6/7pm in the week, even earlier on Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays. Oof!

Hey ho, if you’re holidaying abroad, you’re not very likely to be buying a stash of booze to guzzle in your hotel room all night; you’ll want to go out and explore! And as it stands, the slightly more specialist bars that there are, are really very good, but most are closed throughout July into August. Oh, and if you’re after some fizz, then Cava’s your main man; the Prosecco trend hasn’t caught on over there. So here are a few gems I found in Stockholm over the weekend, most of which are bars within bars (confusing!)...

Corner Club in Gamla Stan (linked to the two Michelin-star restaurant Frantzen and gastropub The Flying Elk), was the first, and easily the best bar that we came across in the city. I found it when doing some preliminary scouting out on Instagram (my fave place to look up bars/restaurants), and saw a few people talking about a hot gin and tonic from there. Obviously, my ears pricked up, and it was instantly on my list of ‘must dos’. ** Look out for the Hot G&T recipe later this week! **

Corner Club is all about drinking the seasons, with an emphasis on fresh juices, quality spirits, quality ice and consistency (no joke, we saw the bartender make the same drink three times before she was happy with the balance of all the components!). Menus change every few months, and although the hot G&T - Jakt & Tonic – wasn’t on the menu anymore, they were more than happy to make it for us. A healthy measure of Swedish Hernö Gin (winners of 12 Masters and Gold Medals in Global Gin Masters 2015) with heated up tonic, topped with an icy cold cream float, and dusted with freeze-dried lingonberries; sounds weird, but trust me, it was mind blowing! The Chap had a No Way Rosé - Carpano Bianco, Ocho Reposado, Amaro Montenegro, Peychauds bitters and Absinthe – wonderful.

Corner Club, Lilla Nygatan 16, Gamla Stan
Tuesdays: 17:00 to 00:00, Wednesday-Saturday: 17:00 to 01:00

Tweed, also in the Old Town, has a kind of kitsch gentleman’s club vibe about it; leather chesterfields, tartan-clad walls, and a glass cabinet full of whisky. Sink into a chair in the corner of the room, and indulge in a stiff drink. During the warmer months, Tweed heads up to the courtyard, which is where we found ourselves, serving drinks from an outdoor bar, and dishing up barbequed food aplenty. The summer cocktail list was short but sweet, and had a range of cobblers (served with straws in a goblet filled with crushed ice, based on spirits and/or wine sweetened with sugar syrup or sweet liqueur) to aid those that were struggling in the heat; i.e. me. If you’re a smoker, this is the place to be, as you have the sky as the ceiling and no one to tell you off.

Tweed, Lilla Nygatan 5, Gamla Stan
Monday-Thursday: 17:00 to 00:00, Friday and Saturday: 17:00 to 01:00

Kåken is situated in Stockholm's Norrmalm district, inside restaurant Niklas. Unfortunately I didn’t know there was another bar hidden through the back of the restaurant, and just had a drink at the trendy bar upon entry, assuming it was Kåken. Still, it was full of locals – always a good sign – and the cocktails were good! I had a Roses and Passion – Beefeater Gin, Rose Liqueur, Lemon Sugar and Passion Fruit, shaken and strained into a coupe, then sprayed with Absinthe – whilst The Chap had a Rye N Rhubarb – a tasty combination of Sazerac Rye, Rhubarb Liqueur, Lemon and Sugar.

Had we have got to the other bar, hidden behind a door and down a corridor at the back of Niklas, we would have found “wood-panelled walls, flattering lighting and clubby leather banquettes, as well as bartenders who know how to mix everything from classics to cutting-edge cocktails.” Gutted.

Kåken, Regeringsgatan 66, Norrmalm
Wednesday-Saturday: 18:00 to 02:00

The Burgundy wine bar is at the entrance to Tweed; it’s a cosy, classically themed little wine library that pays homage to Bourgogne. A list of a hundred Burgundy wines – La Cave 100 – are available at a reasonable price by the bottle, but you can get a wide selection by-the-glass too (and these change daily). With the help of knowledgeable and excitable staff, there’s always a delightful treat to discover. Indulge pre-dinner, post-dinner, or simply stay and have a French dinner of pâtés and cheese here; The Burgundy lets you escape in a haze of good wine and good company.

The Burgundy, Yxsmedsgränd 12, Gamla Stan
Monday-Saturday: 17:00 to 00:00

Hornhuset was a surprise addition to the ‘bar list’; on a super sunny afternoon as we got off the tube at Hornstull T-Bana, I looked up and saw a number of people on a rooftop. With coloured lights strung up, and music booming down, I instantly found my way up to see what was going on. So, Hornhuset is a swanky looking building in quite a trendy area, with three floors, each containing a different restaurant/bar, and a roof terrace pop-up – Barrio – during the summer. Barrio is very low-fi; a tin shack serving up tequila and rum cocktails, cerveza, and cava; sit down on the makeshift benches and tables, and if you’re hungry, order a couple of plates of ceviche. Big thumbs up.

Hornhuset, Långholmsgatan 15B, Hornstull
Opening times vary

Hornstulls Bodega is a wine bar within Tjoget, a small hub that also contains Linje Tio – a Southern European restaurant and bar – and Roy & Son – a classic barbershop that offers traditional shaves and haircuts; very hipster. Hornstulls Bodega is just a room with a bar running down the centre, which spills out onto the street when the weather’s good. Run by sommelier duo Fredrik Iveskär and Robert Andersson, who have worked in some of Stockholm’s finest restaurants, you can trust the guidance if you’re stuck for what to pick from the strictly European wine list.

Hornstulls Bodega, Hornsbruksgatan 24, Hornstull
Wednesday –Thursday, Sunday: 17:00 to 01:00, Friday – Saturday: 17:00 to 02:00

Pharmarium is another bar in the Old Town, located right on the Main Square where the first Swedish pharmacy opened back in 1575. Given the location and it’s apothecary aesthetic, it’s an obvious choice for tourists, though plenty of locals head here too, so much so that there was no room for us to try their wares. Taking inspiration from the pharmacy, they create cocktails with “interesting tastes, questionable ingredients and a large dose of imagination”, and for maximum flavour, they’ve paired every cocktail with a special dish on their snack-sized food menu. For instance, the Chill Syrup (Purity Vodka/Umeshu/St Germain/Campari/Verjus/Pineapple/Soda/Rose water) is matched to Dill & Herring (with sourdough bread, olive oil, artichoke puree and parsley); I can see how that would work.

Pharmarium, Stortorget 7, Gamla Stan
Monday - Tuesday: 11:30 to 23:00, Wednesday - Thursday: 11:30 to 00:00, Friday - Saturday: 11:30 to 01:00, Sunday: 11:30 to 22:30

Marie Laveau is an American Bistro in Hornsgatan, taking its inspiration from the culinary riches of Louisiana. I didn’t quite make it before they shut for the summer hols (I really wanted to try their famous burger – the bun is brushed with bacon fat!), but the restaurant and bar is usually open 7 days a week and is one of the highlights on the island of Södermalm. Little Quarter was the main attraction for me though; not only does it look like the coolest of the cool, it’s been voted as Sweden’s best cocktail bar, and has won numerous awards... Need I say more?

Little Quarter, Hornsgatan 66, Södermalm
Wednesday – Saturday: 17:00 – 03:00

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