Looking at the Nordic: Oslo

Bars 7.10.2015

As Nordic bars increasingly draw more attention from the global bar community, Haley Forest looks at what makes the cities unique, pushing the boundries and inspiring both the local scene and the broader drinks landscape.

Oslo is notoriously a very expensive city and there has long been a culture of binge drinking on the weekends and pre-drinking at home before that. Drinking was once a game of numbers, how intoxicated can get they for the least amount of money in the shortest amount of time. But thankfully, people are starting to change their ideas around alcohol and see other value than just getting wasted. With the scene being so much of a black canvas, there are a number of places that have ditched the norm and gone the path of the road not taken, balancing the old ideas with their very new ones.

The Guest Progression

Evan Rage, bar manager at Bristol Bar in city center attributes the change in attitude partially to the Mad Men effect, having younger drinkers swapping shots for Old Fashioneds, gathering with friends for catch ups rather then just to get wasted, plus, taking the leap and letting the bartenders help develop their tastes. With the marketing for alcohol all but banned, guests have to rely on bartenders to discover to products, techniques and drinks.

“At Bristol, I see us as an ambassador for the unknown guest,” he says. “Being a bartender is almost like being a photographer. Majority of the work is taking pictures of weddings, etc. That’s our beer and gin tonic. It makes up to 70% with the remaining 30% where the passion lies. Still, the passion isn’t going to pay the bill so be a good host and respect the guest by taking interest in the full aspect!”

Thankfully, this extra attention is paying off as guests are slowly starting to educate themselves, craving a fuller experience. Through industry camaraderie and support (ex: Bristol has a menu section called “Neighbor’s Next Door” with drinks from local bars), guest global travels, and the media inclusion of beverages, drinkers critical sense in evolving.

The Outliers

“I think the one word that would explain the scene right now is curiosity,” says Monica Berg, Norwegian native and bar consultant who splits her time between London and Oslo. With her most recent project, she teamed up with Norwegian-Portuguese bartender Alex Raus and his crew at Behind Bars Consulting for one of the most ambitious bar openings in Oslo.

„Himkok” is more then just a bar. Taking many concepts and giving them a home all under one roof, It has been described at a “Bartenders Disneyland” complete with a speakeasy entrance, in-house distillery, botanical garden, pickled everything, outside cider garden, cocktails on tap (“Taptails”), and more. The first of its kind in Oslo, it quickly became a success, drawing in guests who were pleased to find something for everyone with a high level of passion and quality.

This idea of multiple concepts in one space is not entirely new, although Himkok certainly takes it to another level. „Fuglen“, for example, started life as a coffee shop in the 1960s, expanded to add a vintage design showroom and then five years ago changed things up again, by adding a progressive cocktail program in the evenings. Championing local ingredients and foraging, they quickly gained popularity and still focus on pushing the boundaries, calling it an “Into the Wild” concept, even going so far as to scuba-dive for seaweed for homemade syrups, tinctures and infusions. When they opened a second location in Tokyo, the cocktail world really started to look at Oslo and wonder what such a distant land was mixing up.

Appealing to locals, jet-setters and industry alike is the bar at The Thief Hotel. “I want to inspire bartenders to dare to follow their dreams and ideas, and to open the eyes of the guest to explore cocktails and bars around the world,” says bar manager Chris Grøtvedt. By offering a massive selection of diverse spirits, with an advanced focus on presentation and style, the bartenders are allowed to be ambitious and creative, making sure guests can have the complete experience, be that the perfect classic or something new and inventive. One of the main organizers behind the Oslo Bar Show, which had their inaugural launch in June 2015, The Thief really aims on progressing the drinks programs for the entire market.

The only way is up

While the bar scene in Oslo in very much in its infancy, it’s well on its way to greatness, finding its own unique style and voice which will draw bartenders and drinkers alike. “The rise of Nordic cuisine over the past years has definitely helped the cocktail scene,” reflects Alex Raus. “Restaurants and chefs gaining appraisal and respect – even Michelin stars, using traditional techniques in a modern way has inspired the bartenders to do the same, and draw inspiration from local produce and history, instead of constantly looking to what was happening in major cocktail cities like New York or London.” We’ll certainly have another glance at Oslo.

Bildquelle: Oslo via SurangaSL / Shutterstock.com

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