*Ism, Oslo: A Bar to Save the World
*Ism, Oslo is the hotly anticipated new bar from Chris Grøtvedt, formerly of Hotel Continental and The Thief, which opened this month. MIXOLOGY was lucky enough to catch Grøtvedt between meetings in the opening week to talk about what to expect from his new bar.
In Oslo earlier this year, I managed to catch a glimpse of what was at the time more a construction site than a bar. Chris Grøtvedt showed me around the space, which was covered in a light but fairly consistent layer of dust, and explained his future vision. A vision that’s now come to fruition as *Ism, Oslo, a venue with two bars, an exciting team, and some big ideas.
Chris Grøtvedt’s cocktail journey
Chris Grøtvedt used to be a professional hockey player, he began working in bars as a way to meet girls on the weekend, because players weren’t allowed to go out during the season. After an injury put his hockey career on hold, it felt natural for him to move into bartending. Over the past seven years, he’s worked in two five-star hotels: Hotel Continental and recently at The Thief.
The work there has given Grøtvedt an eye for detail, and it’s also given him the opportunity to travel and learn from people that he’s now grateful to call friends and collegaues. “I had the possibility to gather a great team together in opening *Ism in Oslo. They’re a group of super talented people with different styles and backgrounds, which lends us a diversity where everyone brings different elements to the table. For that I feel incredibly blessed and grateful,” says Grøtvedt.
The bar’s distinctive name, *Ism, refers to the specific perspectives or ideologies, which the bar will take as its themes. Think “hedonism” or “humanism,” which are the first two topics that the *Ism bar team will focus on this year. The main floor is all about hedonism, “the seeking of self-pleasure and indulgence,” which is pretty much what any bar worth its weight in ice is all about.
*Ism Oslo: Hedonism at the main bar
The hedonistic menu is a take on drinks that many a barfly will recognize from their youth. This includes stereotypical drinks such as the Grasshopper, the Mojito, various sours, and the Manhattan, as well as several drinks that are typical for Norway and that, as Grøtvedt says, “one would never drink as a professional bartender today.”
The thought behind this is that the craft cocktail world has grown and expanded in ways never thought possible a couple of decades ago. And while this is amazing, it also makes reading a drink menu more difficult than it should be. During their research, Grøtvedt and the *Ism bar team found that many guests wouldn’t ask about a certain ingredient they hadn’t heard of, for fear of looking stupid. Instead, they’d order a drink that was considered a “safe bet.” This felt frustrating. So they came up with a menu that everyone could understand. So the *Ism crew took these classic cocktails and gave them a unique twist – “an update on what a craft bartender would make of these drinks in 2017,” says Grøtvedt.
Judging by the feedback, it’s worked. “People can’t believe that we’re making these drinks,” Grøtvedt says. “*Ism walks the line between being a stiff bar with good drink and a good old-fashioned dive with fun music that includes everything from hip hop and R&B to funk, soul, and some cheesy sing-a-long pop music.” They also have an extensive wine and champagne list on offer, for those guests who don’t want a trip down memory lane courtesy of a mixed drink.
*Ism Oslo: A speakeasy filled with humanism and jazz
The speakeasy bar is where the humanism theme comes into play. “We blend the atmosphere with some old jazz and blues [and] vintage glassware for all our classical cocktails in a more brothel-themed décor,” says Grøtvedt. The cocktails here focus on global problems faced by humanity, so you’ll find names like Global Warming, Ocean Pollution, Factory Farming, and Racism.
“All signature cocktails are visually presented to match the name. My personal favorites include the Ocean Pollution, which is served in a plastic bag inside an aquarium with a plastic straw and literally tastes like sushi,” says Grøtvedt, who is clearly relishing the creative opportunities these themes offer. “Factory Farming is presented as a bird inside a closed cage and Racism is served in a dual glass pipe where one side is a Piña Colada and the other an Espresso Martini – black and white and together they perfectly match,” he says, with a smile.
A percentage of each cocktail sold from the humanist menu will be donated to a charity which fits with that drink’s concept. “We also charge people a symbolic amount for still or sparkling water, which is later donated to Water for People,” says Grøtvedt.
For 2018, Grøtvedt and his team want to make *Ism a success. “But we also want to give our guests an experience and perhaps a way of educating and enlightening them about what they’re drinking,” he says. That may sound like a tall order, but Grøtvedt sums up his goal for *Ism simply: “Basically, we want to have fun while simultaneously making the world a better place to live in. Together.” *Ism is a bar with ambitions well beyond what’s in your glass.