Next Great Neighborhoods: Stockholm
Published: May 2009
By Alice Rawsthorn
If you'd told a chic Stockholmer 20 years ago that the island of Södermalm (Söder for short) would become the hippest part of the city, he would have laughed—or sneered. Not so now. The early-20th-century tenements that once housed Stockholm's poor workers are filling up with Arne Jacobsen chairs and Verner Panton lights, all lovingly restored by the young designers, DJ's, artists, musicians, and dot-commers who are lining up to live on this craggy island south of the city center.
In cavernous drinking dens, such as the Kvarnen, and the few surviving 17th-century wooden huts, there are still flashes of old Söder. But the Art Nouveau apartments on Mariatorget and centuries-old cottages clinging to the cliffs above the sea on Mälarstrand and Fjällgatan are among Stockholm's most sought-after addresses.
As for the Söder street scene, just stroll along Nytorgsgatan, Skänegatan, or Götgatan to see the island's stylish residents spilling out of bars, record shops, and Mid-Century Modern antiques stores. To blend in, dress in top-to-toe denim (the hardier the better) with a woolly bobble hat and every Swede's favorite accessory—a cell phone—clasped to your ear.
Mosebacke Etablissement 3 Mosebacke Torg; 46-8/5560-9890. The walls of this fabulous folly are lined with portraits of the jazz stars and stand-up comics who have performed here over the years. Best of all is the terrace (only open in summer), where you can drink in breathtaking views of Stockholm under crystal-clear Scandinavian evening skies while warming up with shots from the vodka bar.
Viva Espresso Björns Trädgård; 46-8/641-7582. With its pale green tile mosaic behind the gleaming steel bar, Viva Espresso is one of the prettiest coffeehouses on Söder. Everyone comes here for sandwiches and traditional Swedish cakes—cinnamon buns, baby muffins, and tiny fruit tarts.
Pelikan 40 Blekingegatan; 46-8/5560-9090. If it's authenticity you're after, then Pelikan is the bar for you. A vestige of working-class Söder, its design was based on a German beer cellar, but its unvarnished wood paneling, smoked-glass globe lights, smoldering candles, and elegant wall friezes have won over Stockholmers.
Café String 38 Nytorgsgatan; 46-8/714-8514. Named after Nils Strinning, a fifties Swedish furniture designer, the String is a Södermalm icon. Trendy customers spend all day poring over newspapers on Eames-esque bucket seats, or battling at backgammon on skinny faux-leather sofas.
Indigo Bar 19 Götgatan; 46-8/ 643-5859. Coffee shop by day, bar by night, Indigo has a live DJ spinning until 1 a.m. Despite the name, it's a very green bar: the menus are cardboard trees that pop up from the middle of the table.
Guld Apan 140 Åsögatan; 46-8/640-9771; dinner for two $40. Have a drink in the front room and then head to the back for 21st-century versions of classic Swedish fare such as meatballs, gravlax, and wallenburger (minced veal).
Gässlingen 93 Brännkyrkagatan; 46-8/ 669-5495; dinner for two $135. For a Swedish-food lover, a meal amid Gässlingen's gnarled wooden beams and rustic lace curtains is the best reason to come to Söder. Strictly speaking, this popular haunt dishes up Alsatian cuisine, but, like all of Sweden's food imports, the menu has been reinvented for the local palate.
Eriks Gondolen 6 Stadsgården; 46-8/641-7090; dinner for two $85. If you eat out only once on Söder, make sure it's at the Gondolen, a restaurant in one of the mountainside cable cars that once whisked workers to and from the island. Head for the bar, shaped like a long, skinny gondola, with sweeping views on either side, and order creamy shrimp on toast.
Herman's 23A Fjällgatan; 46-8/643-9480; dinner for two $18. Walk down the steep stone steps from the cottages on Fjällgatan, one of Söder's loveliest streets, to find this vegetarian restaurant and cake shop. The food is fine, but the view from the terrace of Stockholm across the water is sensational.
Folkhemmet 30 Renstiernas Gata; 46-8/640-5595; dinner for two $85. Stockholm's coolest DJ's fight for a night on the decks at Folkhemmet's tiny bar, then tuck into the delicious grilled halibut or herring salad in the restaurant next door. The brushed-steel light fixtures and wooden benches are a tasteful take on Sweden's neo-Modernist style.
Bonden 1C Bondegatan; 46-8/641-8679; dinner for two $36. For a meal that doesn't involve seafood of any kind, grab a table at this small side-street restaurant. Bonden serves up global cuisine from Italy (mozzarella and pesto sandwiches) to India (tandoori chicken). Next door is a nightclub of the same name with a separate entrance.
Bo! 2 Östgötagatan; 46-8/643-6914. If your dream Swedish souvenir is a 20th-century Modernist classic, head for Bo!. From rare Hans Wegner wicker chairs and American imports by Charles Eames and Florence Knoll, to Arne Jacobsen spotlights in green or gray, Bo! either has it in stock or will tell you where to find it.
Kala Sljus 5 Tjärhovsgatan; 46-8/641-0716. For lighting of the older variety, pick up some candles at this tiny boutique. Each is handmade, stylish, and small enough to slip into your carry-on.
Agata 36 Nytorgsgatan; 46-8/643-0980. Kinnasand fabrics printed with optical motifs, contemporary Swedish housewares, ceramics, and even jewelry are sold at Agata, the anti-Ikea boutique favored by new islanders. Downstairs, the shop hosts exhibitions by Stockholm artists.
Klara 36 Nytorgsgatan; 46-8/694-9240. The Söder branch of one of Stockholm's smartest contemporary design stores sells Ittala's perfectly simple glassware alongside Le Klint's lights, and Klara's own rolled-felt slippers.
Cajsa Warg 20 Renstiernas Gata; 46-8/642-2350. The mother of Swedish cuisine, Cajsa Warg wrote a seminal cookbook in 1780 and has lent her name to this great old-fashioned food store. Come here, or to the shop's nearby organic market, for delicious fruit jellies or fishy delicacies, like salmon and herring, safely vacuum-packed for your flight home.
Lisa Larsson's 48 Bondegatan; 46-8/643-6153. Sweden's fashion stylists rush to this shop to snap up zippy Courrèges relics and whatever scraps of Yves Saint Laurent happen to surface on the secondhand market. Stockholm being Stockholm, Lisa Larsson's also carries the more rugged version of vintage, meaning every imaginable form of denim jacket.