[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg]
Quick! Look at the list above. What's changed since last time, apart from the addition of Gothenburg? Hurry! Tick tock tick tock!
Here's the answer. In 2013, The Belated Birthday Girl and I spent a long weekend in Stockholm for birthday reasons. This was during the first year of the BrewDogging project, back when we foolishly assumed that it would all stop at the end of the year. At that time, the bar in Stockholm was the only one outside of the UK, so it felt rather special to make a trip out there. These days, of course, international BrewDog bars are ten a penny, and you can see above how many of them we've visited so far. There are now so many that referring to the Stockholm bar no longer works, because the city now has two of them. So from this point on, we have to refer to the first bar opened in Stockholm (reviewed in BrewDogging #10) as Kungsholmen, and the more recently opened one as Södermalm.
Even with the terrifying price of beer in Sweden, you'd imagine that the chance to compare and contrast the two bars would be irresistible. And you'd be right.
Our main focus on this trip, though, has to be the Södermalm bar - and it quickly becomes apparent that although Kungsholmen was there first, Södermalm is where the action is. For a start, it's located in a more trendy part of town: one that's already got a few other nighttime venues established, without there being so many as to swamp a new arrival. We get there on a Friday evening, and it's nicely crowded, though there's a small table available by the door that we grab before anyone else sees it. As our session progresses (three beers plus food), there's a decent amount of churn amongst the punters - it reminds me a little of the Newcastle bar, where there was a healthy mixture of people who were bedded in for the night, and passing trade grabbing a beer or two on the way to somewhere else.
Design-wise, after the retro stylings we've encountered in Oslo and Gothenburg, this bar's closer to the modern look of the more recent BrewDog bars - though as it's only been open since August 2015, that's hardly surprising. The eclectic music mix we encountered in Gothenburg doesn't appear to be a standard across the Swedish bars: here, we literally get Freebird twice in a single hour. But the beer is as good as usual, and in some cases even better. We get to sample a few local guests such as the Stockholm Brewing/Tempel Brygghus collaboration Polaren Putte, and Hip Hops from Gothenburg's own Beerbliotek, as well as beers from further afield like To Øl's Reparationsbajer. But the biggest surprises - in an echo of our time in the Gothenburg bar - come from finding BrewDog beers that you can't get back home. There are a few older beers in BrewDog's back catalogue that they only make for the Scandinavian market nowadays: Trashy Blonde is the one we already expect, but the chance to grab a bottle of long-departed stout Riptide for a mere 85 SEK comes as a complete surprise. It appears to be news to the bar staff that these beers are effectively unavailable outside Scandinavia, so they've probably put the prices up by now. Sorry about that.
Of the five bars we're visiting in our Nordic Expedition, Södermalm is the only one where we end up getting a meal. They don't make it easy - the official link to the menu from the BrewDog site goes to a Facebook page that doesn't exist any more, so we walk in there not really knowing what food's on offer at all. It turns out to be a variant on the recent UK bar menus, a mix of burgers and hot dogs with enough veggie variants to keep The BBG happy. She has a beetroot burger (makes a change from those dreary lumps of fried green tomato that were all the rage in the UK bars a couple of years ago), while I go for the Pug Dawg, a meaty hot dog variation though I'm afraid my memory's a bit short on detail beyond that. Both of them were pretty good - not up to the standard of the meal options they used to have in Kungsholmen, but excellent as bar food. All in all, Södermalm is a rather fine addition to the BrewDog estate, and the only real bad memory I have of it comes from a trip to the loo. You know how Swedes love snus, those tobacco pouches they stick in their mouths as a substitute for smoking, because they know how bloody stupid vaping looks? When they've finished with them, they tend to dump the used pouch in the nearest bin. So imagine my reaction when I go to the loo, and the waste bin next to it has a couple of dozen small, brown, moist pellets at the top of it. Gave me a right turn for a few seconds, I can tell you.
But let's go back on ourselves a little here. You may remember that the previous stage of this exhibition culminated in us taking the Gröna Tåget train from Gothenburg to Stockholm, at the same time as the Swedish team were playing a crucial Euro 2016 match against Italy. This being 2016, every Swedish passenger is watching the game on their smartphone for the duration of the journey. We content ourselves with watching the woman sitting across from us, who lets off a spectacular string of obscenities in two languages at one point. You can probably guess which one.
We're only staying two nights in Stockholm, technically, and our hotel for this leg is the Nordic C. To all intents and purposes, it's a station hotel: a short walk from the main exit at Stockholm station, and next door to the entrance for the airport express. It's a very flash station hotel, though, with a huge sexy lobby and - as we find out the next day - a ridiculously large and varied breakfast buffet.
This sort of fanciness comes at a price, and we're only really here because we've managed to pick up a good deal on the room. There's a catch, which we understand and acknowledge at the time of booking, but it's still a bit disconcerting to be confronted with its consequences on entry - in order to keep the room price at under a hundred quid per night, we've had to take a room that advertises itself as 'Moderate Queen (no window)'. With all our travelling here taking place at the peak of midsummer, with 20 hours of daylight a day in some cases, we've been concerned with making sure all our bedroom windows come with solid blackout curtains. Well, no such worries here. They've whimsically covered the walls with a large mural of the Gamla Stan area to give you something to look at when the lights are on, but once you flip the switch there's nothing, not even a nightlight. This seems like a curious omission: in the end, we have to leave the bathroom light on with the door fractionally ajar just to have a chance of finding our way to the bog in the middle of the night. Still, you get what you pay for.
By this stage in the Expedition, we've seen enough to justify indulging in some national stereotyping. The conclusion we come to is this: Norway is nice and sunny, while Sweden is grey and wet. There's no letup of the bad weather we saw in Gothenburg, and if anything it gets worse over the weekend we're here. It makes our decision to splash out on three-day SL travel passes (even though we're only really here for two and a bit days) fully justified - the ability to leap on a train, metro, tram or bus at the first sign of rain is a very useful one to have. At one point when we have 90 minutes to kill and no real plans, we take a ride on the recently-installed light rail system just to see what it's like, riding out from Globen to Liljeholmen and back again. The one minor irritation is that we forgot to bring our rechargeable SL cards from last visit, and have to buy brand new ones - admittedly that only adds SEK 20 to the price, but it's the principle that counts. And if you get a break in the weather like we finally did on the Sunday afternoon of our visit, you can put the card away for a bit and just stroll around the delightful old town area of Gamla Stan. (We did that back in 2013, but at rooftop level.)
One of the things that is fun about travelling is trying new and exciting places to eat. But sometimes it’s also nice to re-visit eateries from a previous visit to a city. One of the definite foody highlights of Stockholm, and indeed, one of the foody highlights of the trip, was revisiting a restaurant we went to in 2013. B.A.R., or Blasieholmens Akvarium o Restaurang to give it its full name, is a fabulous seafood restaurant in the old Blasieholmens fishmarket district, with a huge counter of fish where you can choose what you want and then decide how you want it done. That’s a fun thing, and is what I did in 2013. But they also do a terrific deal for fish and chips with a bottle of their own B.A.R. ale for a mere 240 SEK. This time, I decided to join Spank in that, and was very glad that I did. The fish itself was absolutely fantastic, perfectly cooked, in a batter that was just the right sort of crispy, with proper chips, again perfectly cooked. The beer was a decent ale, a little on the malty side, but very nice, and went well with the food. They provided proper Sarson’s malt vinegar, too, which was a nice touch, and the bread basket brought at the start of the meal (for no additional cost) included home-made crisp-breads, which I think are the best I had anywhere the whole trip.
The restaurant itself has a great atmosphere, with the fish counter on one side, as mentioned, adding to this. They also do great-looking seafood platters, which were very popular with other diners the night we were there. Fish and chips may not sound like the sort of thing you’d be seeking out on a trip to Scandinavia, but when it’s this good, it’s well worth doing. And I can attest from 2013, and from what I could see from other meals being eaten this time, that there are many other fishy delights, which will set you back a bit more, but still be more than reasonable for the quality. Everything about B.A.R. is great, and that 240 SEK deal has to be one of the best in a city with a deserved reputation for being pricey. With a couple of coffees, our bill came in at just 568 SEK, which is terrific value, especially for such great food.
As we had limited time in Stockholm, and as Spank has already covered our first evening’s meal in BrewDog Södermalm, there’s just one other meal I want to mention, and that’s lunch at Kryp In. Up a quiet street, just around the corner from the most touristy part of Gamla Stan, Kryp In is a delightful little place, bright and airy, but intimate, with friendly service and lovely, traditional Swedish food. We rolled up late in the Sunday lunch service, when things were winding down, and got a table with no trouble at all. I had the fiskgryta, a fish/seafood stew, while Spank went for the renpasta reindeer pasta, for his one meal of reindeer for Sweden. The meal came also with crisp-breads, which were good, but more memorable for me was the very malty dark rye-bread. We washed it all down with a bottle each of another Swedish craft beer, Off the Rails Swedish Pale Ale from Train Station Brewery, and finished with coffee. The food – and beer - was good, and at 440 SEK, this was another very good value meal, in a part of town where such things are likely to be even harder to find than in the rest of Stockholm.
With all this rainfall during our weekend in Stockholm, and on the Saturday in particular, most of our entertainment ends up being museum-based. As we've visited the city for both pleasure and business a few times in the past, it's a question of finding places that we haven't been to before. For example, I'm pretty sure that Abba The Museum was on our shortlist for the 2013 trip - dammit, we were even staying in Benny's hotel at the time - but we just never got around to it, a casualty of our tendency to try and fit a month's worth of tourism into a weekend. We can now tick it off our list, and it's a splendid piece of work. Once you've navigated your way through a cheesy temporary exhibit celebrating 60 years of Eurovision, it takes a solidly chronological route through the life of the group. The really jaw-dropping material comes early on, as we discover that all four members were established pop stars to various degrees before coming together, with plenty of audio-visual evidence of their pre-Abba careers. From there it's a fun canter through their history, with multiple gimmicks scattered throughout: the one that tickles me the most is a phone which, apparently, the Abba members ring every so often to see who answers. It's rounded off with a separate mini-exhibition on the history of Swedish pop music, which makes a decent attempt at explaining why global pop songwriting has effectively been outsourced to Sweden these days. For someone with a passing interest in the band and some emotional scars that still haven't healed, it's a delightful day out - for a full blown Abba fan, this could be the best day of your life.
Abba The Museum is conveniently located in the Djurgården district, home to several of the city's most splendid attractions (such as the Vasamuseet we visited in 2013). A short hop from there on a ferry to Skeppsholmen (covered by your SL card) gives you access to a couple more. The Arkitektur- och Designcentrum - you can probably work out what that means, but everyone just calls it ArkDes for short - has a couple of exhibitions going when we visit. It's not apparent till we get there that the big exhibition that's getting all the press - a look at Yayoi Kusama's work in fashion and design - has an entrance fee. We're running a little short of kroner at this stage, so we go for the free exhibition instead: Housing. Now. Then., a look at Sweden's potential housing crisis and how they've got out of similar problems in the past. It may sound like a dry topic, but it's covered from so many angles that it becomes fascinating: building designs and their impact on occupants, various ways of providing temporary housing in emergencies, and the oh-so-familiar story of how rapid new town development in the 1960s didn't quite work as well as expected.
Within the same building as ArkDes is Moderna Museet, Stockholm's modern art museum, which is also free. (This makes us sound like terrific cheapskates, but I promise you we blow some cash gratuitously in the next paragraph.) The Yayoi Kusama exhibit is in fact located in the grey area between ArkDes and Moderna Museet, in much the same way she lurks somewhere in the grey area between design and art - but at least you get a couple of her sculptures for free in the lobby, and the trees outside have been wrapped in her signature polkadot design. The main focus elsewhere is on a potted history of 20th century art, with lots of Duchamp and the usual suspects. But there are other temporary exhibitions dotted around, and the most interesting one focusses on the work of Moki Cherry - mother of singer Neneh, and wife of jazz trumpeter Don. Some of the most fascinating material here looks at her collaborations with the latter, providing stage backdrops as well as the odd bit of percussion. Before you leave Skeppsholmen, nip back to Cafe Blom inside ArkDes, which is the ideal place to grab a full lunch or a traditional fika.
So, here's that gratuitious spending I was talking about earlier. Most cities these days contain some sort of structure that allows you to get up high and view the place from above. Stockholm's is a little unusual: it's the SkyView, a pair of glass viewing domes holding 14 people each, which run up one side of the spherical Ericsson Globe venue. You can buy tickets in advance or on the day, but be wary of how heavy the demand may be depending on when you turn up: we roll up at noon on a Sunday and are told that the first available ride is 90 minutes or so later. (Hence that impromptu exploration of the light rail system I mentioned earlier.) The ride itself lasts about 20 minutes: your dome is winched slowly up to the top of the Globe, and then you get to look out over Stockholm from about 130 metres up. The immediate area isn't terribly exciting - at ground level, all you're going to see are the other buildings in the Ericsson arena complex - but the views out over the city are excellent if the weather holds up, and luckily we've picked the one day in the weekend when it isn't actually raining.
We only spend two nights in Stockholm, technically. And this would be the point in the article where you'd expect me to tell you about the train journey to our next destination. But you'd be wrong...