A View from the City: Oslo

07 August, 2015

Chris Grøtvedt, head bartender of The Thief and organiser of the Oslo Bar Show, talks us through his city's bar scene

Tell us a little about the history of of your city’s drinking culture. 

Oslo has always been considered the late bloomer compared to Copenhagen and Stockholm. And, truthfully speaking, it still is. Drinking culture in Norway is still not the same as in these cities.

One point to that is having a glass of wine for lunch or after work with friends and colleagues – in Norway this is still not as you see elsewhere where all pubs and restaurants are packed from 13.00 to later on in the evening.

What people drink here varies from place to place – in some parts of town there is a larger focus on microbreweries and cocktails, while other places are more into wines and bubbles. 

Traditionally you have more diverse places in the hipster areas around Grünerløkka and Youngstorget, where you have many great places. They have great cocktail bars, people are really into craft products whether it is beer or artisanal wines or spirits and the product is in focus. Downtown it is still more commercial, where people are satisfied with basics – but you will find some gems here as well. On the west side you will find the posh crowd that likes great cocktails, beers, wines etc – but they like to enjoy it with style. Glamorous is the right word.

Young people in Oslo are very open to new things and more adventurous, while the older generation sticks more to their ways - they are happy with their beer and shot, gin & tonic or Irish coffee. Business travellers are more into new things.

When did the city get into cocktails?

The drinking culture in Oslo is rapidly moving forward these days. If you had asked me this question five years ago when I came to Oslo, I would have said we were still stuck in the 80s and 90s in terms of cocktails and people would order these drinks or a lager beer/sweet cider with a Hot’n’Sweet or sambuca on the side. But this was the time when people started to care about what they are eating and their search for good local ingredients has been a gateway for the drinks industry. Suddenly everyone got preferences on style of beer they liked – everyone was drinking IPAs and different microbreweries seemed to pop up every month. 

The last year or two we started to see the same thing within spirits – guests now have their brand preferences and are eager to get new experiences and more information about it. Things have moved from frozen strawberry Daiquiris to Hemnigway Daiquiris, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. 

Who and what are the pioneer bartenders and bars?

Obviously Monica Berg has been a pioneer for the cocktail scene before she moved to London (she still is a part of us – I keep reminding her of this and what she does for Norway). Others I would have to say Halvor Digernes and Fuglen, Benjamin Lee and Anders Bakke with Morgenstierne (may it rest in peace), Alex Ruas and Jesper Høst (who both have done a great job consulting the opening of Himkok) and been doing great stuff everywhere they have been.

Same goes for the places at Grünerløkka which have been around for ages - Aku Aku and Bar Boca.

Now you also have some new cats around town doing great things with places such as Bettola, Torggata Botaniske and as mentioned Himkok. The Thief was also an important move for Oslo – creating a hotel bar with strong focus on cocktails and service as you will find in London and other big cities. A project I feel is a blessing to be in charge of together with my head bartender Slavomir Kytka. 

What are your favourite bars in your hometown?

Tough question – I really enjoyed Morgenstierne before it closed. Himkok has a great concept which I am looking forward to see when it is fully open. Bettola has a unique vibe and great cocktails. 

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