October 31, 2013

Restaurant P.A. & Co

Stockholm was bracing for a big autumn storm this past Monday evening (it ended up being mostly a little rainy). That evening I was out with friends at the movies and we decided to drop in at a restaurant afterwards to escape the rain and have a spontaneous dinner out. I chose P.A. & Co as it is a very popular restaurant and it had been a long while since my last visit. Have to keep myself updated!
P.A. & Co has been around for about twenty years and has long been a favorite restaurant among the locals with a loyal group of regulars. It is small and cozy with not a lot of space between tables, often fully booked yet retaining a friendly and laid back ambience. The menu is varied and changes regularly... though with some mainstay dishes that keep the regulars happy. I would describe the menu as a mix of French and Swedish cuisines with some international touches. According to their website, the menu is made up of both classic and their own recipes, all favorites of the staff & owner, and I would say that this is accurate.
The three of us opted for chèvre chaud salad, ceviche with tuna & king crab and traditional Isterband (lightly smoked sausage) for our main courses. For dessert we ordered Gino. I would say that it is paramount to a crime not to order Gino when you visit the restaurant. Gino is made up of diced strawberries, kiwi and bananas, topped with grated white chocolate, baked in the oven, and served with vanilla ice cream. While you will find Gino on the menus of many Stockholm restaurants... it was created at P.A. & Co! Another stellar dish that is often found on their menu is the traditional Biff Rydberg. Delicious!
P.A. & Co is located on a quiet side street (Riddargatan) in the Östermalm district, close to the hustle and bustle of Stureplan. It is very easy to get to from the Rival Hotel. Either by subway- four stops to Östermalmstorg station on the red line- or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. Booking a table is, however, tricky! They do not accept table reservations made in advance. Instead, you have to book on the same day... telephone lines open at 3pm. On the weekend you have to have a bit of luck on your side as there are a lot of people calling at the same time for a table that evening. If you are staying at the Rival, contact me directly and I can help you with this! If we are unsuccessful, then I can happily recommend Bistro Süd as a dining option. Same owner with a similar concept, menu and ambiance as P.A. & Co, but located just a couple of blocks from the hotel!
Click here for other restaurant recommendations.

October 29, 2013

Höstlov and Halloween in Stockholm

This is a special week (October 28th to November 3rd) in Stockholm for several reasons: it is autumn break (höstlov) and children are out of school for the whole week, All Saints' Day is this coming Saturday (Nov 2nd) and, of course, Halloween... an import from the US which has grown in popularity over the past decade.
Photo by Jeppe Wikström, Stockholm Visitors Board.
If you are visiting Stockholm this week with your children then you chose the right week. As it is the autumn break, and Swedish children have vacation, there are plenty of child friendly activities and events. Many of the museums in the city have special events or exhibitions geared especially for children this week, often with more "spooky" themes. For example, Historiska (the history museum) has special tours where children wear headlamps and get to search through certain exhibitions in the dark looking for skulls and treasure. One example of many. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, and want more specific information of the different museum activities, talk directly with me!
Grim Reaper at Skansen, Photo by Marie Andersson
Another fun place to visit with children this week is the park/square Kungsträdgården. From October 29th to November 1st they will have an activities tent set up (between 11am and 3:30pm) where children can try out different sports, arts & crafts, rock climbing and storytelling. Free admission. At Skansen park & museum they are having "magical days and spooky evenings" all week long with a more historic look at Swedish folklore relating to this season. Good for all ages... but keep in mind that some activities may be scarier than others (like certain ghost walks in the evenings). Another tip is that Drottningholm Palace, which is usually only open on the weekends during this time of year, is open all week long between 11am and 3:30pm. Unfortunately the boats aren't running... but you can take a combination of subway and bus to get there.
This Saturday, November 2nd, is the annual Halloween parade called, appropriately, Shock-holm. This has been going on for a few years and has gotten quite popular. The pre-party is at Medborgarplatsen between 3pm and 5pm, followed by the parade through Gamla Stan and ending at Kungsträdgården where the post party will go on until 7:30pm with live performances, food & drink and activities for all ages. You can either watch or walk in the parade, though the latter requires that you wear a costume/mask of some sort. Free admission!
Skogskyrkogård (c) Susanne Hallmann, Cemeteries Administration of the City of Stockholm
Finally... for a more solemn and cultural activity, head to Skogskyrkogården ("The Woodland Cemetery") to celebrate All Hallow's Eve. This beautiful cemetery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was designed by famed Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund. This week is one of the most popular times of the year to visit as thousands of people come to remember loved ones and decorate the graves with candles and seasonal flowers making this special place even more hauntingly beautiful. More information. The main day to visit is Saturday (All Saints' Day), but the decorating does start in the week leading up to Saturday. Keep in mind to be respectful.

October 25, 2013

Tolv Stockholm- New Entertainment Centre

Exterior of Tele2 Arena.
I was invited yesterday to the premiere of Tolv Stockholm, a collection of restaurants, bars and a nightclub. What makes it even more special is its location... under the newly built Tele2 Arena. Besides being the home arena to two local football/soccer teams (Djurgården & Hammarby), Tele2 will also host other sporting events and function as a concert venue (max capacity of 45,000). The roof of the arena can be closed, making it useable year-round. The arena is located next to the existing Globe Arena as well as the smaller Hovet, Annexet and Söder Stadion venues... creating a huge centre for sport, music and entertainment.
O'Leary's Sports Bar.
As I mentioned, Tolv Stockholm, is a collection of bars and restaurants which compliment the arenas as a place to have a meal or cocktail before or after a concert/match. It also stands alone as a place to visit. For example the sports bar O'Leary's is huge! Here you can eat & drink, watch sporting events as well as play some yourself... with bowling lanes, ping pong tables and (more sedate) racing car simulators in the bar. They even have a Stockholm themed mini-golf course!
Shark themed bowling lanes at O'Leary's.
Other restaurants include Enzo's (Italian), Printz (beer hall and home-made sausage restaurant), Davaj (deli) as well as an ecological salad bar and frozen yoghurt parlour. If you are attending a concert at the arena and feel inspired... try your hand at singing in their karaoke bar. The big news, for many, is the nightclub Solidaritet Arena. It will be able to take up to 1,500 persons with three dance floors and several bars. They will have big name DJ's as well as more intimate live music concerts. It wasn't open last night (premiere tomorrow) but we were given a tour of the locale.
Bar at Enzo's.
"Tolv" is the Swedish word for twelve and refers to the fact that it will be open 12 hours a day, 12 months a year. I am a little unsure of how this will work as it will be hard to fill restaurants on evenings when there aren't any matches or concerts. But I trust that they have that figured out. At any rate, well worth a visit! The Tele2 Arena and Twelve Stockholm are located in the suburb of Johanneshov, just south of Stockholm. It is easy to get there from the Rival Hotel... just take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen going in the direction of Hagsätra. Exit the subway at the Globen station which is the fourth stop after Slussen.
Gold Bar at Solidaritet Arena Nightclub.
Solidaritet Nightclub... sans guests!

October 23, 2013

Restaurant: Who is Mr French?

Gorgeous waterfront promenade... Mr French can be seen on the right.
(EDIT: click here for new blog post about the restaurant- after renovation) This past spring there was a piece of news that hit like a thunderbolt among people working in the Stockholm restaurant world... "Pontus by the Sea", long a mainstay restaurant in Gamla Stan, had been sold. Who bought it? What were they going to do? It wasn't long until we found out that the new name for the restaurant would be "Who is Mr French?". Does that mean they will be serving French cuisine? Why the mystery? And who exactly is this Mr French character?
Outdoor summer area with great views. (photo provided by Mr French)
You might wonder why there would be so much curiosity regarding the sale of a restaurant... after all, it isn't that strange that a restaurant is sold/bought. Well, it mostly has to do with the location. The restaurant has arguably the best location in Stockholm: right on the waterfront of Gamla Stan. The views of the boat-filled harbour from the restaurant are especially nice during the summer (they have a fantastic outdoor bar & lounge)... but during the winter they have the additional advantage of being located adjacent to the city's official Christmas tree.
Cozy indoors...
I was invited there last week for dinner as well as a meeting with their marketing director to hear about their concept and what they have planned for the future. The dinner was delicious... with a blend of French and American cuisines on the menu and a nice selection of shellfish. It was very interesting to hear about their concept and grand plans. When Mr French purchased the restaurant, it was just a few weeks ahead of the busy summer season. They didn't have enough time to make the changes they wanted to in the locale before summer kicked off. So they refurbished the outdoor area first and this winter (January & February, 2014) they will close for a complete change to the indoor area. Can't wait to see how it will look! When they reopen, they will announce the name of the owner (a secret so far) and the restaurant will change its name to just Mr French.
Gamla Stan waterfront with the official Christmas tree (last year).
Another one of their plans is to really build up their cocktail business by hiring some of Sweden's best bartenders and creating an innovative cocktail menu. In the meantime, they will be open as usual this autumn and will be serving the traditional Christmas buffet (julbord) during the month of December. With the restaurant's proximity to the Christmas market in Gamla Stan, it is the perfect place to end a day of Christmas-y activities. It is an easy 15-20 minute walk to the restaurant, through Gamla Stan, from the Rival Hotel. I will be sure to write about the restaurant after their reopening in March! Click here for my collection of restaurant recommendations/reviews.

October 19, 2013

Cindy Sherman at Moderna

I recently attended the press showing for Moderna Museet's (modern art museum) new Cindy Sherman exhibition. Cindy Sherman is an American artist/photographer known mostly for her conceptual photographs and is considered one of the most important artists of the day. This is their big autumn exhibition and runs through January 19th, 2014.
The exhibition, "Untitled Horrors", is quite extensive and contains work spanning Sherman's career. I did find it interesting, especially her penchant to use herself as model/subject in many of her photographs without them ever being portraits. Sherman does a bit of role-playing in these photographs, disappearing into each role with the help of hair, make-up and set styling. Be aware that while the pictures are captivating and thought provoking, some of the pieces are a bit darker with some containing subjects of a sexual nature.
Moderna is located on the island of Skeppsholmen and is relatively simple to get to from the Rival Hotel... either by taking the Djurgårds Ferry (telling them that you wish to disembark at Skeppsholmen) or else there is a bridge connecting the island to the mainland at Blasieholmen. Moderna has a great gift shop and café, both of which I think are well worth a visit when at the museum! Closed on Mondays. Click here for other art exhibitions going on in Stockholm this autumn and early winter.
Gift shop... books, prints and lots of fun knick-knacks!

October 18, 2013

Exploring Stockholm's Architecture!

Stockholm Public Library by Gunnar Asplund (photo by me!)
Stockholm has some amazing architecture... from Gothic to the ultra-modern and from the unknown to the world famous. The most common architecture themed questions I get from hotel guests usually pertain to the architect Gunnar Asplund and his well known work, especially the Stockholm Public Library and the Skogskyrkogården ("Woodland Cemetery") which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Woodland Cemetery (c) Susanne Hallmann, Kyrkogårdsförvaltningen Stockholms stad
If you are coming to Stockholm and happen to be an architecture buff... then I have some good tips for you. To start off with, make sure to visit the museum Arkitektur och Designcentrum (The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design)! Formerly known as Arkitekturmuseet, located on the island of Skeppsholmen just adjacent to the modern art museum Moderna, they have some interesting exhibitions... like the current Light Houses- Young Nordic Architecture. They also have some fun events, like their annual Ginger Bread House competition!
Karolinska new lecture hall. Photo: Pol Martin/arcspace
If you want to explore the city and see the architecture first hand, then there are some nifty new ways to do so. First off you have an online guide to Stockholm architecture provided by the wonderful people at arcspace. They have a fantastic architectural travel guide to Stockholm with great information of the best architectural designs in the city... including pictures, design information, addresses and more. The Rival Hotel is mentioned as well! It is completely free and you can either print out the guide ahead of time and take it with you or have it open on your smart phone or tablet computer while you wander through Stockholm.
Hammarbysjöstad Observatorium landscpe. Photo: Pol Martin/arcspace
Next up you have the app Arkitektur Nu (provided by the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design)  which you can download to your smart phone for free. This app uses GPS and needs no cellular or internet connection to use... so free to download and free to use! The app has an interactive map and features some of the most acclaimed projects of recent years. These two guides/apps are mainly concerned with more modern architecture... if you are interested in architecture of the histroric variety, check this website regarding architectural styles in Gamla Stan (old town). In this area of the city you will find everything from Late Renaissance to Baroque to Art Nouveau.
Some girder anchors on a building in Gamla Stan.
A bit of architectural trivia for you... when you are walking around Gamla Stan, admiring the buildings, keep an eye on the girder anchors (or anchor plates). These pieces of iron anchor the inside beams to the houses' exterior structure and come in different forms (everything from straight lines to curly q's). Each decade or time period has its own design... so the age of the building can be determined by the girder anchor on the outside. Click here for a guide for some of them.

October 15, 2013

Restaurant Pastis

It has been awhile since I have written about any restaurants. This isn't because I have been a recluse, more because the restaurants I have visited in the past few weeks have been repeats of favorite restaurants I have already written about... like celebrating my birthday at Boqueria and a work dinner at Bistro Süd. But this past weekend I have visited a couple of new (for me) restaurants!
Pastis on the cobble-stone streets of Gamla Stan.
First out was a dinner with a friend at Pastis in Gamla Stan ("the old town"). For those of you who don't know, pastis is a very French, anise-flavored liqueur with well known brands including Pernod and Ricard. As the name suggests, Pastis is French styled bistro reminiscent of the charming, neighbourhood restaurants found in most French villages. It is a small, cozy restaurant (I counted 20 seats indoors) with tables close to one another and French belle epoque prints decorating the walls.
The food and wine are, of course, French as well. My friend and I opted for the same dinner... a bruschetta with duck rillette as our appetizer followed by Moules Marinières (mussels cooked in white wine, cream and garlic) for our main course. For dessert we shared a selection of French cheese. All of it delicious! The menu, like the restaurant, isn't huge... but there are plenty of French favorites to be found, like Chèvre Chaud, Steak Tatare, Poulet la Comtesse and Crème Brulée. But of course!
Moules Marinières! Mmmm...
A perfect restaurant for francophiles as well as those of you who wish for a taste of the Continent while visiting Scandinavia. Pastis is located in Gamla Stan, next to the statue of St George slaying the dragon, and is a mere 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel on Södermalm. As I mentioned, this is a small restaurant so booking in advance is recommended! If you will be staying at the Rival, contact me for help. Otherwise send them an e-mail at info@pastis.se. Click here for other restaurant recommendations.
Stortorget at night... a two minute walk from Pastis.

October 10, 2013

Paolo Roversi at Fotografiska

If you have been reading this blog, then you probably know that I have a soft spot for photography exhibitions, especially the black & white, fashion variety... so it probably isn't strange that I should pay a visit to Fotografiska to see their latest exhibition Paolo Roversi: Secrets.
Italian born Roversi has been working as a fashion photographer for about 40 years and his work has made it into the pages of most high fashion magazines (both in editorial work and advertisement). His use of large format Polaroid print, natural light as well as his penchant for studio settings give his photographs an almost historical feel while still keeping a sense of intimacy.
Natalia Voldianova in all her glory.
From the exhibit, you do get a sense that Roversi views many of his models as personal muses... with many of them (Guinevere, Saskia, Natalia, etc;) appearing often throughout the exhibition. It evokes a feeling of collaboration between model and photographer.
Besides the Roversi exhibition (running until January 12th, 2014), there are several others going on simultaneously at Fotografiska. The Pieter Hugo exhibition, which I have already written about, is running until December 1st. A third, smaller exhibition features the Latvian photographer Inta Ruka (running until December 8th). Her stark photographs with characters from the Latvian countryside provide a wonderful contrast to the fashionable waifs of the Roversi exhibition. Add that to the slightly depressing, albeit thought provoking, subjects in the Hugo exhibit and you get an interesting afternoon at Fotografiska.
To get to the museum from the Rival Hotel... it is just a 15-20 minute walk. It is located on the Stadsgården waterfront and is a beautiful walk along the water from Slussen to Fotografiska. Interested in more art? Click here for other art exhibitions this season in Stockholm.
A Latvian gentleman by Inta Ruka

October 8, 2013

Currency, Cash and Credit Cards!

(EDIT: as of July 1st, 2017 Sweden has officially switched to new bank notes and coins. It has been a several year long process. Click here for more information) While many of my first blog posts (way back in 2010) have essential information for Stockholm visitors, they were written before I had really found my voice. Most of them are also in need of a serious update (information, look and links)! So I will be rewriting a few of my early posts... subjects with important information and tips for people visiting Stockholm.
Swedish kronor (crowns)
Money, money, money... always an important part of any trip. To start of with, the currency in Sweden is called the Swedish krona (or crown). Sweden does not have the Euro! It is one of three EU countries that voted against replacing their currency with the Euro (the others two being the UK and Denmark). In retrospect it seems to have been a good idea to keep the krona! The vast majority of stores, restaurants and other businesses in Sweden do not accept any other currency than kronor (plural of krona). The few exceptions are some shops in areas frequented mainly by tourists, like Gamla Stan in Stockholm, where Euros may be accepted. However, this should never be taken for granted and keep in mind that the exchange rate may not be favourable! US dollars are really not accepted anywhere. As Sweden is part of the European Union, it is not strange to ask shopkeepers if they accept Euros, but please keep in mind that Sweden is a rich, First World nation with a strong economy and currency and insisting that a shopkeeper take dollars can be seen as being insulting. Trust me, this happens.
A neighbourhood exchange office.
If switching between different currencies during your trip sounds like a bother, it is good to know that credit and debit cards are accepted practically everywhere in Sweden... from the high-end boutiques to the corner hot dog kiosks. Even taxis take plastic. In fact, most Swedes carry very little cash and use credit and debit cards for almost all transactions. Also, there are many places that have stopped accepting cash like ABBA the Museum, Rosendals Trädgård and Fotografiska museum. So, in other words, you don't need to exchange that much cash when visiting Sweden... though it is always good to have some cash on you for emergencies. Keep also in mind that Sweden, and most of Europe for that matter, uses the chip-and-pin system (EMV) with their credit/debit cards so don't be surprised when you are asked if you have a pin number when using your card. Don't worry if you don't have a chip-and-pin card... most places still accept cards with magnetic stripes!
A Swedish ATM... the Bankomat.
There are many exchange offices in Stockholm that offer good rates. One reputable chain of exchange offices is Forex with shops spread throughout the city (including Gamla Stan, NK department store, the train station and airports). Cash withdrawal machines, or ATMs, are found throughout the city as well. It is hard to miss them... they are blue and called "Bankomat". Here you can withdraw Swedish kronor using your debit or credit card at a decent exchange rate. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me for the nearest exchange office and/or Bankomat.

October 5, 2013

Autumn Art Exhibitions in Stockholm

At Millesgården: Anna Riwkin, Självporträtt, 1920-tal
Foto: Erik Thor
As the weather gets colder, we start to concentrate ourselves on more indoor activities. One great way to spend a rainy autumn day is to visit one of the many fantastic museums in Stockholm. There are over 80 museums(!) in the city covering a wide range of subjects like military, history, sports, alcohol, biology, technology and even dance. There are also museums with quite specific subjects... like the warship Vasa and the pop group ABBA. Then, of course, there are many museums dedicated to art in all its forms! Here are some of the major art exhibits going on this season (some lasting through winter):
At Moderna: Cindy Sherman
Untitled #92© Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York. 

African Masterpieces at Bergsrummet.

There are several smaller art galleries and museums not listed above. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by or contact me in advance for further information and directions! 
At Sven Harry's! © Björn Berg / Bildmakarna Berg

October 2, 2013

Tips for Booking a Restaurant in Stockholm!

Photo by Yanan Li, visitstockholm.com
Here comes a couple of great tips for visitors who want to maximize their dining experience in Stockholm! In my job, as Concierge at the Rival Hotel, I book hundreds of tables at different restaurants in Stockholm throughout the year... everything from neighbourhood eateries to Michelin star gourmet restaurants. Some guests contact me a few weeks in advance for restaurant recommendations and help in securing reservations. Others come to me last minute, which can be problematic... especially on a Friday or Saturday evening! If you aren't picky about cuisine, price or location of the restaurant then it shouldn't be a problem. It is, however, depressing (and slightly perplexing) when guests come to me at 6pm on a Friday evening and ask for a table at Stockholm's "trendiest restaurant" or "best seafood restaurant" later on the same evening. This borders on the impossible, especially if they wish for a table during peak dining hours (between 7 and 9pm). My top tip if you are coming on a weekend and want a specific restaurant (or type of restaurant) is to book your table in advance! If you are going to stay at the Rival Hotel then I will be more than happy to help you with this. Otherwise you can contact your hotel for help or... book yourself! Almost all restaurants have an online booking system which you will find on their websites. Click here for some personal restaurant recommendations.
Fine dining at Jonas!
A few extra special tips: Swedes get paid on the 25th of every month. The first weekend after payday is called lönehelg ("pay weekend") and it is very traditional for Swedes, flush with money, to go out to eat & drink on this weekend. In other words it is very important to book a table in advance when visiting Stockholm on just this specific weekend! If you are interested in more high-end gourmet restaurants, like Stockholm's Michelin star restaurants, then there are specific pre-booking requirements. Most of them open up their online booking at midnight (Swedish time) either a month or two weeks in advance depending on the restaurant in question. Tables often go quickly! While I can help Rival guests with these reservations, these restaurants generally want to have personal contact with the guests whether it is to check for allergies or to have a credit card number as a guarantee for the reservation. In other words, I can make a preliminary booking for you after which the restaurant would contact you to guarantee the reservation.