In the last few months, I have covered a number of places that somehow was going under the rug as far as being on the travel radar goes. Read the story on Toronto if you want to find out what I mean (Is Toronto sexy yet?). The same search brings me to the Norwegian capital of Oslo.
Over the years, Oslo has grown from being a country town into the sophisticated metropolis it is today. It’s a city fueled by oil money from the “black gold” of the North Sea. However, somehow, Oslo has been playing second-fiddle in the European travelers’ bucketlist. The city today though, is permeated with a Nordic joie de vivre in contrast to its staid, dull reputation of yesteryear.
Where does the Oslo local go to play then?
Out of all the neighborhoods, Grunerlokka sits on the banks of the Akerselva River but it was not always the hip new hangout area that it is now – the neighborhood once was little more than a gritty industrial area. Now however, this is where the cool ones go to shop and play. Called Lokka by the locals, it now is home to retro-fitted, century-old buildings and green public squares. Indie boutiques, cafes, galleries, and bars have mushroomed here and represents Oslo’s easily missed alter ego— a big contrast to the capital’s rather reserved city center.
Nothing explains a city’s soul like it’s food. When I think of Tokyo, the first thing that comes to mind is the crazy hunt of ramen noodles (Discovering Tokyo over Ramen). In Norway un till now, all that floated up was fish, dried fish, pickled fish, even rotting fish with some bread and potatoes thrown in and there you have it – by far, not the most inspiring platter.
Food lovers might draw blood over this, but even within the country, Oslo has to struggle to attract foodies. The capital is in fact more known for its coffee than anything else. However, with the opening of Mathallen in October 2012, a lot of effort has gone in to change that. It is the city’s first and largely the only dedicated food hall which host stalls for, among others, anything from sausage makers, bakers, coffee roasters to local farmers and fishmongers.
Head over to Annis Pølsemakeri – specialised butcher’s shop and the Atelier Asian Tapas which serves the best from Asia. Baker Nikolaisen sells freshly baked bread, cakes and other pastries. The best wine bar is arguably Barramon. The Bondens butikk sells high-quality produce from Norwegian small-scale farmers.
2. Markveien Mat og Vinhus
Right inside the heart of the Lokka, Markveien is a three decade old bistro which finds itself squarely in the middle of the city’s food and culture reawakening. It easly evokes a Norwegian taste of the Left Bank bohemian life. The walls are painted by local artist Jo Stang, and the waiters welcome diners come evening.
The menu which seemed ambitious to say the least on first glance, lives up to its expectation with entries like roast suckling pig with a mushroom risotto and baked tomato. The sauces are made of locally harvested fresh herbs. Recommended is the monkfish with boiled new potatoes and a saffron risotto. For something more truly Norwegian, try the reindeer in a green peppercorn sauce, with bacon and Brussels sprouts.
3. DogA – Centre for Design and Architecture
At the old transformer station in Hausmanns gate 16 is DogA – the Centre for Design and Architecture where among other things, you’ll find elf motif tableware and high-design essentials. There is an arena for large and small architecture and design exhibitions, shops, café and a restaurant.
There’s the Cultural Heritage Management Office within the premises which is in the city’s “yellow” list of buildings, which means “worth preserving”. The property was originally designed as a transformer station constructed in 1898 and converted in 2003. The arena hosts a number of small and large architecture and design exhibitions and a design shop.
The Popsenteret pays homage to the Norwegian pop and folk culture since 1904. Part of Schou’s culture brewery at Grünerløkka, a major draw, apart from the fact that you can watch kids waiting to get their photos on album covers is the Øvingshotellet or the rehearsal spaces and Riksscenen, the folk music stage).
5. Velouria Vintage
The Velouria is always crowded, a lively group of buyers rummaging through go-go boots, sequined tops and fashion from the 1950s through the 1980s. It’s a place for pure imagination and of inspiration. Sadly, at least for me, the men’s section is pretty meagre compared to the women’s but isn’t that the case always.
6. Bar Boca
Bar Boca is a retro-themed watering hole where Epicurean cocktails have been reigning for a while now. Particularly, the Bentley is a masterful concoction of calvados and Dubonnet, or, try the chili rum. The tables are usually taken by lovely ladies in polka dots and impeccable hair and men with sixpence and jeans.
But all this is secondary compared to the Triple C that happens every third Wednesday of a month – Champagne, Cocktails and a lot of Crooning. Right here in this intimate bar in Oslo, you will find the perfect British crooner with that perfect smooth voice conjuring up visions of 40’s New York.
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