First Person

Sweden’s Bar Brooklyn: A slice of home or counterfeit cool?

bar brooklyn sweden
First sign somethings amiss: velvet ropes. All photos by Madelyn Owens

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – Tucked away on a dark waterfront street, there is a crowd of young men in beanies and skinny jeans smoking cigarettes outside of a dark bar advertising Brooklyn Lager. Its been several blocks since you saw the last local “micro-chain” cafe, and the area is starting to look a little shady. You appreciate the view of the city across the water as you walk under the bridge to approach the bar, but you’re not in DUMBO anymore, Toto. This is Bar Brooklyn in Stockholm, Sweden.

My girlfriends and I recently scored some cheap tickets for a direct flight from JFK to Stockholm. (Brokester tip: Check out Norwegian Air: they’re currently hawking one way flights to Oslo for $211). The differences between Brooklyn and Stockholm are striking, where we have garbage drifts and a lively diverse populace, Stockholm has tidy flower boxes and a noticeably homogenous population of tall blondes. So, when we found out that there was a place called Bar Brooklyn pretty close to our Air BnB, we had to investigate.

bar brooklyn sweden
View from Bar Brooklyn. It’s not Manhattan, but its not too shabby.

Bar Brooklyn is located in Södermalm, which is basically the Williamsburg of Stockholm. Formerly a working class neighborhood, it is now home to trendy boutiques, art galleries, and vegetarian restaurants. At first glance, the interior looks like a more spacious approximation of Union Hall; upholstered leather club chairs, a faux fireplace, and wallpaper printed to look like library shelves. There was even a painting of a cat decked out in Renaissance garb, which seemed pretty Brooklyn to me.

bar brooklyn sweden
Reclaimed fair trade coffee bag upholstery: +1

We cozied up to the long bar, featuring prominent Brooklyn Brewery branding. (Sweden is the #1 consumer of Brooklyn Lager outside of the US.) We introduced ourselves to the friendly tattooed bartender, Nicklas. Nicklas has never been to Brooklyn, but as a fan of How I Met Your Mother, he wants to visit NYC as soon as possible.

Nicklas told us that neighborhood used to be known as “Knife Söder,” due to the high rate of knife violence. As real estate prices have skyrocketed in the past few years, the area is becoming safer… and more expensive (sound familiar?) We asked him what sort of crowd the bar attracted, “People come who want to be ‘different.’ Yeah, It’s definitely a ‘hipster’ crowd.” The bar is host to Brooklyn-esque programming, like live music and cultural events, including a feminist film festival.

bar brooklyn sweden
Hej hej, Nicklas!

Like everywhere else in Stockholm, the drinks are expensive. The cheapest beer we could find at any bar was about 53 krona, or $8.25. My pint of Brooklyn Lager cost me about $10. The cocktail menu featured drinks like the “My Brooklyn Sour” (bourbon, lemon, orange juice, with a Brooklyn IPA floater), and rang in at about $20. This is not unusual for Stockholm. Alcohol is highly taxed and highly regulated. Nicklas told us that most bars will cut you off after three drinks, whether you appear to be drunk or not.

bar brooklyn sweden
They love their Brooklyn Brewery

So, would Bar Brooklyn pass as an actual bar in Brooklyn?  The decor and events were very Kings County, but a few details were a bit off. Most noticeably, the music. When we arrived they were pumping One Direction, followed by a Mumford & Sons hit from 2011. To be fair, most of the songs we heard in Sweden were indie pop hits from two to four years ago. But at the end of the day, a curated juke box and a $5 beer/shot special would not make Bar Brooklyn feel like real Brooklyn. It was a bit too clean, too new, and too earnest to evoke the energy, cynicism and filth of my home city.

bar brooklyn sweden
Here’s that Renaissance cat.

It was later that night, after we paid our tab and wandered down Hornsgaten away from the water that I started feeling the thrill of a night out in Brooklyn. It was when we went to McDonald’s for a small twist cone, where a woman accused my friend of taking her picture and started yelling, chasing us on to the street. It was when we stopped in at a place called Viking Bar expecting Disney ships and overpriced mead… but instead finding a dark room filled with old timers who wouldn’t give us the time of day. It was a staff that snarled when we asked for “the cheapest beer, please.” It was bumming cigarettes from a pair of 19-year-old Swedish plumbers who thought that we were lesbians when we said we were feminists, but wanted to take us dancing anyway…. that’s the kind of night you have in Brooklyn, and that’s what makes it worth the rent. You can take the flannel out of Brooklyn, you can even put it into small-batch, artisan bottles—but you can’t distill the restless spirit.

bar brooklyn sweden
Cute, right?

Go to Stockholm, eat smoked herring, go to the Vasa Museet, go to Bar Brooklyn even, you might run into a few cute American girls drinking a  Danish beer called American Dream. Feel envious of the clean streets, strong coffee and universal health care… then come back home, walk through the garbage drifts to your local watering hole, and feel grateful that you live in the greatest city in the world.

Follow Maddie’s restless spirit at @madddesign

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