Although Katarina Bangata is very much a part of Sofo, it doesn’t always play by the rules and opts to stay on the edge – both literally and metaphorically. Add that to the fact that it possibly is the most beautiful street on Södermalm – a tree-lined thoroughfare recalling the grand boulevards of continental Europe – and you’ve got yourself a strong contender for your Sunday stroll. Apart from those busy market days during summer and fall, the street is relatively tranquil and reveals a bashful demeanour, contrasting its more boastful neighbours to the north. However, Katarina Bangata has just as many quality shops, restaurants and cafés as other Sofo streets, it just doesn’t flaunt them as much, as it realizes that some things are best left discovered by chance, if you dare wander outside Nytorget’s radius.
Markets, monuments and maple trees
Even if it didn’t have a handful of merited establishments to its name, Katarina Bangata would still be a delight to behold, with its unusual layout and various distractions along the way, be it squares, statues or beautiful old schools and other notable buildings. The story behind the impressive maple tree alley is that once upon a time (at the end of the 19th century, to be more precise) the city of Stockholm had plans of linking Södra Station with Danvikstull, but somewhere along the way these plans went awry and in the 1930s the train tracks were transformed into the alluring alley we know today, while the street retained the “ban” in its name to remind us of what could have been. In 1998, the entire street was radically remodelled by landscape architect Jonas Anders Berglund, who won the Swedish Architecture Award – The Siena Prize – for his vision.
Starting at the busier bottom end of the street, one wanders up through the alley, where on summer Saturdays you’ll encounter the bustling Bondens Egen Marknad, held there since 2000 and providing city-dwellers with a wide and irresistible selection of produce fresh from the country. When you’ve reached the final stall you’ll find yourself by the street’s first square, Greta Garbos Torg, named after (you guessed it) the legendary actress, who attended school at Katarina Södra Skola. Situated by the square, it is one of Södermalm’s oldest schools. Here you will already have experienced the street’s eccentric zigzagging shape, but worry not – as long as you follow the tree alley you will reach the end. You will also start noticing the street quieten down considerably as its two ends have noticeably different dispositions. However, this does not affect the quality of its businesses.
In fact, there’s a surprise treat waiting at the other end of the street, down by Norra Hammarbyhamnen. Down here, just by the next square, Vintertullstorget, we not only have Orionteatern – founded in 1983 in an old mechanic’s workshop and since going on to become one of the most interesting and successful independent theatres in the country – but we also find a very cool little area made up of some of the more inspired shops and restaurants in town.
The street as a whole functions as Stockholm’s “Little India”, beginning with beloved veggie staple Chutney at the Götgatan end, and there are plenty of outlets providing quality naan and tikka at regular intervals along the street. More features dispersed at regular intervals along the street are the many unique statues that adorn the stretch. One of those, Vi ses vid målet by Olle Adrin, commemorates celebrated football player Lennart “Nacka” Skoglund, who lived and died on Katarina Bangata.
Eating and Drinking
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The window seat at Fröken Andersson gives a stellar view of Katarina Bangata, the pedestrian scenery framed by plants that fill the window and a string of Tibetan flags dangling from the canopy.
Åse Andersson used to run Gildas Rum and Skåningen Kaffebar (both by Nytorget) before taking over this place from a friend. “What I like about Katarina Bangata is that it’s a lot more peaceful than Nytorget; I was so tired of the hipster atmosphere there,” she says. “But even though it’s generally calm it becomes really lively over the summer and autumn when we have the nice farmers market just outside the café.”
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Blå Lotus has had a special place on Stockholm’s fika map for nearly two decades and many a young person drank their first latte in one of its colourful rooms, decked with gold-framed mirrors and exotic paintings. The theme here channels 1001 Nights through everything from the oriental lamps to spiritual icons, and even the sandwich names on the menu.
“When we opened up 18 years ago there wasn’t really anything happening in the area,” says co-owner Frida Lenz. “Back then there were barely any cafés or restaurants, but rather more traditional places catering to all the old people that used to live here then. We had a ginger bread baker and a haberdasher on the street for example. Slowly it’s been building up, but in some ways it was better before because it was more human and not so hip and expensive as it’s become. But on the other hand, we have a lot more visitors now and it’s really fantastic to be able to meet different people from all over the world.”
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Twang started out as a pure guitar store, but somewhere along the way owner Jörgen Wickholm decided to provide his costumers with a café refuge and a concert venue in the same locale. This turned out to be a retro-Americana spot with black and white chequered floor, guitars and records adorning the red walls and cinema seats where one can sit while playing the many board games found amongst a random collection of old books and cassettes. It’s like the diner version of Twin Peaks’ Red Room, with a Wes Anderson soundtrack.
The first incarnation of Twang opened up at Skånegatan in the 1990s, but a few years ago Jörgen felt that the genuine vibe of the street was fading while his need for a bigger place grew, so he started looking towards neighbouring streets. “Katarina Bangata is awesome, with its more relaxed feel and overall slow pace. It was like finding the true Södermalm again, the place I immediately felt at home in when I moved here 20 years ago. It feels like the people passing by are more open and always seem to have time to stop and chat with each other. While Skånegatan has developed from a local street with small businesses to a high-profile, restaurant-heavy link between the oh-so-fab Nytorget and Götgatan, Katarina Bangata has retained its residential feel, with school kids going to and from their schools, people walking their dogs and families just out for a stroll.”
Á la Crêpe
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One of the more charming crêperies in town, this place transforms you to Montmartre of yesteryear with its rouge interior, French vintage ads and Edith Piaf tunes. “We were a big part of shaping Sofo a few years back,” says owner Joel Jadstrand. “The cut-off point could’ve been one street up, on Skånegatan, but our continental presence put Katarina Bangata on the Sofo map.”
“This street is truly an oasis in the middle of Söder,” adds manager Stephanie Nelson. “It’s a quiet and calm street and not at all hectic like Medborgarplatsen, even though it’s so close by. When we opened up this was an up and coming area and since then it’s just been booming.”
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Babajan first opened up at the Museum of Ethnography back in the 1990s and has since been slowly building up its reputation as one of the most intriguing restaurants in Stockholm, with its huge variety of craft beers and culinary traditions from all over the world. There’s a hippie atmosphere in the air, not only from words like “Kathmandu and köftes” on the menu, but also from the selection of travel guides and veggie magazines, vinyl records and rock ‘n’ roll books, as well as the oriental rugs and the “shoes-off” seating area by the bar.
“After spending years traveling around the world, my wife and I had to settle down when we had kids and decided to put all those travel experiences into our multi-cultural restaurant,” says owner Patrick Murray, who had a big part in shaping Kafé 44’s kitchen in the early 90s. Patrick tells me that his father was a British beatnik who used to busk on the street, while his mother was a music journalist back in the 60s. When Patrick was growing up, famous musicians such as Donovan (who is incidentally is playing on the stereo while we speak) and Sonny & Cher were regular guests at the house.
“We wanted to be a bit off from Sofo and thought this area was a diamond in the rough. There are still a lot of people down here that have been living here for decades and the hipster movement hasn’t gentrified our little corner too much. It’s just so much more mellow and easy going down here and it feels like we’re located in a small town.”
Shops and Services
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Walking into legendary Monkey Beach is like walking into a closet covered entirely with DVDs from top to bottom. Micael Wallberg opened up his shop over 20 years ago and is still going strong even in the area of downloads, thanks to a loyal customer base that prefers original hard copies over disposable torrent files.
“Katarina Bangata is a quiet street with not very much traffic in terms of either cars or shoppers and it hasn’t changed very much over the past 20 years in my opinion,” he says, “only that a lot of younger and hipper people seem to be moving here now.”
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Looking like a box of colourful candy, the 50s inspired Daisy Dapper balances naughty and nice by juxtaposing pink and polka dots with leather and lace. The shop’s pinups are Audrey, Betty and Marilyn, representing three contrasting icons of the sweet 50s.
“When looking for a location for the shop I thought Södermalm was perfect for the style of the store,” says owner Matilda Hanning. “Katarina Bangata is both peaceful and comfortable with cosy restaurants and unique shops, and it’s most amazing in the summer when markets extend the street. It’s becoming more and more attractive both to live and work here and more people are finding their way here every day.”
Söder’s Serie & Skivhandel
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What’s striking about this shop is the fact that even though it looks like your average veteran record store run by a long-haired Bill Bailey type, Söder’s Serie & Skivhandel is actually a young shop run by a young man. The life-size Darth Vader cut-out gives a hint about the atmosphere of the shop, which, in addition to vinyl from most genres and periods, offers a large collection of retro video games.
“There are all sorts of people here on the street and that’s great for us because we sell things that interest people of all ages, whether it’s video games for youngsters or records that attract an older age group. But more and more young people are starting to buy vinyl and that’s a nice thing to see!” says owner Anton Wennbom. “But my favourite thing about this street is the way it’s shaped. You never know which turn the street will take after the next block.”
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Taking its cue from old-timey, blue-collar America, Unionville is a tribute to vintage down to the very last detail, whether it’s old boxing gloves hanging off steel horns, faded postal racks, massive radios, leather suitcases, Coke bottles, kerosene lamps, wall-telephones, retro Wrangler ads, nostalgic black–and-white photographs, or a bright red fridge filled with soda pop. The shop is a collaboration between Sivletto (just around the corner and functioning as Unionville’s big brother) and jeans company Blue Highway, whose products are manufactured and repaired at the rear of the shop by brothers Douglas and Hampus Luhanko.
“You could say that Unionville’s goal is to highlight quality and sustainability when it comes to clothes, which according to us is something that has disappeared more and more over the years,” says Douglas. “Here you will find clothing that originates from history and hopefully will stand the test of time, as we turn to an audience that doesn’t feel the need to be a part of the latest trends.”
“We didn’t want to open up our shop on a crowded street when we knew that those with an interest in our product will come to us anyway. The part of Katarina Bangata that we are located at is perhaps the least visited, but I feel that there have appeared nice small shops here during the past years and I think people have started to appreciate that small businesses are opening up a bit outside the more established streets of Södermalm.”