Street Style: Rörstrandsgatan

| Words: Gulla Hermannsdottir

Ask anyone working on Rörstrandsgatan and they’ll tell you that the street has a distinct European flair, which is why it has earned the nickname “Little Paris” after the restaurant boom of the past few years. Here, you’ll find Stockholmers from every quarter gathered to sample some of the best pasta lunches, espresso shots, artisan chocolate, and pints of lager this town has to offer. And let’s not forget the assortment of international-inspired speciality shops that have managed to thrive in the face of this gourmet takeover. Whether it’s British tweed, Italian tiles, or Cuban tobacco, the shops on Rörstrandsgatan are full of surprises, making you feel like you’re sampling the whole world in this dense stretch of commerce.

Rörstrandsgatan cuts straight through the hub of Birkastan, beginning at S:t Eriksplan and extending on to Karlberg Station, where it curves up the hill, eventually merging with Karlbergsvägen. Most of the action takes place on the first couple of blocks, before it turns into a peaceful residential area with a lovely view over Lake Karlberg and Karlberg Castle.

Birkastans Dag has been celebrated on Rörstrandsgatan on the first Sunday of September for three years running; on this day, Birkastan devotees get together for live concerts, dance lessons, art exhibitions, tasting samples, and various other culture pursuits, all topped off with a cup of coffee of course.

 

From kings to ceramics

The street gets its name from the medieval town Rörstrand, which was situated at nearby S:t Eriksplan, with the “rör” prefix indicating that reeds used to grow along the shores of Lake Karlberg. The oldest citation of the name comes from a couple of letters written by Magnus Ladulås in the late 13th century.

Rörstrand Castle was built in the 17th century and was the main building of the Rörstrand Estate, then owned by nobleman Mårten Wewitzers, who presented the castle to his wife as a wedding present. It was later owned by Queen Kristina, who in turn passed it on to her cousin, King Karl X Gustav. In the times of King Karl XII, the castle was used to keep Russian prisoners of the Great Northern War. The castle building is today incorporated with the Filadelfia Church on Rörstrandsgatan.

The Rörstrand porcelain factory began manufacturing goods in the 18th century, and quickly became one of the best-known porcelain producers in Sweden, as well as one of the largest industries in the country. The factory was closed and torn down in 1926 when the business moved to Lidköping.

 

To get there

Getting to Rörstrandsgatan is as easy as blueberry pie. Either take the tunnelbana to S:t Eriksplan, or hop on one of the many buses that pass through here, such as routes 3 or 4. The area is also very biker-friendly, with bike lanes running up and down all major streets. And if traveling by pendeltåg, Karlberg Station is just around the corner.

Eating and drinking

Mellqvist Café och Bar, Rörstrandsgatan 4.

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and as Mellqvist is one of the hottest espresso bars in town, it’s no wonder it’s absolutely packed. In fact, Mellqvist is one of Stockholm’s original espresso joints and their veneration for the drink is evident: there’s even an extra espresso machine on the patio for those passers-by that might be gasping for a latte, and inside the odd antique coffee grinder serves as decoration.

The interior is simple but tasteful and, as suits a true espresso bar, the focus is on the beverage rather than fancy framework. And the pile of fresh cinnamon and cardamom buns dots the “i” in caffeine because as all Stockholmers know, you can’t have coffee without pastry.

“Our range of guests is wide and here you’ll find fire fighters, artists, journalists, restaurant people, and fashion designers enjoying our good coffee and breakfast,” says co-owner Erik Mellqvist. “Rörstrandsgatan is a very cool and laid-back part of Stockholm. It’s like its own town within the city and many people here know each other. There’s also a very international feeling here, it’s like a miniature version of Paris, or a small town in Italy. The relationship amongst us business owners is very good, as a small-town mentality should be. The street is like a large living room.”

 

Non Solo Bar, Rörstrandsgatan 4

In case you didn’t quite get your espresso fix at Mellqvist, you don’t need to look far for the next shot as classic coffee haunt Non Solo Bar is located right next door – the two places even share the same address. It’s lunchtime and the café is full of 30-somethings in suits and black summer dresses matched with oversized sunglasses. The sitting area is one long row of brown benches and black chairs, keeping with the tones of the burgundy and cream checked floor. The Cuban photo exhibition adds bright hues to the coffee-coloured locale, not to mention the purple cheesecake that looks like something that might give you super powers.

“Non Solo Bar was started ten years ago and in the beginning it was purely an espresso bar but has now developed into an Italian-style bistro/café with a very high standard in making coffee,” says co-owner Behrang Nabizadeh. “To make coffee at Non Solo Bar you have to have be a certified barista, as our ambition is to have the best coffee in Sweden.”

“Rörstrandsgatan has an international pulse that few streets in Stockholm can compete with. The street is always busy with various people passing by – stressed, happy, or chilled. It reminds me a lot of my favourite city, New York. In past years more restaurants have opened up and the quality has gone up everywhere because of the competition. We have a good relationship with our next-door neighbour Mellqvist. The funny thing is that they are our biggest competitor and our biggest asset, both at the same time. We compete with each other to make the best coffee in town. And I would say that our area is the most crowded in Rörstrandsgatan.”

 

Café Levinsky’s, Rörstrandsgatan 9

Levinsky’s’ location works as a central square on Rörstrandsgatan as their plant-filled patio straddles the corner where Birkagatan merges with Rörstrandsgatan. The orange and teal chairs look dazzling in the sun and those pasta lunches go well with a glass of white wine. The lounge music is as chilled as the wine, and the selection of freshly-made desserts is unscrupulously tempting.

“I’ve worked in cafés and bakeries since I was very young and 13 years ago I opened up Levinsky’s” says owner Alexander Trewin. “Our customers are mostly young couples with good incomes. A typical day at the café consists of a lot of running and many satisfied guests.”

“We are known for our many restaurants here at Rörstrandsgatan. Over the years many small shops have been turned into restaurants and the area has become known as ‘Little Paris’. This trend definitely attracts a lot of people here.”

 

Xoko, Rörstrandsgatan 15

Established six years ago by one of Sweden’s top pastry chefs, Xoko is all about retro-pop and French delight. The walls are adorned with big circles that function either as lights, mirrors, or bottle holders, and the funky red lighting fits well with the lemon-yellow furniture. A print of the Eiffel Tower takes up a whole wall and good-quality cookbooks are to be found on a display shelf, amongst copies of hipster cuisine magazine Lucky Peach. There’s a large assortment of bread baked in their downstairs bakery and the toothsome cakes and artisan chocolates get placed in cute Parisian-inspired polka-dot boxes. But despite fancy pizzas and pastries, Xoko is not afraid to put traditional courses such as blood pudding on their lunch menu.

“Rörstrandsgatan has long been famous for being one of Stockholm’s streets with the most high-quality restaurants,” says manager Carolina Westerlund. “We have a big mix of people here at Xoko, from a young crowd to older people that just want a coffee and something sweet to eat.”

 

Bagpiper’s Inn, Rörstrandsgatan 21

Bagpiper’s Inn displays its Scottish concept well. The fire-red door beckons and opens up into a warm space of hunter-green leather booths, wooden tables, and a collection of deep-brown books. The tartan motif is naturally predominant and blends well with old ads for Scottish trademarks such as whisky and golf, and antique brass horns and bagpipes dangle from walls decked with paintings of gentlemen on a foxhunt. The blues music soothes those lone football fans scattered around the bar, perusing the sports pages over a pint.

“The key to our success is the diversity in our clientele,” says manager Gareth Thornley. “We have a fantastic mix of regulars and new guests, old and young, locals and tourists, large and small groups. The bar has a unique atmosphere that our guests seem to appreciate. And as we are the bar that stays open the latest during the week we are usually the place that all the other workers on the street drop by for an after-work drink.”

“Rörstrandsgatan is a wonderful street to both live and work on. It attracts and encourages a very laid-back attitude towards life. Walking down the street on a weekend you’ll find all sorts of people enjoying themselves and nobody seems to be in a great rush to leave. The quality of restaurants here has certainly improved over the years and people now have a lot more choices of good restaurants in such a small area. The bar scene has also improved and has brought in a younger crowd. During weekends the bars here are full of 20-somethings who flock to the street to get their partying started before heading into the city centre.”

Shops and services

 

La Riggiola, Rörstrandsgatan 13

A touch of the sunny Mediterranean is just what we need here in nippy Sweden. La Riggiola (meaning “tile” in the Neapolitan dialect) offers beautiful hand-painted tiles made in the time-honoured tradition of the Amalfi coast. The colours are still to this day mixed by experienced ceramic crafters who have managed to keep the original recipe a well-guarded secret, handing it down from generation to generation. Owner Luisa Martorelli is dark and ravishing, and looks as she’s just stepped off some hilltop-village Fellini set. But the fact is she moved to Stockholm seven years ago and it wasn’t long before she opened up her shop.

“Our hand-painted tiles are like an Italian ‘compendium’ and you find in them history, tradition, love for colours and forms plus of course exquisite craftsmanship. Rörstrandsgatan is special to me because one of the most beautiful Swedish ceramic factories was close to here, so this is a perfect place to present our ceramics.”

“I love the atmosphere here. There are nice people, shops and cafés, and everything is very relaxed. It’s the best place to work! The people who hang out here are cultivated and open-minded. They call this area ‘Little Paris’, but I think it’s time to change it to ‘Piccola Roma’ as there are so many Italian cafés and shops here! Over the years the area has changed from a raw industrial place to a quite fancy district. We have a fantastic relationship here on Rörstrandsgatan and help each other a lot. We have a network for cooperating in mutual marketing projects and from a couple of years back we organize the ‘Birkastan’s Day’, a kind of street festival with lots of offers and special events.”

 

Tweed Country Sports,Rörstrandsgatan 17

Welcome to the English countryside. In a small showroom on Rörstrandsgatan, Karl Oskar Källsner has managed to bring his costumers a step closer to the simple and idyllic setting of rural Britain. The classy, dark-brown interior matched with the beautiful autumn tones of the fine fabrics creates a pleasant feel in the little shop, and the worn-in brown leather chair seems ideal for after-hunting toddies and cigars. “We were looking for a location that would feel relaxed enough for all visitors yet posh enough to match our level of quality. We had a feeling that the locals would appreciate our classic take on British style, and we have not been disappointed. We serve all kinds of tweed enthusiasts and Brit lovers, young fogeys, bearded hipsters, serious breadwinners, and white-haired gentlemen. And ladies of all ages too.”

“My grandfather always wore a tweed jacket for leisure, so perhaps it’s in the genes,” he continues. “Being a habitual fly-fisher and shooter, I grew somewhat tired of synthetic high-tech fabrics that never kept their promises. Instead I looked back and found a rich heritage of functional and great-looking garments from the British Isles. For some reason there were no specialists in the English country style around in Scandinavia and in 2007 I finally decided to start my own business. I had a pretty good idea of what to work with and enrolled a couple of genuinely British brands producing high quality in their own factories yet often unknown outside their home market. We have pushed our suppliers hard to offer a slightly updated take on the country look and to go back to their roots of well-tailored sportswear. We’re still the only shop in Scandinavia to specialize in British country wear and we serve as an agent for many of the brands we stock, which we sell to shops all over Scandinavia.”

“Here on Rörstrandsgatan, restaurants, cafés, and independent shops mix together pleasantly with the locals, office workers, and visitors from all over Stockholm. There are always people around. The restaurants have always been important to our street, but the shopping has developed a lot in the last couple of years. There’s a very good spirit here and we always help each other out if needed.”

 

Roberts Tobak, Rörstrandsgatan 18

Roberts Tobak has one of the biggest selections of cigars and tobacco in the city, as well as various related gadgets and accessories such as hookahs, pipes, classy cigar boxes, and flashy lighters. The shop has even branched out to specialized chocolate brands from the same region as the tobacco. The Central American cigars that fill the glass showcases are enormous, and their rich smell combined with the salsa music and Scarface posters bring a dash of sunshine to this long-established corner store.

“Rörstrandsgatan is now a street where you see many people in the media and culture businesses,” says owner Robert Urunveren. “When I took over the shop 17 years ago there were much older people who lived here; now the street has been taken over by young people. But the street has long been filled with restaurants, cafés and speciality shops. After so many years you feel you know most of the people here and we’ve all become very neighbourly.”

 

Fifty Fifty, Rörstrandsgatan 11

Bo Englund is surrounded by classic Swedish glassware, high-quality furniture, multi-coloured lamps and flowery tablecloths from the groovy sixties. His small store is well-organized and colour-coded to make it easier on the eye for browsing costumers, as well as to create more of a boutique feel then a junk-shop effect. Fifty Fifty offers mostly Swedish-made antiques from the 50s and 60s, and Bosse also runs a more 20s-40s oriented store across the street. His company turns thirty in the fall and is the only antique business left on Rörstrandsgatan. “There’s definitely been some difference after the crash,” he says. “Plus there are too many restaurants here nowadays!”

“I was very often around my grandparents as a child and followed them to look at many castles and stately homes in Sweden, which formed my interest in design and antiques. After working as a window designer for NK I decided to open up my shop with the personal “folkhemsstil” which was unheard of at the time. This place has never been expensive or sought to be overly fancy, but in the beginning regular people didn’t understand the concept and at first my customers were mostly other designers and decorators.”

“I’ve seen many shops come and go here over the years. It used to be more of a self-sufficient street with all your regular everyday shops, and you saw more old people back then, now it’s mostly young people here. There was only one restaurant here when I opened up, it was called Butler and attracted a lot of artists and musicians, such as members of ABBA. And Stockholm’s first Chinese restaurant was also here on Rörstrandsgatan!”

 

Perceptions

Tove Bjernerup, Owner of Birkagott – Rörstrandsgatan 22:

“The atmosphere here is very friendly and there are always nice people on the street. The mix of small shops, restaurants and cafés makes you feel at home. You never really have to leave the street, everything is here. I love Birkastan, especially early in the morning when the streets wake up, with the noise of children going to school and so on. And it’s quite romantic in the evening when the sun sets and lights up the whole street all the way to Sankt Eriksplan, or when a silent snow falls.

I would like to say that there’s ‘a mix’ of people here but I guess that’s not true. In truth, the residents here are Swedish, middle class, with higher education, and can afford the rather small but expensive flats. Small young families or couples live here – they are up-to-date but not ‘too cool’.

What makes Rörstrandsgatan special is the history. Originally this was an area where the workers at the ‘Rörstrand’ porcelain factory lived. The houses are just over 100 years old and were built ‘outside’ the centre of Stockholm beside the military fields where the officers at Karlberg Castle were trained. It has never been a ‘fancy’ area, more low-key. It has changed quite a bit over the years, especially with all the cafés! People stop for coffee all the time now. Here you see people working on their laptops, people having lunch, latte-moms sitting with their friends… It’s an amazing development in ten years. I should have bought latte stocks!”

 

Petronella Lindahl, Operations manager at Non Solo Bar:

“Rörstrandsgatan is a cosy street that feels very personal and continental with its outdoor cafés, restaurants and bars. About 80 percent of the people we see here live in the area. We have everything from older people to business people and young families and singles. Mostly it’s ordinary middle-class people but some people with big wallets too. Many of our regulars are like friends and we know them very well.”