One of Stockholm’s oldest streets, Sankt Paulsgatan got its current name in 1647, changed from Sancti Påwels gathun. The origin of the name is unknown, but it has since inspired the name of S:t Paulskyrkan by Mariatorget, which houses Sweden’s oldest Methodist congregation.
The area around Mariatorget is your everyday Söder – not quite in the same hipster trap as Hornstull and Sofo, yet possessing plenty of edge and room for unique boutiques, coffee nerds and thrift store devotees.
Sankt Paulsgatan is one of the brightest jewels in the crown that is the homey little hub around Mariatorget. Running diagonally to Swedenborgsgatan (another good choice for a stroll), the street is relaxed and creatively inspired, offering some of the best art and craft stores in town, as well as comic book havens, first-rate tattoo parlours, artesian chocolates and baked goods, top-notch espressos, and even an old-timey local bookstore over a century old.
With the winter behind us, people are warming the benches of Mariatorget, enjoying some take-away coffee from nearby cafés. There are few places in the city more pleasant than this.
Monténska huset was erected in 1887-1889. The building was designed by Bror Albert Siösteen and developed by the factory firm Lars Montén & Co., which manufactured soap and candles and was Sweden’s oldest soap maker at the time.
The four-story house is fitted with a well-preserved and richly-decorated symmetrical stucco neo-renaissance façade, accompanied by colossal columns and sculptures. Crowning the façade is the firm’s monogram, surrounded by the figures of Mercury and Industria, with Lars Monténs initials illuminated in red and gold. The yard façade, however, is simple and without embellishment, as was typical of the time. The yard house, which used to serve as a soap factory, was converted into an apartment building in the 1920s.
Wholesaler and city councillor Carl Rosengrén used to inhabit a state apartment on the second floor of the building. The apartment interior, which is still well preserved, was very lavish and richly designed with high panels, gilt leather wallpaper, painted stucco ceilings, and decorative parquet floors. In 2006, the building was granted protection by the city of Stockholm.
Van der Nootska palatset was built in 1671-72 as a private palace for Colonel Thomas Van der Noot. The architect was Mathias Spieler, who designed the building in a Dutch Palladian style. The façade has pilasters and festoons throughout, and its middle part is decorated with mermaids in sandstone. The building has had various roles over the centuries, including as a residency for Dutch ministers, a church for the Dutch Reformed Church, a tobacco factory, and the headquarters of Sveriges Lottakårer.
In the late 1800s, the building was in poor condition and was threatened with demolition, but it was saved by Jean Jahnsson, owner of Hallberg’s Gold, who turned it into a private residence. Today, the building is owned by the city of Stockholm and is primarily used for conferences and banquets.
To Get There
Taking the red line to Mariatorget will deliver you to the middle of Sankt Paulsgatan, but if you want to walk it from beginning to end it would be more sensible to get out at Slussen and start at the top.
Shops and Services
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Tygverket is always busy. The staff are young and hip and the music is of the oldies variety. I get the feeling this is where the Konstfack fashionistas come looking for inspiration and funky fabrics for their upcoming projects.
The shop has been tucked away on this street for 15 years, but at first business was slow. Now however it’s one of the biggest fabric shops in the city and one of the few left in the city centre. Recently, the company even opened up a second shop up the street, offering more exclusive fabrics and a workshop for sewing.
“Sankt Paulsgatan has been developing a lot over the years,” says Kajsa-Lisa Larsson of Tygverket. “We’ve seen that more shops and cafés have opened up in the past years and foot traffic has increased a lot. Sankt Paulsgatan is a nicer walk than Hornsgatan, and the shopping stretch of Götgatan has developed and that affects our street. Söder in general has developed a lot over the past decade. But this area is definitely not as hipster-oriented as Sofo; it’s more relaxed here.”
Erika Petersdotter Ceramics
Sankt Paulsgatan 11
An idyllic hideaway with an air of the Mediterranean, Erika Petersdotter’s quaint little ceramic studio and shop is an apt match for the building that contains it: a 16th century stable that used to belong to the church down the road. On wooden shelves and crates within those rustic white walls, one finds a motley collection of cups, candleholders, plates, and teapots, amongst cosy little touches like a beautiful blue treasure chest, The Bed & Breakfast Cookbook, and a bowl of homemade hard candies.
Despite her young age, Erika took a shot at running the business when the former owner and her employer decided to pack up and move to Dalarna. It’s been two years now and business is going great. “It’s a wonderful location for this kind of shop. It’s like a little village around here. I live nearby and always walk to work and I see the same people every day. It’s very cosy. And we help each other out here on the street and visit each other to see how things are going.”
Sankt Paulsgatan 14
Salvation Tattoo was started with the intention of creating a neighbourhood tattoo parlour where everyone would feel welcome. The shop is a mad mix of antique collectables such as sewing machines and black & white portraits in gold frames, kitsch religious artefacts, a classroom skeleton, granny lamps, cactuses, retro toys, old nature illustrations and a signed photograph of a young Johnny Cash.
Owner Nille has been in the business for 15 years and specializes in traditional American-style and Japanese-influenced tattoos. “Traditional American style is what most people refer to as old-school,” he says. “I’m focused on those styles because I like them, both aesthetically and historically. I also appreciate that their boldness, built on strong line work, make tattoos that look good for the rest of the bearer´s life.”
Nille has lived on Sankt Paulsgatan most of his life so the location was a given. “This is a great street with a good level of intensity – not too stressful, but absolutely not slow either. I love it in every way and I also like its two hills very much. As far back as I can remember, the street has had the same vibe. Of course the shops are different today, but it has kept its pleasant atmosphere over the years.”
Sankt Paulsgatan 14
Seriegalleriet is a small and unique art gallery which focuses on comic book art. “I was a collector for years before I decided to make this my life’s work,” says proprietor Markku Haapala, who opened up the gallery ten years ago. “I change the exhibitions every four to five weeks to keep it fresh and interesting. It’s all Swedish artists – people like Rune Andréasson (Bamse), Jon Stenmark, Jan Löv, and Martin Kellerman.”
“Sankt Paulsgatan is a very good street and there are always people walking by. It’s a small street, yet very busy somehow.”
I’ve just stepped into what feels like another dimension and most certainly is a collectors’ heaven. Comic books, magazines, nerdy books and DVDs, action figures, miniature cars and even a few items of clothing are neatly organized in a rather roomy space that Erkki Häkli calls “his living room”. The old timber floor creaks as I make my way through the stacks of collectables, enjoying my conversation with Erkki as he sorts out the latest bundle of comics to the sounds of some good old “gubbrock”.
“I’ve been collecting comic books my whole life, and 18 years ago I opened up this place, but this space had already been a comic book store for several years,” he tells me. “Shops like this are becoming extinct now that everything’s available online. This business is definitely more personal than your average chain store, but it’s a lot of work. It’s almost like having a young child you have to take care of. You can never let go of it, there’s always something to think about.”
“This is a very lively street with lots of people walking between Mariatorget and Slussen. There’s barely any car traffic though, it’s a very pedestrian-friendly area. In the summer it becomes particularly active, especially with Midnattsloppet, which goes through here. During that we keep the shops open till very late at night and it becomes a bit of a party here.”
St. Pauls Bokhandel
The oldest bookstore in Stockholm is still going strong. The little shop contains a well-balanced amalgam of old charm and modern trends, with antique books and poetry mixed with moleskins, origami paper and notebooks with covers by Banksy. The piano jazz lends a relaxed feel to the room and during the mid-afternoon lull owner Anneli Nordenskiöld has sat down for a chat with one of her many regulars on the row of theatre seats by the window.
“There’s a very strong local atmosphere on this street. There’s always been this bookstore, the hair salon next door and the bakery next to them. There have been different owners and interiors of course, but the three of us have been here for over a century. We also place strong emphasis on local writers and publishers, and I try to put on events such as poetry readings and writer talks quite regularly. There’s still a lot of older people living in this area that like to come in and chat, but in the past years there’s been more families with baby strollers and dogs passing by.”
Small Island Chocolates
Small Island Chocolates serves up an authentic Caribbean setting for the senses, with bright colours, chocolate flavour, coffee aroma, and reggae sounds. The feeling here is raw and reminiscent of a beach hut: a blue stone floor decorated with the shapes of the Caribbean Islands, teal walls and red metal roof over the counter, a wooden shack door, rum ads and reggae records, canvas bags and rum barrels, Caribbean coffee and coco beans, jerk seasoning and exotic spices, and cookbooks suiting the theme (The Reggae Cookbook, anyone?)
“This was actually a candy shop in the early 50s,” says owner Duane Dove. “We have a coco plantation in Tobago and make all the chocolate we sell here. Our beans are single estate, which means whatever we produce goes into our chocolate, we don’t sell anything.”
“Ten years ago there wasn’t that much activity around here, but Hotel Rival changed all that. There’s a good and diverse mix of people here, not like Nytorget where you see the same types. The area is developing more and more and you have new cafés and small shops popping up all the time. The area has grown a lot in the seven years we’ve been here and it’s going to continue to grow.”
Eating and Drinking
Sankt Paulsgatan 17
Kaffe has everything a good espresso bar requires: a simple name and interior, oranges in big wicker crates, a cooler full of San Pellegrino, and of course excellent coffee. The bright open space features big windows doubling as seating areas – perfect for people-watching – and a large L-shaped bar lined with espresso sippers.
It’s late afternoon and the hustle and bustle has reached its peak. Owner Johan Sörman, a stylish man in a black shirt and horned-rimmed glasses, doesn’t have time to talk at the moment as he’s the one working the espresso machine, but I catch up with him over the phone at a calmer hour.
“I’ve been in this business for 20 years and this is my third café. I’ve been living in the area for 25 years and never want to move. I like the atmosphere, this is home to me. Sankt Paulsgatan is a bit off but it’s still very busy with people walking between Mariatorget and Götgatan. We see a lot of media and advertising people who have offices around here. There are a lot of small companies in the area, which makes a good atmosphere, and there’s definitely more stores around here than there used to be. I’ve also noticed that there’s more people with money in this neighbourhood now, as more people are buying apartments nowadays rather than renting.”
Sankt Paulsgatan 24
With its grey and brown tones and whitewashed walls, Blooms somehow manages to be modern and minimal yet snug and warm at the same time. Everything is freshly-baked on the premises, whether it’s rustic breads or tasty pastries.
“When we first opened in ’97 it was mainly a muffins factory,” says employee Camilla Ramstedt. “That was back when the muffin industry in Sweden exploded and we did those huge muffins. But since then we’ve shifted our focus to bread, especially sourdough. We still make muffins though, just not as big!”
“This is a bit of a backstreet, and I don’t think you’d necessarily come here if you didn’t have a specific errand to run. The people I see pass by are of all sorts – from elderly ladies to young families and trendy entrepreneurs.”
Every time I go to Chic, there’s a line out the door. It’s one of those rare bakery gems left in the city, with glass shelves lined with marzipan, mazarines and meringue goodies, which you can enjoy in the dark oak seating area, decorated with granny wallpaper and old photographs of Stockholm.
“We’ve been here since the 1950s,” says Louise, who’s been working here for 15 years. “When I started there were a lot more older people around here, but this area has been getting younger and younger as people start buying their own apartments. It’s a very calm and pleasant street, but it’s still close to everything. It’s great that you can enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and hear the birds twitter on Mariatorget, even though you’re right by the traffic of Hornsgatan.”
Maria Uddén – architect
Street resident for 17 years
“Sankt Paulsgatan feels like a small town. The people you see here are a mixture of shopkeepers from different cultures, young parents, culturally aware people of all ages and Orthodox Jews outside the Synagogue. We consciously have not raised the rent here, so for example the newsagent on the corner can afford to stay. I choose to do my business with the small companies on the street: I shop at the bookstore on the corner, get my hair cut at the hair salon next door, buy presents at the art store up the road, take yoga lessons at the yoga place, and recently I sewed a dress with fabric I got from Tygverket. And then there’s three cafés to have a fika at. It feels really nice to be a regular at all those places. I miss the greengrocer and his pleasant wife who gave me great recipes. And I miss the grocery store on the corner that sold really good feta and olives. My favourite thing on the street is seeing the shoemaker and the Pressbyrå guy chatting outside their shops every day. I always say hi to them when I walk by.”
Ragnhild Alexandersson – sculptor
Had her studio on the street 21 years
“I’ve lived in this area for 35 years and one of the biggest changes here is that the street has become much quieter since they built the tunnel and traffic was reduced. That really tied the quarter together and now it’s mostly people walking and talking and there’s a lot of human interaction and life on this street. It’s very homely here, every time you go out you’ll meet someone you know, a bit like a village within the city. As I work alone it’s really nice to get a dose of social life when I’m out and about.”
Sanna Bergquist – buyer/product developer at Acne Studios
Lived on the street two and a half years
“I really like Mariatorget and the surrounding area. It’s a good “in-between area” and it’s close to Hornstull and Medborgarplatsen and quite close to the city centre if you ever need to go there. A lot of people take this street to get around which makes it a very social street. If I bump into people it tends to be on Sankt Paulsgatan. During the day you see a lot of hipsters, dog owners on their way to Mariatorget, strollers, and so on. At night time it’s more people on their way for a last beer somewhere else.”
Words by Gulla Hermannsdottir
Photos by Sanna Dahlen and Dagmar Aarse