If a city street can be an enigma, then Torsgatan is the quintessential Stockholm example; a long and major traffic boulevard that oddly possesses that distinctive small backstreet feel, playing the little brother to its neighbours S:t Eriksgatan, Odengatan and Karlbergsvägen. The name, as you might’ve guessed, comes from one of the mightiest Nordic gods, and was bestowed on the street during that big name revision of the city’s street names back in 1885. The roots of Torsgatan begin in the office district by Norra Bantorget, but the street becomes livelier after it grazes Vasaparken and continues further north. Most active around its middle where it passes Sankt Eriksplan, it gets quieter and more residential as it gets closer to Torsplan.
In 1910, Torsgatan became the first asphalt street in town. Now, just over a century later, the city has changed significantly, but somehow Torsgatan has managed to keep its nostalgic charm. Here you’ll still find that record dealer with a soft spot for the rock ‘n’ roll of the fifties, the antique trader partial to ancient armoury, the Polish butcher that’s managed to hang on to his trade for over 30 years despite the changing eating habits, the local jazz joint that’s had the same regulars for over 40 years, and the Japanese upholsterer that’s retiring after a lifelong career in the furniture trade, of which 20 years were spent on Torsgatan.
But amongst these classic institutions, a new generation is opening up shop using the same golden-era values as their raison d’etre, whether they’re in the business of making sourdough bread, cups of Australian coffee, or high-fashion design clothing. Yes sir, the hipster kids are slowly moving in, but as always they are keeping things small, local and unique.
Historical buildings and contemporary culture
There have been a handful of noteworthy companies and institutions located on Torsgatan throughout the decades. Sabbatsbergs hospital opened up in 1879 and in 1900 it became the city’s first hospital with an X-ray unit. It also has the grim distinction of being the hospital Olof Palme was rushed to after his assassination.
Mjölkcentralen (now a part of Arla) had its head dairy facilities on Torsgatan in the 1930s-40s, but the largest building on the street belongs to the Stockholm Water Administration. Built between 1903 and 1906, the building originally housed Stockholm’s gas- and waterworks and is still home to the Stockholm waterworks administration.
Perhaps the best-known building on the street is the tall Bonnierhuset at Torsgatan 21. The complex was completed in 1949 and was designed by Ivar Tengbom and his son Anders after an architectural competition held in 1937, only to see construction delayed by the onset of World War II – Bonnierhuset thus became the first concrete skyscraper built after the war. In 2006, the Bonnier Art Museum opened up next door, and the modern triangle-shaped glass building houses the foundation Jeanette Bonnier started up in 1985 in memory of his daughter, Maria Bonnier Dahl.
Teater Giljotin is also to be found on Torsgatan. Established in 1989 by director Kia Berglund and composer Rikard Borggård, the theatre had its home in Pistolteatern which dates back to the 1960s. Giljotin has grown tremendously since it first opened, and now includes a café, an art gallery, a special youth theatre program, and the Grey Room project for a more alternative take on live performances.
To get there
Getting to Torsgatan couldn’t be easier really. Given its length, there are a variety of choices depending on where you want to end up. If your goal is at the root of the street, head for T-Centralen and walk up towards Norra Bantorget, or if your focus is on the juicy middle bit Sankt Eriksplan is your destination. The green line passes through there, and so do a couple of those blue busses, number 3 and 4 to be exact.
Shops and Services
Daniel Oscarsson knows his stuff – quite literally. He can list interesting trivia facts and tell you the story behind every item he sells at Film & Ting. In the 20 or so minutes I spent in his small store, I learn about special edition Star Wars toys manufactured in the 1970s, brand new limited-edition T-shirts from sci-fi shows, rare memorabilia from 80s cult movies, comic book collectables, soundtracks from kitschy fantasy films, and foreign film posters from iconic movies, and that’s just the beginning. Daniel has worked hard on tracking down this diverse collection and his enthusiasm for nerd-culture is impressive.
“I actually get all sorts of people in here. It’s a fun gift store and you don’t have to be a nerd to shop here. That was the idea from the start, to appeal to more people than just Star Wars fans and super freaks.”
“I’m from this neighbourhood so I tried to find a free space around here. It’s been really fun to get back to the old ‘hood. What I’ve noticed is that Sankt Eriksplan is a stop for many people that are going somewhere else, so you see a lot of people that don’t necessary live around here. The area is much better now than it was 10-15 years ago; now you have much more stores and small coffee shops. Rörstrandsgatan has been getting very popular over the past years and the people that hang out there are spreading towards here as well.”
“People are starting to miss the small specialty shops. On Söder you have a lot of those and they’ve begun to pop up around here as well. Birkastan is becoming like a light version of Södermalm. I was asked why I didn’t open up my shop on Söder, but there are already so many unique shops there. I wanted to stick out here instead of being one of many.”
House of Oldies
Jan Karlin is going through a new vinyl shipment when I visit his shop, aptly named House of Oldies. He sits at a table in the middle of the store, stuffing albums into plastic sleeves while watching a tennis match on the conveniently placed TV hanging on the wall in front of him. Like many sixties music enthusiasts, Jan is a youthful man who wears his greying hair long and wild and sports a hoodie, a pair of faded jeans, and motorcycle boots. His working method seems as well-organized as his big store, which is far removed from the clutter that usually distinguishes collector’s shops. The large space contains rows of neatly stacked green and yellow Pripps crates filled with records from the 50s and 60s. There’s a record player in every room and old Elvis concert posters deck the walls. A couple of browsing regulars discuss the latest special box-set editions of their favoured artists of yesteryear while flipping through the racks.
“I ended up here by a coincidence 19 years ago, but I’m happy I did because it’s a very pleasant street which hasn’t changed that much over the years. As it’s a long street there are big contrasts between the different parts. Up here it’s very calm, but further down it gets livelier. But it’s a very active street in general, we get quite a bit of traffic and many people pass through here on a daily basis. So it’s no backstreet despite being peaceful.”
In 2005, musician Daniel Adams-Ray started designing stage clothes to great acclaim. Eight years later, his foray into fashion has resulted in a multi-disciplinary studio, a fashion brand and the record label Lagom. The showroom/shop is a small grey cube adorned with copper-coloured hangers dangling from pipes in the same shade and contains an edgy collection of black and burgundy threads.
Employee Joakim Brinck turns the hip-hop down half a decibel as we converse. “At first we just had our showroom here, but in October we decided to turn our showroom into a shop. Our customers are very diverse, from hipster kids in their 20s to ladies in their 70s looking for something different.”
“The businesses on Torsgatan feel authentic somehow. I like this neighbourhood in general and would like to move here. It’s nice and calm but it’s also getting cooler.”
For over 30 years, Leszek Aksamit has been selling kielbasa and pig’s feet, polish pickles and pierogi, and custard cakes and cookies in colourful packages in his traditional little basement shop that still uses over-the-counter service that has all but disappeared in the city. “We’re the last butcher shop in this neighbourhood, and one of the last in the entire city. Habits have changed and the Sunday roast has been replaced with fast food. But we do have our loyal and local costumer base. It’s nice to see people come by on a Friday afternoon wanting to pick out a nice piece of meat to go with that bottle of wine they just bought at Systembolaget.”
“Torsgatan has grown a lot over the years. It used to be more of a quiet side street back in the day. But a lot of the old businesses are still hanging on though, perhaps they’ve changed owners but the same feeling is there. There are a lot of genuine places on this street. The change I’ve noticed most is that there are different sorts of people around here now, more educated people from the culture sector, like artists and musicians.”
“What’s maybe best about this street is that it forms a nice little triangle along with S:t Eriksgatan and Karlbergsvägen, so it’s sort of intertwined and leads to more traffic all around here.”
Acne Studios is the success story that began in the mid-90s when co-founder Jonny Johansson created one hundred pairs of jeans and gave them away to friends and family. Now, nearly two decades later, the clothing brand has shops all over the world. One of them is Acne Archive in a big and bright corner location on Torsgatan.
The shop is raw and edgy, just like the attire it sells. A cross between a regular Acne store and the outlets, the archive store’s biggest attraction is perhaps the unique recycled collection, where unsold items have been redesigned and turned into one-of-a-kind pieces, available only at this location. But the most prominent feature of the space has to be the huge photo prints from the backroom of the Millesgården archives and the handful of sculptures the museum has lent to the store.
“We were the first archive store and when we started out it was all very rough and dirt cheap,” says Alicia Heimerson at Acne. “This shop allows the company to play around with things outside the main collection. We get all the samples here, everything that’s made especially for the catwalks, and it gets to be this nice mixture of classic items and really out-there pieces. We get dedicated Acne clients looking for something special and out of the ordinary, and they’ll come to us before they go to the studios. Acne never does any adverts for new shops and clothes but relies on attraction rather than promotion.”
“We knew we wanted to be somewhat central but definitely not downtown. This area is central but not at all commercial and that was the atmosphere we wanted to create. Birkastan was really up and coming when the shop opened and the clientele that lives around here has definitely helped shape the store. At the same time we’ve helped shape the neighbourhood, the cool cafés gain from having us here, and we of course gain from having them here. Our concept has changed with the neighbourhood, which is a lot more vibrant nowadays, with more people coming through and restaurants and cafés opening up. So we all gain from each other’s success.”
Eating and Drinking
There’s nothing better than a bit of northern soul to go with your morning coffee, especially coffee as good as that brewed at Tasman, a cosy little café by Vasaparken which combines throwback and outback. English-born Down Under dweller Edward Quigley has brought the Aussie café culture with him to Sweden, serving delish homemade dishes and baked goods paired with locally-roasted coffee. Edward offers me a slice of banana-nut bread, an Australian specialty that melts in my mouth as we chat on.
“I’d been looking for a place for a while and thought this location was fantastic. I love these buildings here, the four-metre tall ceilings and the nice outdoor terrace in the summer. I thought the proximity of the park was a great opportunity and the building lent itself to the style of the café.”
The relaxed room is elegantly retro. There’s a small collection of used books amongst plants and little canvas bags filled with coffee beans, and the charcoal shade of the interior is enhanced by the antique green wallpaper and wild-west wood panel wall. The latter adds a nice touch to the most impressive artefact in here: An original Butch Cassidy WANTED poster, turned sepia-coloured and tattered around the edges from the 100 odd years it’s been around.
“I live on Söder and find that area either very hipster or very sort of old, with not much in between. But this area is a great middle ground. It’s a calm neighbourhood and I like that about it. The family vibe here is strong and the area is dominated by cafés and family-oriented businesses and not so many pubs. It’s also a very smart area and healthy lifestyle is prevalent around here, with yoga centres, health food stores, gyms and so on, and we fit into that niche as well as we focus on healthy, homemade food. And what we don’t make here from scratch we order from Bakery & Spice just up the road. But our main emphasis is on quality coffee. We do a lot of research before selecting our roasters. The coffee community is fairly small here in Stockholm but it’s growing very fast.”
Like the name indicates, Oljebaren is mad about oils. Apart from using it in nearly every dish on the menu as an enhancer and a healthier option to butter and cream, Oljebaren also has an oil-taster menu and even sells the stuff right here at the restaurant.
“We’re very influenced by the Mediterranean way of cooking,” says Linda Bjurenstedt, who runs the restaurant along with her mother and brother. “Our focus is on fresh Swedish produce inspired by the rustic Mediterranean kitchen. My brother is the head chef and he’s very passionate about locally produced food. We look for farms that take good care of their animals. We also order traditional products from Italy and Spain, such as ham from Andalucía and so on.”
The interior of Oljebaren is also inspired by those hills of Tuscany and villages by the Amalfi coast. The walls are divided between brick and petroleum blue hue, which goes well with the gold-framed mirrors and golden stencils in the shape of olives. The big windows double as benches covered with floral pillows. A small balcony-like seating area overlooks the main floor, and beneath it is a long table perfect for a large group lingering the evening away over a few bottles of Chianti.
“Torsgatan is mostly a residential street, with not too many offices around. It’s a very lively area though and the people we see here are career people in their 30s and middle aged couples. As this is not really the restaurant area of Vasastan we were a bit sceptical when we moved in here. But that’s actually been to our benefit as we don’t have a lot of competition on this street.”
It’s hard to imagine Stockholm without the sourdough bread trend, but it was only five years ago, here at Bakery & Spice, that this craze got started. “Back in 2008 there weren’t that many bread shops and nobody was baking with sourdough,” says Johanna Eklund of Bakery & Spice. “In the beginning there was a line outside for our bread!”
Gustav Pietsch and Emil Tagesson wanted to open up a small, simple yet high-quality bakery in their own neighbourhood, and as they had always been fascinated with properly made bread, the focus was set on local and organic. The space has a very basic look and rustic touches that match the product well: stone floor and whitewashed walls, wooden crates and hand-painted pictures of herbs, all topped off with a cinnamon scent lingering in the air.
“This is a very health-conscious area and you notice a lot of health food stores around here, as well as many small specialty shops. That’s the unique thing with this neighbourhood. Vasastan in general has become very trendy and popular over the past years, especially with young people.”
Rabarber is a Birkastan landmark that’s been entertaining the local population for nearly half a century. Best known for its memorable jazz evenings and French-inspired kitchen, this lofty corner locale has been adorned with ageless elegance that’s apparent the moment one steps onto the chequered floor. Golden wallpaper with royal motif sets the tone and the beautiful paintings, covering nearly every inch of the dining area, take care of the rest. Black and white photographs of classic actors and jazz musicians fill the bar section, which has the mood of a Parisian bistro with its huge windows and wooden benches upholstered with deep red pleather. And then there’s that green, vintage bicycle in the window, its basket carrying a selection of wine bottles.
“Our jazz nights are always packed and it’s nice to see the pensioners return week after week, greeting each other after years of acquaintance,” says owner Ismet. “We get a lot of actors, artists and writer types here as well.”
My first thought as I enter the psychedelic candyland that is Peppar: I can’t believe I’ve lived in Stockholm for two years and never been here before! In fact, I’ve never seen a place quite like it in Sweden, although I experienced plenty of the kind when I lived in the US, the kingdom of kitsch.
And that’s exactly what Peppar is. The restaurant has three rotating decorative themes, Christmas, Kräftskiva, and Halloween, and this just being the end of January they’re still in their Christmas season. In one part of the room you’re basically dining in a giant gingerbread house. Come to think of it, everything’s giant in here: the candy canes, the caramels, and the upside down lollipops hanging from the ceiling, functioning as lights. Everything is blinking and glittering in some way or other, be it lights or shimmering Christmas balls – all in giant form, of course.
I take a seat by the bar and start recovering from the initial shock of entering Peppar, only to be kindly embraced by the next pleasant surprise: the staff. The barman, Torgny Svalfors, has been pouring beers here for 17 years. He looks like a Wild West judge, sporting that grey ponytail/Sam Elliott moustache look but with a rock ‘n’ roll twist. Through talking to Torgny I learn that in the 25-year history of Peppar, the restaurant hasn’t changed a bit, which is what keeps those regulars returning year after year.
“It all started with a trip to New Orleans taken by the owners in the 1980s. They’d realized that there wasn’t a place in Stockholm that served Cajun and Creole food so they went over there to learn how to cook it from the best chefs there. They also brought back some of the stuff we have here, like the wall clock for example. That had been hanging in some bar in New Orleans for decades and has now been hanging here for 25 years.”
“The street has stayed pretty much the same throughout the years. A lot of the old places are still around, maybe a few new cafés have been added but that’s it. This is still an area that has a lot of small shops, which is quite unusual nowadays. The people have changed more though and there are a lot more wealthy people living here now. It was a bit of a slum before.”
At this point in the conversation, waiter Nille has joined us. Nille looks like a cross between a black panther and a very stylish guerrilla general: black attire from head to toe bar the red beret worn over his long, dark ponytail, about a pound of silver jewellery, and aviator shades. Nille has lived in the area for 20 years and though he has been a regular at Peppar the whole time, he only starting working here a few years ago. He agrees with Torgny’s last statement. “This neighbourhood has become very fancy, which I don’t really appreciate. There are a lot of people that have had to move since they can’t afford living here anymore. But it’s a very friendly area and people greet each other on the streets here.”
As I leave Peppar’s Christmas extravaganza and friendly staff, exiting into the unholy cold Stockholm winter, all I can think is how I can’t wait to come here for Halloween.
Irena Catriche, pensioner
”I’m originally from Belgium but have lived in Stockholm for over 20 years. I see mostly young people around here, but there are also a few other pensioners like myself I can talk to out on the street. There are good neighbours here and the population is a mix of native Swedes and immigrants. There’s a nice selection of stores and everything’s really close by. It’s a comfortable and safe neighbourhood and hopefully it stays that way! What I probably like best about living here is going to Myrorna for a bargain and then come here to Rabarber for a glass of Belgian ale.”
Morikawa Hideshi, upholsterer
”I’ve worked on Torsgatan for 20 years and am retiring next month. It’s a broad and long street with a lot of traffic, but it’s still surprisingly quiet when compared to S:t Eriksgatan for example. It’s not exactly central but it still has that city feeling. The companies have not changed so much over the years, although some of the owners have come and gone. There’s probably going to be quite a change here though when they build those 30.000 new apartments up the road.”