That debonair square frequented by sleek chaps and posh party princesses quaffing colourful cocktails and enjoying fine dining. It may be Stockholm’s Rodeo Drive but the exquisite facades of Stureplan’s buildings and the history they carry is louder than the booming beat emerging from the many clubs they contain. By peeking under the glamour, glitz and designer glad rags, a long and fascinating past presents itself.
1885 was a big year for Stureplan. Not only was the square granted its name (originally Stureplanen, but shortened to its current name in 1932), but it was also then that many of its signature buildings sprouted up. By introducing Sturebadet and Hotel Anglais to the area, Stureplan began establishing itself as a classy meeting place for the elegant and affluent. Anglais became a favourite haunt of writers and thespians, and the upper-class bustle increased even more when NK spent its first few years on Stureplan. When it opened in 1902 and before moving to its current location a little over a decade later, it introduced the people of Stockholm to the biggest selection of luxury goods under one roof any of the Nordic countries had experienced.
Commercialism on the square grew from there, and in 1924 the first neon ad sign popped up, starting a huge trend for neon signs on Stureplan that would reach its height during the fifties, when the square was the most expensive spot in Sweden for advertising. Also thriving around Stureplan was the culture of cinema, which still lingers to this day with three theatres within short walking distance of the square. One of those, the aptly-named Sture, played the beloved Kalle Anka Christmas special every December before it got its fixed TV slot.
A defining year for Stureplan was in 1937, when Svampen was erected and became the unofficial Stockholm meeting point for the next 30 years. But when tram traffic in the area ceased, Stureplan went into a long slumber that lasted till modern times. What awoke it from its sleep was the flames of Sturebadet going down in a fire in 1985, exactly a century after it first opened.
But instead of mourning the destruction, the incident was seen as an opportunity to bring new life to the area. Sturebadet was resurrected as a part of the new and magnificent Sturegallerian, and the square was once again abuzz with visitors.
Holger Blom’s most recognized work, Svampen, was inaugurated on November 20th 1937. The simple yet bold concrete structure did not thrill everyone and architect Ragnar Östberg called it a “lump of concrete” and complained that it did not fit into the area. Whether or not that’s true, Svampen is now one of Stockholm’s best-known features.
For the first several years, Svampen functioned as a kiosk and newspaper stand, as well as of course a meeting place and a temporary shelter from rain showers.
In 1967, however, when tram traffic made way for car traffic, both Stureplan in general and Svampen in particular lost their roles as Stockholm’s favourite meeting places, which were taken over by then new and modern Sergels Torg.
In 1988, damaged and all but forgotten, Svampen was removed, which created a huge reaction amongst the city residents. The resulting outcry saw an almost exact copy being erected, although not on the same spot, a year later, as Sturegallerian opened its doors and Stureplan began its second phase as Stockholm’s favourite square.
This jewel in Stureplan’s architectural crown was erected in 1900 as a luxurious residential building. Designed by Erik Josephson, it drew attention for its richly-decorated stone in the early French Renaissance style. The original plan was to build it in brick, but a last-minute change resulted in the use of natural stone, which at that time was considered to be in stark opposition to the older stucco architecture. The trade press criticized the building harshly for this modern move.
Daneliuska huset was nearly demolished in 1966 when the house was acquired by the construction company Nils Nessén. A letter of protest, signed by several cultural figures, was sent to City Council which overruled the decision and preserved this classic Stureplan façade.
The gas lantern on Stureplan was designed in 1885 by sculptor Daniel Carlsson. It consists of a richly-decorated cast iron pole with a round lamp house and a bench below. The decorations include lions’ heads and Stockholm’s city seal of Saint Eric.
When Stureplan was re-designed in 1990, the lantern received a place of honour outside the entrance to Sturegallerian.
Eat & Drink
Birger Jarlsgatan 4
Modelled after Café Riche on Boulevard des Italiens in Paris, this staple of the Stureplan area for over a century has gone through many transformations and guises, but one thing that’s always been steady is the restaurant’s focus on art. A gathering-place of artistically inclined individuals, Riche functions as a living gallery that’s always developing and reinventing itself.
“It’s a key for us to remain new and fresh, despite being a very old place,” says head chef Thomas Mårtensen as we converse beneath a large photograph of the Bates Motel sign. “Our current theme is David Bowie as he’s releasing a new album.”
“The big change in this area now is that there’s a lot more new restaurants opening up. Stureplan is growing and the competition is on! It’s good because you have to be on your toes and do the best you can to keep the customers coming back. You can’t take your success for granted anymore – you have to deliver every day.”
Just four years after Riche opened for business, it was met with competition from Sturehof, which was established in 1897. Run by the Marcus brothers (and originally called Malta), who were experienced travellers abroad, the restaurant became Stockholm’s first seafood restaurant and the brothers used relatives on the west coast to supply the growing restaurant with fresh fish and seafood.
But that was not all they did. The brothers would also acquaint Stockholmers with fine wines imported from mainland Europe and the wine cellar of Sturehof in the beer-consuming city became something to talk about.
The seafood theme stands to this day, manifested not only in the dishes on the menu but also in the décor, with turquoise and sea-green walls decorated with images of fish. “Sturehof is a bustling meeting place – a stage that is intensely alive from mid-morning to late at night, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” says owner PG Nilsson. “This area has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Before Svampen was restored on the square it was quite a dull, ugly and sleazy area.”
The latest addition to the string of Stureplan restaurants owned by PG Nilsson (the others being abovementioned Riche and Sturehof), Taverna Brillo is a fresh and youthful variant amongst the veterans that surround it. Designed by Jonas Bohlin (who’s responsible for the look of all of Nilsson’s places), Brillo is more than just a restaurant; it’s a 1700 square metre market-like labyrinth compassing a brasserie, bakery, delicatessen, pizzeria, ice-cream parlour, flower shop, and orangerie. A wooden walkway takes you all the way through the premises, past white-tile walls covered with raw graffiti by street artist NUG.
“We have all our restaurants within walking distance from each other so we knew what the market was like here,” says PG Nilsson. “Pretty much any location around Stureplan is an A location.”
In 1941, Anna Skog and her sisters moved into a house on Riddargatan where they had a bakery built under their residency. This is of course Sturekatten, the oldest bakery in Stockholm. This fact leaves the visitor in no doubt when following the cobble stones to the courtyard and then up the steep stone steps to the upper floors of the building where the café is located in the old Skog home.
It’s as much a museum as it is a café, with much of the interior still as it was when the sisters lived here. The café takes up two floors and consists of several small rooms full of flowery paintings, peeling wallpapers, crochet curtains and tablecloths, cat statues, stately furniture, elderly regulars and female staff gliding through the rooms in their time-honoured black dresses and little white aprons. The finishing touch of the bygone atmosphere belongs to the old fireplace on the top floor.
“The special thing about Sturekatten, besides how old it is, is that it’s very private,” owner Marc Ackrame tells me. “We don’t have a first floor, so we get people here that don’t want to be seen. Lots of famous people come here because they know they can be undisturbed.”
“As the house is 300 years old, we’re at the point now where we simply have to renovate. But we’ve hired one of the best architects in Stockholm who specializes in old buildings and we’re going to keep everything looking the same, just freshen it up a bit. We don’t want to be modern, we want to keep the classic feel of the place. I mean, even our sandwiches are old-fashioned!”
As soon as it opened for business in 1991, East became a culinary pioneer. With its focus on Asian food and the fusion kitchen, it helped launch the new Asian food wave in Stockholm, and its influences are still felt in kitchens all around Sweden. For example, using spices such as lemongrass, thai basil, and cilantro was almost inconceivable and unknown at established restaurants in the late eighties – then along came East.
The orange interior and dim lighting lends itself to the Asian theme, but the look is modern and stylish. “We’re the first restaurant in Sweden specializing in modern Asian cuisine and many followed, but we’re still standing,” says owner Peter Lindgren. “We see a very diverse crowd here: businessmen come for the lunch, young people come for the clubs on weekends, and it gets to be quite international in the summer. The point is to get a good mix, it’s the centre of Stockholm and you see everybody here.”
“Stureplan is obviously known as an upscale party place, but we’re not one of those places. When we first opened in the early 90s there weren’t that many nightclubs here but rather old-fashioned restaurants. It started to get younger after that as more and more places opened up, so now you have more diversity. Stureplan is quite good compared to places like Times Square and Piccadilly Circus for example, as it’s never been very touristy around here.”
Birger Jarlsgatan 20
For many, Stureplan equals Spy Bar and the reputation of the royal-favoured club even reaches far outside the country. Over the past few years, Spy Bar has reinvented itself, changing its image from a blond bimbo and B-list celebrity hangout to a laid-back mock-baroque lounge where media types and indie fashionistas come together to enjoy smooth electro and funky beats.
“As Spy Bar consists of three different bars we have a very varied clientele, both in style and age,” says Maja Asperö Lind, manager of Vita Baren. “That’s what separates us from the rest of Stureplan, which is more homogeneous. We like to think of ourselves as a small holiday island on Stureplan.”
Shops & Services
Dating from 1897, Hedengrens is the oldest independently-run bookstore in Sweden, and furthermore it has the largest selection of English titles in the country. The two-floor store is huge, and the big basement area takes you in a circle through the whole range of categories in fiction and non-fiction.
Then there’s the Galleri Hedengrens Trappa, the store’s latest cultural endeavour. “A couple of years ago we wanted to do something more than just being a book shop, so we opened up Galleri Hedengrens Trappa, which is basically an art gallery on the stairs,” says owner Nicklas Björkholm.
“We’re one of the signature companies here on Stureplan. Sturehof and us have always been here. Before the 80s there was really nothing here, just concrete. Now it’s a very lively spot and a meeting place for people.”
When Frans Svensson opened up his little cigar store in 1884, it served an exclusive clientele with high demand for range and quality. The shop also contained a newspaper office and a reading room and sold art in addition to tobacco products.
Today, the shop still offers an extensive selection of cigars and goes beyond being a traditional tobacco store. During the summer months there is an outdoor terrace for smoking, and above the shop one can find a lounge where cigar tastings are organized, often in connection with drinks that suit the product.
The shop has kept that old and elegant mood with its antique furniture and worn oriental rugs. A heavy crystal ashtray containing cigar stubs rests on a small teak table between a couple of heavy dark oak chairs. What has changed over the decades though is that the shop is no longer just for upper-class male clientele. “We get all sorts of people in here, from all ages and social groups. It’s still mostly men but we do see women as well,” says owner Merja Juselius. “We really gain from being so central, as we reach everyone.”
Sturebadet was founded in 1885 by medical doctor and renaissance man Carl Curman. Curman was an instructor in Plastic Anatomy at The Fine Arts Academy and taught balneology (the therapeutic effects of baths and bathing) as a specialty. His dream was to offer the community of Stockholm swimming, exercise, and a healthier lifestyle and with this in mind he initiated the modern hot air baths in Sweden. Curman even travelled to Venice to study building types to inspire the style of his bath. The Renaissance palace Vendramia-Calergi was the prototype for Sturebadet’s façade (today the entrance of Sturecompagniet). The Art Nouveau interior of the swimming pool, with its combination of Old Norse and Moorish features, dates back to 1902 and was designed by Sigge Comstedt and Hjalmar Molin.
“I think Sturebadet is the heart of Stockholm,” says Andrea Berglöf at Sturebadet. “There is a dynamic atmosphere and an international vibe around here, where locals and tourists alike enjoy the vast selection of shopping, fine dining and possibilities of socializing. And Sturebadet is at the core of this exclusive area.”
Sturebadstvätten has been around longer than Stureplan itself. Opened in 1867, it’s Stockholm’s oldest dry cleaner and as the name indicates, the laundry service used to be a part of Sturebadet. When the bath’s visitors relaxed and revitalized, Sturebadstvätten made sure they had clean and pressed clothes to come back to.
1867: Sturebadstvätten opens for business.
1877: Kungliga Biblioteket opens its doors in Humlegården. Plans for Stureplan are set in motion.
1884: Cigarrummet opens for business.
1885: The area gets the name Stureplanen. Sturebadet and Hotel Anglais open up for business. Carlssons lykta is erected on the square.
1893: Riche established.
1897: Sturehof opens up (called Malta till 1905). Hedengrens founded in the same year.
1900: Daneliuska huset erected (currently houses Spy Bar).
1902: NK is inaugurated at Stureplan, remains there until 1915.
1924: First neon sign in Sweden gets placed on the DN building by Stureplan. It’s bright red and reads “Subscribe for 1925”.
1932: “Stureplanen” cut short to just “Stureplan”.
1937: Svampen erected, becomes a major meeting point for the next three decades and establishes Stureplan as Stockholm’s favourite square.
1941: Sturekatten opens up for business.
1959: Hotel Anglais torn down.
1967: Tram traffic is discontinued around Stureplan the same year as right-hand traffic is taken up in Sweden. Svampen’s role as a meeting point dwindles and the square goes into a decline.
1985: Sturebadet burns down.
1988: Svampen is removed which provokes loud protest from Stockholmers.
1989: Sturegallerian opens its doors and an exact replica of Svampen is restored on the square.
1991: East opens for business.
1994: Four people get shot to death by the entry to Sturecompagniet. 20 more are hurt in the attack, called “Stureplansmorden”.
1995: Spy Bar established.
1996: Stureplansgruppen launched.
Words by Gulla Hermannsdottir