The first thing you should know about Oslo and Oslo nightlife is– it’s really expensive. I’m not kidding. It’s really expensive. A cab from the airport on a holiday evening (when I arrived) was over $175. A beer can be $10 or more. Even the staples are expensive. I checked the grocery store. A dozen eggs would have set me back about $9. Good thing I didn’t need eggs.
But you know what? New York can be expensive. Paris too. Don’t get me started on Tokyo! After all, Oslo is a European capital– a leading city of the world. And it’s beautiful to boot. So if you are going to enjoy Oslo you might as well accept the fact that some damage could be done to your wallet.
But like all the great (read expensive) cities of the world it doesn’t have to be unnecessarily expensive. It depends on the choices you make. An obvious choice would be ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL (Kristian IV’s gate 12). It’s internationally known. So it has that going for it. It’s also made of ice. Really. The bar is ice. The glasses are ice. There’s ice art on the walls. The bar even supplies warm ponchos and gloves. Because it’s cold inside. Icy cold. You have to admit there is a certain curiosity factor.
Part party, part theme park ICEBAR is an example of the pricey way to go. Because ICEBAR is not quite like any bar you’ve been to. Entrance to ICEBAR is every hour on the hour. So rather than buying drinks you buy time slots– 45 minutes each, one drink per person per session is included in the price (160 NOK or about $30). Though it’s very likely to be a once in a lifetime experience. So of course you have to factor that in.
So if the ICEBAR leaves you feeling like you need a drink, how about a real cocktail? You could choose one of the many glamorous cafés catering to an international crowd of beautiful people. A proper cocktail in one of these places might set you back $25. But it will be excellent. There are lots of great choices with the majority of the hotspots found in City Centre/Aker Brygge Grünerløkka/Grønland and Majorstua/Frogner .
I chose Apen Bar (Stranden 1). Located at the very end of the Aker Brygge area this popular waterfront spot is a café by day and lounge by night. Apen Bar has a modern look and vibrant crowd. Its name means ‘open bar’. It’s open in 2 senses of the word. Because it has a very inclusive vibe and a large portion of the action happens outside on their expansive patio.
The drinks are expensive by American standards but you’ll feel like you’re in with the in crowd, as it spills out from the bar and into the open air. The umbrella-topped tables are dry and warm all year round regardless of weather, making it a comfortable spot to see and be seen by the eclectic throngs of tourists and locals who wander along the waterfront promenade.
In summer when the sun’s rays refuse to fade until well after 11pm this is a great place to join the locals, who seem to bloom, unburdened by the long Scandinavian winter, and are in nonstop party mode. Making this is a must-visit for anyone wanting to take full advantage of the Oslo nightlife scene.
The cost of going out in Oslo means most Norwegians tend to start the night with a drink or two at home, but we tourists don’t always have that option. Sure there’s the mini-bar. But that’s for losers. Not only is it expensive, but also you just feel silly sitting around your hotel room in your underpants drinking generic vodka from a paper cup.
My God, man. You are in Oslo. Get out and see the city.
Beer Halls are popular in Norway. They’re relatively inexpensive (by Norwegian standards) and they’re a vital cultural link to the social traditions of Norway. They tend to serve simple food. What I would call traditional Norwegian fare. Pub food if you will. Oh and beer. Of course.
For me these sorts of bars are exactly the way I like to get to know the people of a city. So that’s how I started my first evening in Oslo, at a pub-like bar called Beer Palace (Holmens Gate 3). My research tells me it is one of the top three beer pubs in Oslo. Though my research doesn’t tell me what the criteria is for this honor. But I can say it’s a fun place. Also located at Aker Brygge it’s very close to Apen Bar. Making it a smart choice to get a few drinks at a much nicer price than most of the bars in the area.
Aker Brygge is part of a former shipyard, which has been redeveloped into an upscale housing, office, shopping, and dining waterfront complex. It looks across the bay to picturesque Akershus Castle, and has become quite a hub for interesting nightlife.
Beer Palace itself is located in an old brick building, which was once used as office space for the shipyard. It has the appropriate look with brick walls, dark wood, and some large leather sofas. It’s decorated with beer paraphernalia, suiting the name quite nicely. As is typical with pubs, you will find people here from all walks of life. Making it a lively spot to get to know the tenor of the city.
Then there is Olympen Mat & Vinhus (Grønlandsleiret 15). This was my favorite bar in Oslo. It’s a historic pub in the Grønland district, a bustling area just east of the city center.
It’s a grand old place. Some of the people I met in Norway looked at me a little quizzically when I asked about it. It’s the sort of place they said that maybe their parents went to a long time ago. But not really on most peoples radar. Though my guess is that is changing.
The pub first opened in 1892, and as with most places lasting that long it has rather checkered past. Once a cabaret of ill repute, it got an upscale renovation in the 1930s that included fine woodwork and oversized crystal chandeliers. This led to decades of chic-ness. But as the years go by and chic gets shot, well places like this seem to go slowly downhill.
The barman explained to me that until recently it was known as one of the “brownest” of the brown bars in Oslo. Brown bars and pubs are decidedly downscale. They get their name because their interiors are covered with decades deep layers of nicotine. The kind of establishment we might call a dive bar.
So how did it go from brown bar to my favorite bar in Oslo?
Well, renovation of course. Because history has repeated itself and Olympen has suddenly become chic again. But this is no modern redo. Much of the spirit of the place has been kept, along with the good wood and crystal. The bar is dominated by huge historic paintings covering the walls. These painting date from the 1930s renovation and are a fascinating portrayal of the area as it looked in the late 19th century.
But in my opinion the secret to its newfound success is its damn decent beer menu– much more interesting than pithy pils on tap. Because Olympen is where I discovered the joys of a Norwegian brewed specialty beer known as Nøgne Ø. Making this spot a mecca for the new Norwegian beer lovers with selections like Haandbryggeriet, Små Vesen and Ægir breweries, plus a good amount of interesting imports, including American micro-breweries.
Of course, when I heard the term “brown bar” I knew I’d have to seek one out. I chose Tranen Mat og Vinhus (Waldemar Thranes Gate 70). It was pretty far removed from the center of Oslo. I guess it is probably best known as a neighborhood bar. People seem to know each other. Pilsner on tap was the beer of choice and everyone in the place seemed to be in the middle of a very deep conversation. Despite the blasting of the jukebox which played American pop from the 1980s. Seemingly the same 6 songs over and over the whole time I was there.
Had I been by on a weekend I have a feeling I would have been treated to some live music. I saw flyers and posters lying about that hinted at this fact. Being a big place with high ceilings I think (if I were 15 years younger) a bar like this with music like that might make for a memorable evening.
But I had to settle for a pint of Hansa. Which was the most affordable beer I had the entire trip to Norway at 45 Norwegian Krone (8 bucks!).
SERIOUS FUN FOOD