I’d dropped enough pins on Google Maps to cover most of Bergen’s commercial district with spots, now I had to find a viable route. I thought I had made some pretty meticulous choices, but on my way to my first café I realised I was passing another on the list and accordingly gave up on a pattern. Let the day be what it will be, I say.
Hence my first stop, Apollon, also known in my book as Heaven on Earth.
Is Apollon your average coffee shop? No. They serve a fairly basic brew, but it tastes good and keeps you warm. They also have a fine selection of alcoholic drinks as well. So far, so plain, but here’s the kicker. Apollon is neither a café, nor a bar – it’s a record shop.
The purpose of these beverages is not so much to pass the time as to accompany the endless, timeless process of leafing through vinyl after vinyl, sleeve after sleeve, genre after artist after epoch – all while sipping a delightful brew. Why is this not more common? My right hand to God; I would spend absurd amounts of money in a record store, nay, any retail store that provided such a service.
I ordered a coffee and had a chat with one of the proprietors about the history of Apollon – as one of Norway’s oldest independent record shops, they’ve been selling sleeves since 1976, residing in their current location since 1991. The idea behind serving beverages was in part a response to the global decline in physical record sales, but it’s also about selling an experience that’s as communal as it is commercial. Records shops aren’t mere places of commerce; they provide a safe haven for those inclined; offering peace, interest and common ground for enthusiasts of every kind.
Apollon seems to have done well for itself, all things considered. There was a stream of both regulars and strangers flowing in and out, most of them not leaving without a recycled bag full of vinyl. I myself spend a fair amount of time browsing around, before settling on a couple timeless classics:
East Side & Indie representin’
I thanked the proprietors for their time and the coffee, before hitting the streets again in search of Blom – a place I’d been recommended by several individuals; I was curious to see what the noise was about.
Located in the university’s district, Blom hit me right in my happy place. First of all, I had to walk by two or three times before finally noticing the door and sign – maybe I was just daydreaming, but I like a secluded café, even if it contradicts the notion of foot traffic. Stepping inside I observed the light interior of a small space that somehow managed to negate becoming claustrophobic, even on a crowded morning such as this one. The staff seem so sociably casual that one might never guess they’re well-trained baristas; until one tastes the coffee. Despite how busy they were, the staff were happy to tell me all about their beginnings (I was a fool/too enthralled to take proper notes, a shame I will carry to my grave) and inform me on the coffee I was drinking and its brewing process – they specialise in the V60 drippers.
I finally understood Blom’s hype, paradoxically in its total lack of ‘hype’ qualities: it was quiet, unassuming and inviting, with a strong emphasis on quality that didn’t bleed into any kind of snobbery. I’ll certainly return next time I’m in town. For now, I finished my espresso and made way to my next destination.
I hesitated to enter café Spesial – an overly generic name and plain exterior; and the single recommendation I had that didn’t seem to live up to expectations. Perhaps I was wasting my time? I had plenty of other places to be. I risked popping my head in, and was glad I did.
Spesial had fooled me with their non-description: inside was a dimly lit, soft and warm interior of dark woods and a well-stocked bar. While waiting to be served I perused the menu and immediately regretted that I had no time for lunch. They’d taken the trend of Mediterranean cuisine to it’s natural conclusion in the most tasteful way; as evidenced by a very well-designed menu consisting of dishes staying true to cultural origins, and from the plates of my fellow customers there.
I settled for a cappuccino to go – I almost considered a morning beer after spotting a series of friendly faces by the bar:
And, of course, the locals:
I can get enough of that at home, I thought, as I left Spesial with what was truly an excellent cappuccino. Spesial works because it caters to certain trend and remains honest about it. As far as I’m concerned it’s quite a pleasant trend that quite a few people enjoy, and I hope they keep up the excellent quality, service and atmosphere. It’s rare to find a place that gives so much and demands so little in terms of sheer image and attention.
Dromedar – Strandgaten, Bergen
Finally I made my way across town to Dromedar Café – I was curious about this one; an independent chain. Started in the 1990’s by two serious men with an ambition of giving the city of Trondheim, Norway, a proper coffee shop. The aim was to create a place of warmth and welcome for any locals or travellers alike, of all backgrounds and circumstances. They succeeded, and today they have six thriving locations in Trondheim and Bergen, as well as a bakery.
I stepped inside to a vibrantly lit yet beckoning interior; the outside seating was even better; a layout reminding me of time well spent in Amsterdam and Paris. I ordered a cortado they named after themselves, and marvelled at how delicious it was even after three previous brews that day. God bless independent coffee. I leaned back and enjoyed twenty minutes of sunshine on the windless street, shed my pea coat and planned the next series of destinations.
The next chapter of Rob’s West Coast Chronicles will cover the Bergen Fish Market, the city’s allegedly smallest café and a caffeine overdose (yes, that’s a legitimate thing).