I dedicated my 1st full day back in Norway to spending time with one of my closest mates from Secondary School, Erlend, as he was leaving for university the next day. Together we must have hit most of the known cafés in the Stavanger/Sandnes area while we were at school. I shudder to think how much money we spent on overpriced cortados and cigarettes over the years, but the fond memories are undoubtedly worth it.
Unsurprisingly, our regular stomping grounds were packed on a Saturday afternoon, so we headed to the slightly more secluded café/bar Bacchus. Not the most imaginative name, but this place holds its own. Serving homemade food from local Norwegian produce, they offer a range of beers, wines and excellent coffees. The student discount makes for a particularly enticing experience for the local student population. Unfortunately I was too busy catching up with my homeboy to snap any useful pictures, so stock photos will have to do the job on this occasion.
I ordered a cappuccino and was not disappointed – it was served at just the right temperature for outdoor seating: piping hot without being scalding, with enough vibes to keep it warm as we sat in the rear’s courtyard area. The music is almost always phenomenal; an entirely unforced international vibe means plenty of hard-bop jazz and afrobeat that keeps you smiling regardless of the weather. As the name implies, Bacchus puts a particular emphasis on their wine selection. ‘Natural’ wines are distinguished from other, industrial bottles, as they contain no chemical additions or enhancements. They also emphasise that even in the disproportionate financial climate of Norway, a glass of wine should be an affordable experience.
A brief history lesson:
Sipping my cappuccino and catching up with Erlend, I was reminded of what a fantastically old and unique city Stavanger is. Its official founding dates back to 1125. The surrounding area, known as Greater Jæren, was heavily populated with Viking society and was a formidable place of political power during the Iron Age. The Christianisation of Norway eventually led to the construction of Stavanger Cathedral, beginning in 1100 and securing its status as Norway’s oldest cathedral. Since then, Stavanger has become Norway’s third-largest urban zone, with widespread suburban areas. However the city centre retains a small-town vibe, as a substantial amount of structures remain detached wooden houses, retrofit for businesses’ needs. Stavanger also has a prominent old-town, resulting in a distinct cultural heritage.
In 1969 oil hit Norway in a big way, and Stavanger became a natural point for organising both the financial, logistical and industrial efforts in the North Sea. This was a radical development in Norway’s history as a nation – suddenly it was a key player in one of the world’s largest and most fundamental industries. The money coming in was unprecedentedly substantial, not to mention there was a brand new employment market waiting for experts and laymen alike for generations to come. Fortunately the Norwegian government was smart about it: drawing up specific industry agreements with American oil companies to ensure that American experts would supervise the technology and the workforces. But as soon as the necessary infrastructure was in place, Norway’s oil industry could and would operate independently without foreign parties’ influence. The government also passed laws ensuring that the people as a whole on principle would own all revenue from the oil industry, accumulated and controlled by the state for the benefit of the populous. To date the oil fund tallies at 550 billion pounds – that’s well over a million for each individual in Norway.
Money talks, they say – it certainly does in Stavanger. There’s no particular trend of snobbery in its streets, but there’s definitely an atmosphere of being surrounded by a culture who are so well off in their boutique cafés and bistros, that they will never feel even slightly odd when paying £5 for a weak latte. This didn’t stop me from spending 10 hours of my Sunday in two of my favourite cafés: Bøker og Børst and Sjokoladepiken.
The Happiest Place on Earth:
Both cafés are located on The Colourful Street, a stretch in Stavanger renowned due to the loud shades the individual houses are painted in, as directed by local hairdresser Tom Kjørsvik’s initiative in 2005. He had a dream of spicing up his district, and has succeeded. The street has cafés, hairdressers, political offices and is generally an eccentric and delightful stroll.
Bøker og Børst, Stavanger
Bøker og Børst (Books and Booze) is the quintessential Norwegian café in my opinion, or it should be anyway. From the outside you’re beckoned by the bright yet soothing (how?) colours of the exterior walls, lighting and seating. A mass of tables, chairs, candles and blankets, reflected in large windows, where you can barely make out the dark wood interior of the café. It’s easy to become disoriented upon entering – bright exterior meets low shallow lights and a large mass of people, who at most times of the day are scrambling for an available booth or corner in the courtyard. Anyone who isn’t sitting is squirming his or her way to an illusive opening at the bar. I usually hate crowded places, but I’ve never minded Bøker og Børst. From the moment you step inside, you’re a member of The Collective; regulars, newcomers, tourists, professionals, staff – we’re all here to have the best and friendliest time possible. As the name implies, books are in abundance around the café, walls covering entire shelves – and the bathrooms are no exception.
At Bøker og Børst I can rarely tell who’s working and who’s being served, but somehow I ended up with the cortado I ordered and spent 4 hours catching up my previous Secondary school teacher and close friend, Ren. Trust me, 4 hours was not enough – I spent more time here during school than I care to account for, there’s simply no reason to leave. The coffee’s fantastic and decently priced (by Norwegian standards). There are local brews to try, board games aplenty, countless books (all for sale) and enough quirks and trinkets to keep one occupied more or less infinitely. Most importantly there’s an atmosphere of warm, open arms welcoming everyone from every background. The best times I’ve had at Bøker og Børst have been a result of random conversation with the consistently eccentric and exhilarating range of clientele. Someone always has a story to tell, and I relish every visit to this café. Unfortunately Ren’s time was up. We parted and I stepped across the street to the enticing girl of my dreams: Sjokoladepiken.
Part III of Rob’s West Coast Chronicles will include the aforementioned record shop, the girl of Rob’s dreams (who is a café) and Viking chess.