Neighborhoods: Stockholm's SoFo, a NY-inspired hipsterland
Aug. 11, 2015
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Stockholm is a highly trend-sensitive city and no neighborhood in the Swedish capital reflects that with more intensity than SoFo.
Located in the heart of the progressive Sodermalm district, SoFo checks all the boxes for a proper hipster neighborhood: vintage fashion boutiques, art galleries, tattoo parlors, organic food markets and coffee shops that let you know how deeply they care about their beans and roasting techniques.
The name, which is unofficial, is an English acronym that stands for South of Folkungagatan (gatan means street), which gives you a hint about Stockholm's obsession with New York.
From food trucks to uber-groomed beards, trends from the coolest neighborhoods of the Big Apple — particularly Williamsburg in Brooklyn — get picked up here with astonishing speed. A survey last year found one of four Stockholm residents would rather live in New York.
Still, this is squeaky clean Sweden, which means SoFo is far less gritty than its hipster counterparts in New York or London. Even the graffiti looks neat and sanitized.
A good place to start your visit is Nytorget, a square given a historic feel by a row of 18th century houses on the eastern side. Soak up the atmosphere over a cortado (espresso with warm milk) at Urban Deli, a former post office that's now a one-stop shop for urban bohemians, complete with restaurant, bar and grocery store offering sourdough bread made fresh at the deli's bakery around the corner. If it's sunny, bring your coffee — obviously made with beans from small-scale farms that protect the environment and worker's rights — across the street and join the crowd frolicking on the lawn.
When you've seen enough 20-somethings with skinny jeans and androgynous hair-cuts, stroll down Sodermannagatan to explore the area's fashion and interior design boutiques, such as King Lily, Francis Floor The Store or Grandpa.
You'll notice how almost all the shops have English names, a phenomenon that isn't unique to SoFo in a country where almost everyone speaks decent English but appears particularly pronounced here. Fittingly, there's an English bookstore on Sodermannagatan and it's not just aimed at visitors and expats; a clerk said the majority of the customers are Swedes.
Even a restaurant dedicated to Swedish meatballs, the Nordic nation's most famous culinary export, has an English name: Meatballs for the People. In Swedish it would have been "Kottbullar for Folket" — judge for yourself which sounds cooler.
Situated on Nytorgsgatan, it's elevated this simple dish to new levels, serving meatballs with linguine or in a salad with couscous. You can also grab meatballs from a fridge on the way out, choosing from a wide variety, including wild boar, reindeer and even salmon.
If you just want Swedish meatballs served the traditional way, with mashed potatoes, cream sauce, lingonberry jam, pickles and a minimum of fuss, you may want to try Pelikan on Blekingegatan, a Stockholm classic with genuine home-style cooking. With its high ceiling, wood paneling and tiled floor, Pelikan has a timeless charm that resists the ebb and flow of fads in the neighborhood.
Music lovers won't want to miss another mainstay in the area: Pet Sounds, a record store on Skanegatan that opened in 1979. It has an impressive vinyl and CD collection covering almost every niche. The owners say filmmaker Quentin Tarantino likes to come here when he visits Stockholm.
If you're getting thirsty while sifting through doo-wop or delta blues albums, there's a bar across the street offering cocktails and live music. It previously was called Pet Sounds Bar, but after a dispute with the record store owners, it changed names to PSB, which explains why "et," ''ounds" and "ar" are crossed out on the awning.
SoFo does not have a strong club scene so if you're in the mood for base-thumping nightlife, head down to Tradgarden in the nearby Skanstull area. Located under a bridge, it has that raw, industrial vibe that club-goers crave but which is so hard to find in this well-polished city.
Lately SoFo is facing competition in the hipster rankings from another Sodermalm neighborhood, Hornstull, which is a bit rougher and more affordable — or at least used to be. However, some say a gleaming new shopping mall, the Hornstull Galleria, has brought down the coolness factor several notches. Commercialization typically doesn't earn you any points in hipster-land.
Then again, maybe a shopping mall is so cliche that it becomes cool? Better check with someone in Williamsburg.