As I sat at the bar of Michelin-star restaurant Onda, overlooking the Aker Brygge Marina, I asked the same question I had asked countless times before: “Where is your favorite drink in town?” I snuck in some local savvy and added, “Or your favorite utepils (outdoor beer)?” Oslo is tricky. Alcohol is very expensive in Norway, cocktails even more so. Most Norwegians are true to their en kop kaffe (coffee) on most days, and they show it with coffee shops on every corner.
The waiter I queried gave it some thought before motioning over a bartender, a lanky guy with colored tattoos across his forearms. This man was the key to the best cocktail, wine, and beer-crawl in Oslo, or any Scandinavian city for that matter. Here’s where he sent me.
Located just down the parkway from the National Theatret, Barfly emphasizes classical design and an expansive, established cocktail menu. It’s one of the most popular cocktail stops in Oslo, and you’d be hard-pressed to find bartenders as committed to the precision required of a premium cocktail. Sip on the muddled berries and vodka for a perfect zing to get your night started.
If you’re a coffee addict — and I don’t mean of the Starbucks variety — then you might have heard of Tim Wendelboe, pioneer of the light-roast Norwegian brew. Well, he’s not just grinding coffee beans anymore. Nowadays, you can find him in Grünerløkka, where the students and artists congregate at Bar Boca, the smallest and most innovative bar in Oslo. Styled in the memory of the ’50s and ’60s, the teeny bar will charm you — and the stellar summertime mojitos don't hurt either.
While I was walking out on the Tjuvholmen peninsula, several locals perched along the dock told me it was once the home of sketch deals and criminal activity — but no longer. It’s been transformed with museums, luxury hotels, and apartment structures symbolic of the most adventurous of modern Norway designs. And at the western tip of the docks is The Thief, a swanky, uber-hip cocktail bar with unbeatable views of the Oslofjord. Ask the bartender for whatever the staff is experimenting with lately, preferably an akvavit drink, and expect a funky craft worthy of an Instagram cover photo.
Beer, anyone? Punters from around Oslo will send you to The Dubliner the second you say øl (beer). The classic Celtic spirit is alive and well in this folk pub. Irish music rings out every Tuesday and subsequent dancing ensues. Irish stew and fish and chips are served all day and night, and of course, there’s Guinness. Lots and lots of Guinness, served the exact same way as at the factory itself. You can’t go wrong with Irish character mixed with Nordic liveliness.
The name is no exaggeration; the aquarium-style walls and raftered ceilings of this world-renowned pub are made for maritime enthusiasts. The downstairs fireplace sets a cozy atmosphere to enjoy red wines from Bergen, and paired with Thursday night Opera performances by masters and students alike, creates a classic Norwegian vibe. After a day at the Viking museums of Bygdøy, this bar carries on the ideal Nordic immersion.
Often referred to by students and artists as Oslo’s best pub, Lorry is a cultural institution. Not only does it boast a massive, dizzying collection of antiques dating back to the fifteenth century, they also have the largest collection of stuffed animals in Norway. And in addition to the labyrinth of sculptures and knick-knacks, Lorry might be the only bar where you’ll run into the likes of actors, writers, politicians, and journalists, all in one pass through the selection of 130 plus beers. The Norwegian royals are also rumored to stop by.