They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step and every great journey has to start with an obstacle. This journey’s first step was straight into the bone-biting winds of Oslo armed with 14,000 euros saved over the course of 3 years bartending in Amsterdam, one oversized piece of luggage and a coat that was far too thin for the time of the year.
The destination was originally Himkok cocktail bar, one of the best cocktail bars in the world, leader in the Nordic bartending scene as well as one of the key pioneers in the use of fermentation techniques within a cocktail program. There had been talks of a collaboration for a month or so but due to some stereotypically bartender style planning which could be described as lack-lustre at best, the Vagabond apprenticeship did not get off the ground.
Refusing to give up at the first hurdle and with a month to kill, the key here was to find inspiration from the region, from its culture, its mindset and to discover what it is that makes these people “Vikings”. Crashing swiftly onto a couch of good friend Niclaes Norstad, my home for the month, I contemplated where I should go and what I should do considering my limited resources in a totally foreign land.
Luckily an old brother in arms was working at the time in one of the most prestigious hotels of Norway - Chris Grotvedt at The Thief Hotel. Pulling up a stool at his bar, we hatched a plan over a Scotch: we would travel to all the major cities of Norway doing shifts in some of the leading bars and holding seminars to share our experience. Stavanger, Trondheim and Bergen were in our sights.
Stavanger greeted us with a rain shower and perpetual darkness, Bergen with the mosaic-like littering of colours and shapes of all the little houses spread across the coastline. Trondheim was the rowdiest stop as another old dog welcomed us with open arms - Jorgen Dons of Raus Bar.
Upon returning to the Capital, I stepped away from the usual haunts and attempted a generic tourist destination - the infamous Kon-Tiki voyage museum of Oslo.
In a nutshell, the Kon-Tiki voyage was Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s attempt to cross the Pacific Ocean in a wooden craft to prove a point. Fearless like his namesake and, according to legend, inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton himself, his “attempt” was a resounding success earning him a place in the history books.
The story rang a bell somewhere in the back of my mind: I’d heard a Tiki bar somewhere in the centre of the city had a piece of the original boat hanging from the ceiling. Rushing back, we were greeted with Aku-Aku Tiki Bar, a gem of a bar overlooked by the local bartending fraternity. We enjoyed a few cocktails here while we formulated a new plan of action. We had no boat to conquer the raging seas or the skills to do it (we are bartenders after all), so to put our skills to good use we decided to gather the best bartenders of Oslo and throw the biggest party possible in the forgotten Tiki bar to celebrate the life and times of adventure.
As our time in Norway drew to a close, there was a lot to take in from this trip. I could share the usual “not everything goes the way you planned it” lesson, but, more importantly, I’d like to think it’s more about how you handle the difficulties that life throws at you. For me, that was stepping away from what I knew to find inspiration, then consequently stepping out of my comfort zone to see what’s on the other side.
Next month, join me in my travels to LA, as I learn how to hand blow glass in Compton, enjoy the oldest Irish coffee recipe in the world and host a festive themed pop up bar.