Springtime in Stockholm: The Perfect Rejuvenator, Headlined by 3 New Stars

by Dan Allen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday March 22, 2022

Sweden's sparkling capital has long set the global standard for welcoming and delighting LGBTQ+ travelers.

Stockholm is once again leading the way for holidaymakers, headlined by a trio of new queer-friendly attractions that not only survived the pandemic, but downright thrived.

Run for The Hills

Perhaps no venue speaks to the irresistible spirit of Stockholm and the strength of its LGBTQ+ community better than The Hills, the lively new Scandinavian-infused French restaurant in the city's trendy Södermalm district. Opened in mid-March 2020 — undeniably at the worst possible time, at the very outset of the pandemic — The Hills managed to bloom despite the precarious conditions.

"My co-owner and I decided very quickly to do everything we could to run the business forward," said Kenneth Hallström, a well-known veteran of Stockholm's hotel and restaurant scene for nearly 35 years. "We had invested so much money. I did some adjustments with the staff and opening hours, but we were at that time determined to do everything possible to keep all the staff."

With incoming travel virtually ground to a halt, of course The Hills never could have survived these tricky times without exquisite food (courtesy of head chef Lelle Rössler), and the patronage of Stockholmers themselves. "We have big support from locals who supported us from day one, and of course the gay community," said Hallström, giving props to the warm and lovely queer/straight mix of The Hills' clientele. "I can say that this mix almost happened just naturally — but with me as a front figure running the restaurant, it would have been very strange if the gay community would not have shown up. They have good taste."

Such is the plucky success of The Hills' crew that they've even started expanding during the pandemic, with the purchase of a former tobacco shop next door that they plan to reopen in late spring as a small bar called Tobak. They'll also be opening their big outdoor patio, right on Södermalm's famed Götgatan pedestrian street — "a perfect place to sit and watch all the buzz while you're sipping a drink or having a meal," Hallström said.

Destination Dagmar

Across town in Stockholm's upscale Östermalm neighborhood, the stunning Villa Dagmar hotel opened in early May 2021 — still at a somewhat uncertain time, but just when light had begun to appear at the end of the pandemic tunnel. "By then we were starting to see the beginning of the end regarding some of the global lockdowns, so we were able to welcome both Swedish and international guests to the hotel," says Sune Malmström, the Villa Dagmar's general manager.

Initially serving mostly Stockholmers and Swedes gave the intimate 70-room boutique property the unplanned opportunity to hone its impeccable service even further. "More and more locals decided to stay at Villa Dagmar and have these mini breaks, seeing that travel was restricted," Malmström explained. "There's no real need for guests to leave Villa Dagmar when staying here for a weekend. We have an amazing restaurant, a large courtyard lobby, our own wine bar, a fully holistic retreat, and our very own concept store, so there's just a lot for guests to enjoy during their stay with us."

Villa Dagmar is the sister property to another longtime hotel favorite for LGBTQ+ visitors to Stockholm, the five-star Hotel Diplomat, located just a few blocks away. "Both properties are unique in their own ways, but there are also a lot of similarities, such as the high level of service that we offer our guests and the attention to detail in our interiors," said Malmström. "Things that set us apart are more in regard to location. Both hotels have key locations, Hotel Diplomat on the waterfront, and Villa Dagmar being adjacent to Scandinavia's most renowned food court, and housed on Stockholm's most pristine restaurant street, Nybrogatan. We've teamed up with two of Sweden's most well acclaimed chefs, Daniel Höglander and Niclas Jönsson, with Mediterranean fusion cuisine."

Malmström said that like Hotel Diplomat, Villa Dagmar plans to offer packages for travelers who come to town for Stockholm Pride in early August. "We'll definitely have something special for Pride — and just lovely to know that there will be one this year after a two-year break," he said.

Get Tucked

Stockholm's nightlife has emerged phoenix-like from the pandemic too, headlined by the new but already hugely popular drag performance club Tuck O'Hej ("hej" is Swedish for "hi," and presumably by this point we all know what a tuck is). "We had our premiere on October 1st, which just so happened to be right after Sweden lifted its COVID restrictions," said Brenda Mandlar, one of the club's two charismatic cohosts alongside Ceviche de Chocho. "We knew people — especially queer people — were ready to meet again and party."

Born in the virtual world necessitated by the pandemic, Tuck O'Hej was so successful online that it then made the leap to IRL at Nalen, a historic Stockholm venue dating back more than a century. "When the pandemic hit and nightlife shut down, Tuck O'Hej started as a digital show that we used to stream on Instagram Live once a month," de Chocho explained. "We had such a great response from the audience that we thought we had to bring the concept one step further once the restrictions were going to be lifted, and that's how the club concept was born. The premiere sold out a week before the actual event — we couldn't have asked for a better start!"

Mandlar chalked up the club's popularity to its novel approach. "I think what made Tuck O'Hej so successful is that this concept has not been done before in Sweden," she said. "Most places hire drag artists to come and mingle with the audience, sometimes perform, but we wanted to put the focus on the artistry — and people are absolutely living for it. A thing that we also hold dear to our hearts is how our audience really reflects the queer Stockholm of today, with no separation between genders or sexual orientations."

The next Tuck O'Hej on April 1, called "Leaf, Laugh, Love," will celebrate Sweden's glorious springtime weather, bringing longer days and blossoming nature. "Think crafty mom, but make it spring!" urged de Chocho. "As usual we have an amazing line-up ready to perform everything from lip syncs, live music, and burlesque numbers." Looking forward, the next event on June 3 is still shrouded in mystery — but "get ready for a splashing event," she said.

For the best of queer life in the Swedish capital no matter the season, stay tuned to StockholmLGBT.

Dan Allen covers travel and LGBTQ culture for numerous outlets around the world including NBC Out, CBS Watch!, the Los Angeles Blade, Passport and Fodor's.