A typical Södermalm street in the 1910s.
For example, for SEK 0.60, diners could have a main course, a piece of bread, a glass of milk and their choice of a cup of coffee or beverage.
Ration books were abolished in 1955 and suddenly, Stockholmers could buy their food and alcohol with no limitations.
Not until the 1970s did the restaurant really began to emerge as a natural second arena for Hammarby fans.
The Boström brothers’ initiative failed, and Kvarnen had to close the very next year.
A rehearsal space was also established inside Kvarnen in the 1990s, and the restaurant became an important melting point in Swedish music history.
The turn of the millennium was exciting indeed, but nothing compares to 21 October 2001. That was the day when Hammarby finally took home its first gold medal in the Swedish football championships.
We are taking major steps toward further developing Kvarnen. With a new website, a new kitchen for the outdoor seating area and our Czech beer hall, we feel more than ready for another 100 years.
1908 - 1920
Kvarnen: the mill begins to spin
Construction began in 1906 on the property on Tjärhovsgatan 4, which was first known as Grå Kvarn, and later became Kvarnen. The building was finished one year later, at which point it was already adapted to house a restaurant.
The name Grå Kvarn was chosen in honour of the grey mill that stood on the site between the early seventeenth century and 1860. The ceiling height and characteristic arched windows, which are still definitive of Kvarnen today, were there from the start, but today’s white checked floor was added in the 1910s.
At that time, the walls of Grå Kvarn were covered with paintings featuring motifs of old inns. One of them has been revealed from beneath layers of old scraped-off paint, and it is now visible on the long wall across from the bar. The entire interior of today’s Kvarnen reflects fairly well how a perfectly typical restaurant might have looked at that time.
These days, Södermalm is often associated with shopping and expensive housing, but at the turn of the last century, the island was a poor city district populated primarily by working class and impoverished people. Grå Kvarn was also mainly intended for these people at first, but thanks to electricity and the advancement of the trams, the population here grew at an explosive pace.
1920 - 1940
In the 1920s, unemployment rose in many parts of the Western world, and Stockholm was no exception; Södermalm was still a very poor area with many unemployed residents. As a part of Sveriges Allmänna Restaurangbolag (SARA, Sweden’s General Restaurant Company), Grå Kvarn had a social mission – to help those in need. However, this was not to be associated with charity because from the beginning, the plan was only to break even.
Thus, through this mission, unemployed people were offered inexpensive, traditional cuisine at certain times of day. For example, for SEK 0.60, diners could have a main course, a piece of bread, a glass of milk and their choice of a cup of coffee or beverage. Without a doubt, the Thursday meal of peas, pork and pancakes attracted the most visitors. The initiative drew so many people that the line often stretched all the way out into the street, and in those days, no one was ever expected to leave a tip – it was included in the price!
During this period, the workers’ movement was also gaining steam, and the entirety of the 1920s and 30s were characterised by conflict between employers and wage earners. Anyone who was not a member of a union was considered to be against it. Union members were given a pin to wear, and because Grå Kvarn was a regular hangout for many union workers, it was tough to earn tips as a server if you did not wear the pin during your shift.
1940 - 1960
Tyrolean orchestra tunes up
Towards the late 1940s, Grå Kvarn underwent a major renovation. A significantly nicer dining room was added to the top floor, with chandeliers, parquet flooring and white tablecloths. The existing beer hall was refurbished, and separate entrances were introduced for the different dining hall “classes”. But the public criticised the renovation for creating an unpleasant climate.
Food and drinks were hard to come by on account of the world war that was in progress, and the state was forced to ration what was produced. Ration books were introduced, a little booklet with which you exchanged stamps for meals and alcohol – for example, at Grå Kvarn. Ration books were abolished in 1955 and suddenly, Stockholmers could buy their food and alcohol with no limitations. As a result, restaurants were forced to compete with house parties, and to attract visitors, Grå Kvarn was transformed into a Bavarian beer house with sausages, beer and a Tyrolean orchestra that played late into the evening.
To wash away the old, grey connotations, the name was changed to the current Kvarnen. The new initiative was a huge success and the restaurant went from offering ransomed food and alcohol to a for-profit company. Despite the name change, Kvarnen remained “Grållan” to many Stockholmers, even long after the renovation and the arrival of the new name.
1960 - 1980
The invasion of art and football
When the German beer house craze died down in the mid-1960s, Kvarnen quickly changed course and jumped aboard the latest trend for the ideal Swedish restaurant: the British pub. A red linoleum floor was put in; dartboards were hung on the walls, and brass interior details were added. The beams were painted green and the walls were painted gold. The change from the earlier furnishings was significant, and for better or worse, not many details have survived in the Kvarnen we see today.
However, something that was even more distinctive in this era was the emerging wave of feminism in modern society. Before, women were rarely seen out at restaurants, and almost never without the company of a man. In the 1960s, this became much more socially acceptable, and many women could now finally go out for a fun evening on their own.
Meanwhile, Södermalm became home to many artists and musicians, which is still true today on this trendy island. Monica Zetterlund was a regular fixture at Kvarnen; she always sat in the same place: by the wall furthest in the back. Photographer and director Janne Halldoff was also frequently sighted socialising at the restaurant throughout the 1960s and 70s.
Even if Kvarnen, with its geographic location, had long been considered a Hammarby hotspot, not until the 1970s did the restaurant really began to emerge as a natural second arena for Hammarby fans. Supporters gathered here before and after matches for a beer and, not infrequently, for a classic of the era: the ölgåsen – a hot sandwich with cheese, ham and pineapple.
1980 - 1990
What could have been the last night
At this point, Kvarnen had become a symbol for all of Södermalm – a bit run down, but pleasant and unpretentious. The dartboards that went up in the 1960s saw a huge revival and attracted lots of people. Darts became so popular at Kvarnen that the team Kvarnen’s Pilkastarflickor (Kvarnen’s Dart-throwing Girls) became Swedish champions in 1987.
Every day but Sundays, food was served for half price from three until six. Around five, tons of Stockholmers showed up at Kvarnen to eat plank steak and cured salmon. There were often so many guests that the line curled out onto the street – just like in the 1920s!
In 1987, the SARA company decided to sell Kvarnen and the Boström brothers took over the restaurant with the vision to turn it into a trendy fine dining restaurant, with what was an enormous speaker system at the time. But the initiative was a fiasco: many of the former guests no longer enjoyed the space and they stopped going entirely. The brothers also failed to attract the new intended target group, and Kvarnen had to close the very next year.
Now, the Söder-based lads Sören Ahlbom and Thomas Ernström bought the restaurant with the goal of transforming it into what it used to be – dartboards and all. When the simultaneously old and new Kvarnen reopened, no party or inauguration was held – it just opened, and all the old guests returned.
1990 - 2000
Let the music play
In the 1990s, Kvarnen had a clear political bent; many political meetings and debates were held at the wooden tables. The numerous hot topics discussed included Sweden’s potential entry into the EU, refugee policy and feminism. With the restaurant’s extensive working-class connection, Kvarnen was viewed as a natural home turf for the left, but in fact, except for the Moderate Party, all of the Riksdag parties of the 1990s met, debated, celebrated and commiserated here.
For the 1998 Riksdag election, the Left Party wanted to hold its election party at Kvarnen, but the Hammarby fans had simultaneously planned a huge after-party for an important football match. The compromise was to combine both parties and the result was a success for everyone involved!
A rehearsal space was also established inside Kvarnen in the 1990s, and the restaurant became an important melting point in Swedish music history. Musicians and bands like Bob Hund, This Perfect Day, Atomic Swing, Weeping Willows, Niclas Frisk, Janne Kask and Nina Persson often rehearsed here, and free concerts were held in the restaurant on Tuesdays.
2000 - 2010
A decade of celebrations
The turn of the millennium was exciting indeed, but nothing compares to 21 October 2001. It was a big day for Kvarnen – and a historic day for Södermalm. That was the day when Hammarby finally took home its first gold medal in the Swedish football championships. Celebrations were in full swing all over the island, of course, but most of all at Kvarnen. The party went long into the night and was so merry and well-attended that the police had to protect the restaurant from thousands of people who wanted to join the celebration, even though it was already more than overflowing.
Seven years later, in October 2008, it was once again time to beat the drum and gather for a party. If you read the introduction to this text, you surely know why: it had been one hundred years since Grå Kvarn first opened its doors to hungry Stockholmers! The guest of honour that evening was Tomten, a beloved regular with a big personality – when taxes were introduced for shaving services, he stopped shaving entirely in protest.
2010 - nu
Towards the next hundred years
In the early 2010s, it was time for one of our most loyal and esteemed employees to move on. After 25 years of first-class service, conversation and beer tapping, Belinda hung up her apron and gave her thanks. But we are most thankful of all, and we have immortalised her in a picture that hangs on one of the walls today.
Yet another major change took place in 2014, but ultimately, it will lead to as little change as possible. The goal is clear: Kvarnen has existed for 100 years and will be around for 100 more – with the same high quality, the same carefully prepared traditional Swedish cuisine, and the same friendly green-and-white vibe as ever. Symbolically enough, this is the same year that Hammarby made its re-entry into the top tier of Swedish football, and of course, that was celebrated on a night that Kvarnen will not soon forget. The celebration was sufficient to result in the alcohol inspectors dropping by for a visit to make sure all was as it should be – and it was indeed: a happy, pleasant and safe atmosphere, just a little more so than usual.
When the TV show Så mycket bättre (So Much Better) paid tribute to Magnus Carlson, there was no doubt that a visit to Kvarnen would be on the agenda. This is where it all began for the Weeping Willows, and this is where it’s all still happening in 2016. Just before they sold out the Ericsson Globe, a highly appreciated and intimate surprise concert was held at Kvarnen. Which performance was better? Well, we know what we think!
In 2017, we are taking major steps towards caring for, preserving and further developing Kvarnen. With a new website, a new kitchen for the outdoor seating area and our Czech beer hall, we feel more than ready for another 100 years.