If you’re looking to uncover some of the more inventive, interesting cocktails out there, book a trip to Helsinki. The Finnish capital has more to offer than Aurora Borealis (although, really, how much more could you want?). The city stays light most of the day in summer and is dark almost all winter—both great excuses to get a cocktail.
Finns have traditionally enjoyed a lonkero or “long drink,” a low-ABV canned or bottled mix of gin and grapefruit soda, and new variations have emerged in the last few years. But with the proliferation of cocktail culture around the world, Helsinki has joined the party. A number of young teams has formed and introduced proper cocktailing to the city. They take inspiration from global trends, but also look toward Nordic culture and ingredients, like cloudberry, birch and other foraged foods.
These eight places to drink in Helsinki represent a mere sampling of spots to hit next time you’re in the city. The best part? Helsinki is so small you can reach just about anywhere on foot.
1. A21 Decades
Credited with starting the Nordic-drink movement in Helsinki, award-winning A21 Decades is still going strong. Since the bar opened in 2009, the cocktail list has focused on incorporating Finnish ingredients, like wild berries, herbs and jams. There’s also a Boilermaker section to introduce more craft beer to the bar, as well as a section dedicated to perfecting the Gin & Tonic. The “Decades” part of the name pays homage to cocktailing throughout the years, so there are 1970s classics like, the Tequila Sunrise, and singularly Nordic drinks, like the Isokari Sour (Jaloviina cut brandy, sea buckthorn jam, cinnamon, and orange and lemon juice).
2. Bar Bronda
Bar Bronda is the hip lounge at the front of the restaurant of the same name. Set on the Esplanadi, one of Helsinki’s main thoroughfares, Bronda is the fourth spot from BW Restaurants. This contemporary space with high ceilings, a DJ spinning house music, and a glass-enclosed wine room separating the lounge from the main dining room brings global flair to Finland. Order a Chase the Rhubarb, made with Williams Pink Grapefruit gin, St-Germain, rhubarb, cinnamon, cardamom and lime. Or if you’re in the mood for a bitter jolt, go for the Bourboroni, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, coffee-infused Carpano Antica Formula and Campari.
If you like meat, you have to hit Grotesk. The restaurant’s bar and outdoor terrace offer a spring break vibe in the heart of the city––plus some of the more cleverly named drinks in Helsinki. The Peach Don’t Kill My Vibe marries fermented peach with Rémy Martin VSOP cognac and lemon juice. Lucas the Firetruck (cute, right?) brings together grenache with Bols genever, lemon juice and black tea. But if you truly want that tropical feeling, the #bananaisberry mixes Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, banana, lemon and pure cane sugar.
As the name suggests, you’ll feel like you’ve left your regular life and gone on vacation. Holiday is one of the offerings from Richard McCormick, somewhat of a celebrity chef in Helsinki who owns the well-regarded restaurants Sandro and The Cock. The bar is set along the water on the island of Katajanokka; Helsinki has 300 islands, and this one is connected by a footbridge off the Central Market. Inside, it’s light and airy, decorated with palm frond prints on the walls and doors that open onto a terrace. The drink menu changes with the season, but also offers a perennial list of Gin & Tonics.
5. Liberty or Death
Set in the city’s design district, a few blocks from Michelin-starred chef Sasu Laukkonen’s intimate and casual Ora, this cocktail bar is the first of five from the Son of a Punch crew. It’s a little hard to find, but once you step into the dark enclave, you’ll light up when you see all the bottles behind the bar. Liberty or Death makes a perfect Manhattan, and if it still has the Helsinki cocktail, made with gin, Bols genever, lemon and egg white and garnished with a basil leaf, try it.
6. Lilla e.
Whether or not you’re staying at the sophisticated Hotel Lilla Roberts, be sure to pop into its lobby bar. Lilla e. takes cocktailing to the next level, creating a total sensory experience. Take the Nordic Breakfast. Meant to reflect a traditional breakfast in Finland, it has three components: Napue gin infused with malted rye and sour whey, a piece of hard cheese and a cup of hot black coffee. The Midsummer’s Eve is made with birch-infused Tanqueray gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and a floater of sparkling wine, finished with the smoke of burnt birch leaves. The Bedrock by the Sea has Lillet Blanc, cava and sorrel with a sea-salt rim, and is literally served “on the rocks,” next to an array of sea stones.
Set inside the gorgeous Hotel F6, in downtown Helsinki, Runar is named for one of the owner’s French bulldogs. The team here plays with local ingredients and foraged items. If you like a slightly sweeter cocktail, try the Lande, made with Ketel One vodka, elderflower, rhubarb and citrus. Want something a little savory? The Think Green, made with matcha, sorrel, celery, citrus and Martini & Rossi Bianco vermouth, is the way to go. The bar, set off the open courtyard lobby, is modern and comfortable, with leather couches and chairs and a few higher banquettes with tall stools.
8. Trillby & Chadwick Detectives Agency
This may be one of the harder bars you’ll ever have to find, but it’s worth the, well, detective work. The bar is set down an alley just off Helsinki’s Central Market. You walk into a door, pick up a phone and ask to be let in, then a slot in the door opens to confirm you’re OK. The menu reads like diary entries from the mythical detectives Trillby & Chadwick. The drinks are intricate, intriguing and take time to construct. The Manchester Film comprises Maker’s Mark bourbon, Chambord liqueur, Coke, lemon juice, egg white and popcorn. It’s like being at a movie with popcorn and a Coke.