James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

The Bar Where Misery is All Part of the Service

The Bar Where Misery is All Part of the Service

Beer in Oslo

The glass was, if not exactly half empty, decidedly not full. The foamy meniscus of lager hovered a good three millimeters below the lip of the pint. I was in Oslo, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Was it too much to ask to get a full pint of beer for my 80 krone? Apparently so.

My friend and I had arrived in Norway packing an American share of can-do spirit. Sure it was dark there, and cold, and ridiculously expensive. So what? We were going to lean into the darkness. Embrace the Scandinavian winter. We were going to get our hygge on. But, my friend and I had learned, while hygge’s all well good as long as you’ve got somewhere to snuggle up, we did not. We had spent days trudging through the snow from museum to museum in the perpetual twilight. Our boots were wet. We were tired. Not to mention, broke. And now here we were at this bar that wouldn’t even serve me a full pint of beer.

“It’s all part of the concept,” explained Mats, our local friend.

He had taken us, on our last night in town, to Misførnyelesesbar. Set back from the street in a courtyard, on the site of the former Prindsen asylum and workhouse in central Oslo, Misførnyelesesbar, or “Bemusementbar,” is an elaborate piece of conceptual art wrapped up in a liquor license. Created by artist Christopher Nielsen, it’s supposed to be frustrating; maddening, even.

The bar is a functional tool, Nielsen writes in the accompanying 96-page art book you can buy to read with your “Bemusement Beer.” The discomfort its acid-drenched DayGlo walls and mismatched furniture engenders is all in service of encouraging you to imbibe.

“The only way you will be able to remain on Bemusementbar’s premises over an extended period of time,” writes Nielsen, “ is to counteract the misery, the crappy vibes, the rotten mood, the feeling of general discontent—with alcohol.”

In this elegant, cosmopolitan European city, lousy as it was with frighteningly good-looking people, with their affordable healthcare and glorious sweaters, who that very week had gained international notoriety as Donald Trump’s immigrants of choice, the cynicism of Misførnyelesesbar was a tonic.

My friend, who doesn’t drink beer, ordered a Negroni, as advertised on the chalkboard of drink specials. The bartender looked at her blankly. “I don’t think I’ve ever made one of those before,” he said with a shrug, and wandered off to find some Campari, or something like it.

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