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Helsinki’s best bars cater to every crowd

By Katja Pantzar, October 2008, updated May 2009

© Pasi Murto
A21's bartenders mix "liquid sensations".

Where did celebutante Paris Hilton dance the night away when she was in town? What are the best bars and nightclubs in the Finnish capital? That all depends on your party point of view.

In recent years, Helsinki has built a reputation as a top destination on the international party circuit. Dozens of venues cater to every crowd – from beer swillers to Champagne sippers – all within walking distance of one another.

When American starlet Paris Hilton was in town earlier this year, she partied at Helsinki's Lux Nightclub. The heir to the Hilton hotel fortune accompanied her DJ boyfriend Benji Madden, guitarist for the band Good Charlotte, who was spinning discs at the glitzy nightspot. Since then Lux has been redesigned and now entertains under the name The Tiger.

After sampling a Nordic night-crawl, ABC News reporter Jerry Shriver described Helsinki's after-hours scene as "hot, diverse, distinctive and spirit-lifting." Its calling card is volume and variety, says Shriver: "The city centre boasts several dozen out of the ordinary bars, cocktail lounges, nightclubs and performance venues, along with dozens more standard issue places, all serving a metro area population of one million."

Insider guide

© Meghan Smith
Click to enlarge the picture
Meghan Smith

Photo: Hugo Bes/© Eat&Joy
Click to enlarge the picture
On the international party circuit: Helsinki's Ahjo Bar & Club.

American Meghan Smith, 27, has lived in Helsinki for three years. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, with stints in locales ranging from Monterrey to Madrid, Smith originally came to Finland with her then-fiancé. The relationship didn't last, but her attraction to Finnish culture did.

"The thing about Helsinki nightlife is that you can really let loose," she says. "When there's an occasion to celebrate, it's no-holds-barred. This is the time to prove that even if you can't drink as much as the Finns, you can certainly have as much fun as they do," says Smith, a writer and English teacher, who was hard-pressed to keep her bar and nightclub recommendations list to just five.

"Teerenpeli is great for a date, or the closest thing to a date in a country where people don't exactly date," she says. The microbrewery pub takes its name from the Finnish word for "flirt", serving microbrewery beers for him and lingonberry ciders for her. "Teerenpeli offers a cosy setting that encourages conversation with easy access to the centre of town – in case your date goes south and you need to make a quick escape."

But if the date goes well, or you're out for a night on the town with friends, head to design hotel Klaus K's Ahjo Bar.

"The eclectic atmosphere and upscale crowd remind you of why you're in Finland in the first place: it's straightforward, clean, fresh and pure," says Smith. Ahjo, meaning "forge" in Finnish, lives up to its epic name:¬ "There's a very mystical quality to the bar. The contrasting light and dark areas of the bar reflect the many magical dualities of the land with its midnight sun and long dark winters."

Boogie nights

© Royal Ravintolat
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At the centre of the city: See and be seen at Teatteri.

When the urge to dance hits, head over to het-friendly gay nightclub Lost & Found, a mere two-minute walk away. "Everyone joins the party here!" says Smith. "The scene is always refreshingly real; this is one of the least pretentious bars in the city."

Perhaps a notch more pretentious, but just as much fun, is nightclub classic Teatteri. Located on the Esplanade, Helsinki's most picturesque and touristy boulevard, Teatteri features a restaurant designed by Briton Rupert Gardner, several bars and a members-only VIP nightclub tucked away on the second floor. Regulars include Finnish celebrities, NHL hockey players, politicians, models and media types.

"This is the place to see and be seen," says Smith. "Even if you're not dressed to perfection, or spending exorbitant amounts on lavish cocktails all night, it's worth a visit, just to take a peek at the precipice of Finnish nightlife."

Photos: © Pasi Murto
Click to enlarge the picture  Click to enlarge the picture
Enjoying drinks in style at A21.

And to round out the evening, A21 Cocktail Lounge offers a stylish setting for enjoying an exclusive nightcap. "The best newcomer on the scene is A21. It serves all kinds of cocktails, and feels a bit more intimate for private parties," says Smith.

Essential addresses

Ahjo Bar and NightclubBulevaardi 2-4
A21Annankatu 21
Lost & FoundAnnankatu 6
The TigerKamppi Shopping Complex, top floor
Urho Kekkosenkatu 1A
TeatteriPohjoisesplanadi 2
TeerenpeliOlavinkatu 2 (Kamppi Centre)

Katja Pantzar is the author of The Híp Guide to Helsinki (WSOY 2005).


Guide map of Helsinki


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