May 29, 2023

Before we even get to the admirable Art Nouveau elements and the serious art collection, let’s head straight up. Fans of swell old-timey birdcage elevators will be riding to heaven as they ascend the six-story Hotel Diplomat on Stockholm’s Strandvägen bayfront boulevard in the Östermalm district.

Just inside the small foyer, that lovely antique steel elevator with its leafy design motif serves as a fine introduction to the rich history behind this 1907 building. The Diplomat shares a courtyard with a twin wing, which collectively under the address of Strandvägen 7 made for an enormous residence in its time, one that was quick to become a posh anchor on the Nybroviken waterfront for Stockholm’s growing bourgeois class.

A decade after the grand structure went up, the great-grandparents of the Diplomat’s Malmström ownership family acquired the east wing. In the post-Second World War period, embassies moved in—thus the name Diplomat—and by the mid-60s the residences and offices had been given over to the hotel, which today has 130 rooms and suites.

Once you’ve enjoyed that old elevator ride, you’ll quickly discover that each of the Diplomat’s six floors is very much an art gallery unto itself in which curator Lovisa Malmström affords guests the chance to discover leading (mostly) Swedish contemporary artists with whom they likely weren’t familiar.

In Malmö native Maria Friberg’s first-floor work Embedded (2006, video still, c-print, silicone, glass), dark-clad figures lie on and are partly wrapped in stark white sheets. Per the exhibition catalogue, “The men in the “embedded” images move slowly, like icebergs floating on the horizon. They are half awake, half asleep.“ At once peaceful, the images are eerie in their artificialness.

Helene Schmitz’s fifth-floor photographic series Blow Up (2003, c-print) depicts flower buds at different stages of life, both fresh and withered, and all shot—as the title suggests—in intense closeup and under bright studio light. The wispy feather seedheads in the image Clematis Tangutica belong to a vine with intensely yellow, bell-shaped flowers and were shot by Schmitz in almost microscopic-like detail.

Take the late painter and sculptor Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd who in the early-50s worked under Léger: In the hotel lounge, his Non Violence – 1985—from a prominent series of which large bronze castings are found around the world—is nothing more than a small revolver. But with the barrel tied in a knot, it’s a thing of chilling beauty. Reuterswärd’s quirky fourth-floor portraits are an homage to figures of the likes of Sartre and Francis Bacon.

In addition to being known for its fine Scando-Mediterranean menu, the Diplomat’s ground-level restaurant with its wrap-around corner location and huge arched windows is a prime people watching spot. Originally housing a carpet shop, the adjacent sunken Butiken cafe/market with its sidewalk seating brings you even closer to the Strandvägen scene.

On the mezzanine floor, a series of public spaces includes a work lounge and drawing room, both with plenty of reading material concentrated on the arts, while guests can enjoy a sauna realm all to themselves upon reserving a time. Look closely and you’ll find the door to a speakeasy about whose hours and access, true to the word, you’ll need to inquire.

Among a mix of Diplomat room types, a curvy corner junior suite is especially appealing with its panoramic windows offering wonderful views over the small Nybroviken bay and the courtyard below.

Minutes away from the Diplomat, some of Stockholm’s most prized cultural attractions lie on Djurgården island that was a former royal game park. It’s a short walk there, but taking the sleek blue tram line 7 is also good fun.

You know you want to start on Djurgården with the ABBA Museum, where anyone of a certain age will choke up over their youth as they watch the 1974 Eurovision video of “Waterloo.” Vaulting within its few decades into the city’s most visited site, the Vasa Museum is centered around a spectacular resurrected 17th-century warship which sank in Stockholm harbor on her maiden voyage.

Anyone with Nordic roots and lovers of history in general will scamper happily all over the hilly 75-acre Skansen open-air historic village of reconstructed 19th-century farmsteads and wooden buildings devoted to handwork and industrial machinery over centuries.

To complement the Hotel Diplomat’s art theme, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde at the far end of Djurgården is a castle-size mansion turned modern and contemporary art museum. Currently, the exhibit “Nikolai Astrup–Visions of Norwegian Nature” is dedicated to a fine landscape painter getting his due a century after his career (until May 28, 2022).

Less than a year ago, jeweler Sebastian Schildt, who owns a gallery near the Diplomat, opened Restaurant Oxenstiernan a few minutes farther away. In addition to doubling as an art space, the old farmhouse is appropriately centered around a farm-to-table theme under celebrated young chef Elvira Lindqvist. Everything from honey and fruits and vegetables to fish and oysters is sourced from organic farms. On the dinner menu, a cut of deer is served with glazed celeriac, sherry emulsion and lingonberries.

Also opened last fall, Bistro Marie is a great reason—as if you needed one—to stroll over to Gamla Stan, the city’s Old Town island. Formerly housing an Argentine restaurant, the intimate space and its kitchen are today under the direction of another young star chef, Nina Remröd. Classic French, Italian and Swedish dishes include turbot menuière and Swedish meatballs. Diners can start or end the night in the restaurant’s own wine bar next door.

Back at the Diplomat: That birdcage lift is, of course, no longer manually operated, but as it takes you up, it takes you nicely way back in Stockholm time.

Travel Notes: Getting to Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) from JFK and Los Angeles just got easier with new Finnair service on Airbus A350-900s. A cool 200-million Euro investment in Business Class cabins in the entire long-haul fleet of A330s and A350s includes the addition of the new Collins Aerospace AirLounge, which features a high-backed shell that makes for a private nest, a super smooth seat mechanism, and ample storage space. New in-seat and cabin mood lighting designed with Hamburg-based company Jetlite combats jet lag. Finnish firm Iittala contributes new lightweight chinaware from designer Harri Koskinen, while pillows and a duvet come from fashion house Marimekko. Flights between JFK and ARN are daily, with three weekly between ARN and LAX.

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