We think of Sweden now as one of the most progressive places on Earth, but it takes a lot of hard work to get that reputation. Stockholm didn’t turn pink in a day.
No, it took the hard work of activists and progressive people before the grips of anti-LGBTI sentiment loosened. From the big guns, down to small acts of rebellion: like Chokladkoppen, the first cafe to fly the rainbow flag in the city.
Called ‘Chocolate Cup’ in English, the cafe originally opened 23 years ago as a gallery by Anders Karlsson. However, with a growing queer clientele, he decided to transform it into an LGBTI cafe, run exclusively by LGBTI people.
With the queer people recruited and the flag flown, it became the first establishment of its kind in the city – and the first to fly the rainbow flag. The place has endured as a resting place for tourists of all stripes, thanks in part to its fantastic location in the beautiful Stortoget square, next to the Royal Palace.
But their hot chocolates and cinnamon buns are equally as legendary. So much so that Christina Aguilera, Kylie Minogue, the royal Viktoria and Madelaine princesses, and the real royalty herself, Madonna, have all paid tribute to this gay hot spot.
That’s quite the history in one cosy cafe. So when I discovered the place while enjoying LGBTI-history city tour, StandOut Tours, I needed to speak to someone. A gay person who works in a place like this has to know what’s up with the city. I sat down with Conny Johansson, who has worked as the manager for over 20 years, to find out what he thinks about gay life in Stockholm.
Why did you want to work at Chokladkoppen?
I didn’t want to work here! The owner asked me and I said no.
Why did you say no?!
Because it’s a gay place and I hadn’t come out yet. So I was a little bit shy. I had my own business and I felt like no, it’s enough. But then he asked me if I could work the next week because it was EuroPride. I said okay, I can work just next week… and now I’m still here.
Do you think Stockholm is a good city for gay and lesbian people?
Yes, yes I do, because it’s very open. No one really cares if you are gay, straight, or bisexual. In other countries, when you go to other cities, and you kiss someone, they can look at you funny or laugh or whatever, but in Sweden it’s different.
So there’s no homophobia in the streets? You can kiss and hold hands and there’s just nothing?
No one cares, it’s like normal. Of course, there’s always – in all cities and all countries – there’s someone who’s going to stare a little bit extra.
Where’s the best place to meet other gay people in the city?
That’s one thing *groans* it’s difficult. I never go out to gay places. If I go out, I have so many straight friends, usually I go to bars, restaurants, it doesn’t matter where it is. When I first got to Stockholm, we only went to gay places. Now we don’t. And nightclubs, I only know one – Secret Garden. Well, I know Backdoor. But I’ve never been!
It depends on how you live. I have a daughter, I have a boyfriend. I’ll very often go to our families’ [houses]. We never actually go to gay places. We just go to places. We don’t even look if they are gay or straight.
When I started living here, all gays wanted to go just gay places. But now it’s so open we just go wherever.
What’s your favorite restaurant then?
Koh Phangan [Thai eatery] – it’s really good. Sushi, I love sushi, so Aisha Okinawa Sushi, that’s amazing.
What should every tourist do in Stockholm? Except from come to here, of course…
The Old Town. Just walk around, go into small shops, go into cafes, restaurants, and just be here. Also, Djurgården. It’s calm, there’s more nature, and there’s more of a pulse.
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