Legendary café closing its doors

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Oslo’s Grand Café, patronized by such Norwegian cultural legends as Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch, will close its doors for good this autumn after 141 years of operation. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that employees were called in to a meeting Tuesday afternoon where they were told their services would no longer be needed as of September 1.

The Grand Café occupied the ground floor location of the Grand Hotel in Oslo since 1874, and was popular with such luminaries as playwright Henrik Ibsen, artist Edvard Munch and many others. It will close on September 1. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The Grand Café has occupied the ground floor location of the Grand Hotel in Oslo since 1874 (behind the red awning at lower left), and was popular with such luminaries as playwright Henrik Ibsen, artist Edvard Munch and many others. It will close on September 1. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The historic café on the street level of the Grand Hotel in Oslo, where the Nobel Peace Prize winners traditionally reside, has been unprofitable for years, its owners told DN. “We have tried everything,” café manager Helge Krogsbol told DN. “We have really had a strong desire to make the Grand Café profitable. It hasn’t been possible.”

A total of 40 full-time equivalent jobs will disappear and 55 employees will be affected when the Grand Café closes. “The employees have had an idea that this would happen, but it’s a shock nevertheless,” Tore Skjelstadaune of their labour organization Fellesforbundet told DN.

The café opened in 1874 and was a regular watering hole for the artists who comprised the so-called “Kristiania Bohemians” at the time. That was when Oslo still carried the name imposed upon it when Norway was under Danish rule.

Henrik Ibsen would eat lunch at Grand Café every day, leaving his home not far away on Drammensveien (now renamed Henrik Ibsens Gate) and stopping along the way to check his watch before arriving for his midday meal. The Grand Café was also a favorite watering hole for Edvard Munch but he rarely had enough money to pay for his food and drink. He once offered to give the proprietor his now-famous painting Syk pike (The sick girl) in return for for 100 steak dinners, but it was rejected. Munch and other Norwegian artists such as Christian Krogh and Frits Thaulow did manage on other occasions, though, to swap paintings for a Chateaubriand with beer and aquavit. The cafe has long been adorned with a mural featuring its famous guests on the wall.

“It is a fantastic location,” Krogsbol told DN. Now it may wind up as a clothing store. The hotel’s new owners, a partnership called Pandox controlled by the Sundt family and Christian Ringnes’ real estate firm Eiendomsspar, is responsible for leasing out the locale.

Losses amounted to NOK 20 million last year along, Krogsbol said, noting that the café has faced tough competition from all the new restaurants opening up in Oslo on a regular basis. While business continues to boom at the rival Theatercafeen in the nearby Hotel Continental, the Grand never managed to pull in the crowds despite various seasonal promotions. Some locals complained of high prices and mediocre food. The café was also used as the breakfast room for hotel guests. They’ll now be fed in the hotel’s mirrored banquet room.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund