Helsinki by Night
When summer inches north in June to Finland, put sleigh-bells, reindeer and naked ice swimming out of your mind. When the Nordic summer sun rises it stays out exhilaratingly late, a formula Finns seem to mimic with their nightlife.
Long hours of daylight notwithstanding, pack a raincoat! And, if you are in Helsinki, make sure it is stylish. The seaside capital, long a cozy alternative to neighboring, jet set Stockholm, is shedding its famously shy exterior and seeking deserved attention for its top notch design industry, chic hotels and lounges, and unpretentious -- but surprisingly edgy -- art.
Located in the heart of the city’s Design District, the Klaus K hotel (where I've been staying this past weekend) is a good example of this new Finnish face. Exceedingly hip but pleasantly friendly, this design hotel includes two restaurants -- one Italian (Toscanini) and one more traditionally Finnish (Ilmatar) -- alongside Ahjo, a cool, all-white lounge with a streetside terrace and an intimate, similarly high-design club in back.
Late into Saturday night, well-heeled young Finns in designer suits and dresses poured out of taxis and into Ahjo's live, pounding house. Thankfully, I couldn't hear a thing from my room when I, too, finally called it a night.
A small city, it still helps to stay near Helsinki's center and -- if you're going to frequent the gay nightlife -- as close to the Design District as possible. Around the corner from three of the city's most popular gay spots, Klaus K is hard to beat for this.
Two blocks south of the hotel is Hugo's Room , Helsinki's newest gay lounge. Impeccably cool -- although somewhat pricey -- Hugo's Room is great for dressing up, claiming a window-side booth and watching the busy street outside.
Crowded by 10pm (especially on weekends), folks tend to drift out of Hugo's Room by midnight, either going directly across the street to Don't Tell Mama -- DTM for short -- or stopping by Hercules first, a dance club one block north of the Klaus K hotel. None of these venues charge a cover, but entry is supposedly restricted by age -- 20 at DTM, 22 at Hugo's Room and 24 at Hercules. Local Finns, however assure me that no reasonably-aged young man is denied entry.
By 1 am, the crowd really picks up at Hercules, a fun and well laid-out club that spins roaring pop remixes and dance tracks. There's a spacious back lounge where conversations can actually be heard, too. Until recently, when the city closed them all, Hercules maintained an appreciated dark room, but its absence hasn't dampened the club's popularity or the mixed patrons' forwardness!
DTM is Helsinki's most iconic gay place. A friendly café with an outdoor patio by day, a bar by evening, and a busy club later on, DTM is more or less open 24 hours a day. Locals grumble a bit that it's cool factor, multiple dance floors and good music have begun drawing a sizeable straight population, but all agree that it is still the place to be seen, to bring your female friends, to dance all night, or just to have a quiet afternoon coffee.Nikko will be reporting from his travels in Helsinki, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin this month. If you have a tip on a new place he should visit, e-mail him here.