Coffee – A Love Story
Irishman Paddy Kelly shares his coffee love story and his favourite café in Stockholm.
Where I grew up in an Irish countryside village, cafes didn’t really exist. Nobody had time for sitting around, drinking coffee, when there were cows to milk and muck to rake. In fact, I didn’t even taste coffee until I was eighteen. Tea was the drink of rural Ireland, tea as black as a priest’s shirt, tea strong enough to bend space and time, while coffee was fancy, snooty, big-city stuff.
But then, when I moved to Dublin to attend university, I discovered coffee, and cafes, and fell truly and madly and stickily in love.
My first crush was Bewley’s, which back then was the undisputed king of Dublin cafes. Several deep, dark, labyrinthine establishments built in the 1890s to 1920s, where you might find an open fire burning on a damp December afternoon, where you could order a pot of tea, or a solid mug of coffee, or a vast sticky bun, and scamper off to a distant corner, to nibble or sip to your heart’s content, watching the world roll blissfully by.
Bewley’s Dublin cafes were since ravaged by the beast known as progress and closed down, except for the one on Grafton Street, which re-opened recently as an over-priced, soulless shadow of its former self. I guess it’s worth a look, if you’re ever in Dublin. Although, if you have access to a time machine, I heartily recommend 1990 instead. Bring a book.
Then, in the late 90s, I moved to Stockholm, and the search for a perfect cafe started over. A few flings were had, but none of them lasted long. Usually, the establishments I liked closed down or were overrun by hipster irony.
But a few years ago, I found a place that ticked nearly all my boxes. My new favourite cafe ever. And I shall now proceed to tell you about it.
Café Dox (for this is my new love) is situated on Stora Nygatan in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town. And what endears it to my sweaty, caffeine-pumping heart are the following things.
This is usually the reason I fall for a cafe, and usually why they close. Because, duh, quiet means no customers. And by quiet, I don’t mean just a lack of people, I mostly mean a lack of superfluous noise. No pointless blaring radio, no music, no TV, no live bands. Just the soft chatter of people, the clink of forks, the patter of footsteps, the exhalation of sighs. Heaven.
Café Dox consists of mismatched tables and chairs spread around a big stone-archway basement. The walls are plaster with brick showing through. The Wi-Fi is dodgy. The menu is in Swedish and not in eye-burningly awful “cool” English. And the Swedish obsession with interiors being either plain white or else horribly trendy, is thankfully ignored.
It’s in a basement.
The place is an old wine cellar from the 1500s, so clearly there are no windows and therefore no sunlight. Which I love, but many don’t. Getting a Swede to sit indoors, especially between April and October, is a task verging on impossible. They are utterly obsessed with sunlight. So, an underground cafe without windows is a hard sell.
I’ve been in Café Dox and seen people enter what is clearly a basement, then complain about the lack of sunlight in a basement, and grumpily leave. Bad for them. Good for me.
The odd details.
There’s random stuff everywhere — a dresser, a lamp-post, a chandelier, a dog. A slightly grubby toilet that no-one can ever find. People silently playing Magic: The Gathering. Students having three-hour study meetings over a single cup of coffee. Lovely.
They have a good range of food, but what sells it for me is the sandwich menu. This, I believe, has not changed in the years I’ve been going there. Each sandwich on offer is a baguette stuffed with good stuff, made on the spot, allowing for easy substitutions. You can have a whole one or a half. They arrive promptly. They’re tasty as hell. I recommend the Egger.
The bad reviews online.
This is how I know I’m on to a winner. On most sites, Café Dox gets a reasonable 3.5 out of 5, but you see people moaning about absolutely everything. The place is dark and musty. Did the steps leading down not tip you off that it was a basement…? It has no atmosphere. Mister, it’s MADE of atmosphere. It’s grubby and nothing looks new. Well, maybe nothing is new, but so what? The staff are rude. Nope, they’re nice. Busy, but nice. And when the worst people on the internet dislike a place, then of course I like it even more.
I would love Café Dox to continue as it has. In fact, I’m surprised it has lasted this long, given where it is. Possibly there’s a low demand for basement premises in Gamla Stan, which keeps the rent low. Maybe it’s haunted. But if I had to change it, I’d do the following:
Every full moon I’d rename it Café Nox and keep it open all night. They’d be performances of a gothic nature. Some dark fusion Belly Dance. Overblown gothic poetry. A theremin recital. A top-hat contest. A lace-making workshop. An hour of silence. That kind of thing.
But even if that never happens – and let’s face it, probably not – I’m still going there as often as I can. So join me. Give them money, so that every unique and original coffee house in Stockholm isn’t eaten up by one of the major chains.
Keep my darling Café Dox alive. Do it for me. And remember to try the Egger.