Interview with Ola Carlson – Häktet

Ola “Topsy” Carlson is certainly not a newcomer in the bar business, and as many other bartenders in Stockholm he’s also involved in music – with record label Colourful Recordings and as a DJ. He is now bar manager at the recently opened and highly anticipated bar and restaurant Häktet, located in a space which used to be a remand prison during the 1800s.

Interview with Ola Carlson – Häktet, Trader Magnus
Photo © John Bollwitt

What made you pursue a career in bartending and how did you get your first bartender job?

I started as a barback in 2000, realized that bartenders get laid all the time, then a couple of months later I was behind the sticks! (do I have to say that the bar manager at that place at that time was gay?)

Where have you worked prior to Häktet, and which place has been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

I’ve been around, my latest long term relation to a bar is Bar 101 at Anglais in Stockholm. But I think I learned most of what I know today from traveling and meeting people. These days I get a lot out of talking to other bartenders.

What are your plans for Häktet, in general and regarding cocktails?

The plans have been to open a regular bar, a late open bar without loud music. We are open now, but our opening night is set to May 24th, at that time our backyard with bar and dining area are ready as well. Then by the end of summer/early autumn we are having more to come.

Regarding drinks, our menu is always having a ‘French’ part to embrace our cuisine. Besides that we are pretty much all over with both old school and new school.

What’s your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

I love making blue blazers for sure – who doesn’t?  least favourite – got to be non-alcoholic ‘cocktails’, as a friend of mine said ‘i’m in on everything, besides non-alcoholic cocktails and suicide’. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy making lemonades… 🙂

Do you have a favourite kind of customer?

A bartender who brings his own ice!

What do you like most about your job?

It’s easy to get laid and you get a lot of booze for free!

Do you have any special strengths or weaknesses as a bartender?

I really suck when it comes to opening and closing the bar, on the other hand – I’m really good in between.

How do you spend your spare time?

Besides all the regular stuff such as eating and drinking I’m working with a small record label.

What do you like to drink when off duty?

Depending on my mood for sure, red wine, beer, soda water, diet coke… when it comes to cocktails I’m a sucker for, and picky about, my Brandy Crustas.

What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Everything that I got for free during the years and what I find that’s rare (and I can afford) + always a good stock with Underberg and Benedictine DOM!

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

I don’t know, unfortunately I’m not really into trends.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world and why?

I really like Death&Co, great cocktails and they are also having wonderful food. Little Branch is also a fav, love the atmosphere at that place. I remember that Tretter’s in Prague was really good, but I haven’t been there since 2005 so I don’t know how it is these days…

Bartenders, Niko gets this one – cause he really inspired me lately! (Nicolas de Soto, ECC Lower East Side).

In your opinon, how do bars in Stockholm/Sweden compare internationally?

Cocktail bars in Stockholm are great, and I think we have a good recognition on the international scene. But we still have to push it, mostly to educate our guests – cause an average Stockholm dude or dudette is not really into a sit down bar and sipping on a cocktail, going out here is more about being seen at the right spot at the right time…

What inspires you regarding spirits and cocktails?

Jimmy Hult, Alex Skarlen and Nicolas de Soto are the ones who’s inspiring me right now. Probably cause they are the ones I’m talking to when it comes spirits and cocktails. 🙂

What’s your opinion on cocktail competitions?

I’m not a brand guy, and to organize a cocktail comp you need money, brands are having money – and brands want something out when they are spending money.

Do you think bartenders get the recognition they deserve?

Hmm… I think the restaurant business in general deserves a better reputation. But it could also be that people in general like crap, they rather drink vodka red bull, eating McDonald’s and listen to commercial music instead of open their eyes and educate themselves. And on top of that there are a lot of bartenders that don’t really know anything about their profession, for sure the rest of us are struggling a bit cause of that… And to the question – No, we need more recognition, more media, more spotlight, more tips! 🙂

Which of your signature drinks and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

I’m really proud over the cocktail menu we had at Bar 101, that was kind of a tourist map over Stockholm. Also, a cocktail from that menu called Viva Le Zenzero – with reposado Tequila, Nardini bitter, ginger, lemon, absinthe and orange oils, a lot of people came back only for that drink. But if you ask me the same question in one month, I guess I’ll say something different, cause I’m really proud over what me and Jimmy are presenting at Häktet right now!

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

As a dad?!

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

For sure, here’s one from our menu at Häktet: ‘Francois Marie Fizz‘.  Named after the Italian born French commander Francois Marie. I made this on November 1st 2011, on the day 400 years after Francois Marie was born.

40 ml calvados
20 ml St Germain
10 ml Aperol
20 ml lemon
10 ml simple syrup
1 egg white

Shake (dry shake), strain in a glass that you like and top with a dash of soda.

Which question would you ask yourself, and what would you answer?

Your 3 favourite bottles in your bar? Benedictine D.O.M, Carlos Primero and Arette Blanco.

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