Amerikalinjen: convenience, comfort, and style
Inside Oslo’s newest boutique hotel
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
In the short time since opening in May 2019, it has become the most popular hotel in Oslo. This recent addition to Petter Stordalen’s Nordic Choice Hotels collection, is housed in a classic Neo-Baroque building, reinvented with modern elements to offer both comfort and convenience to today’s discriminating traveler. Welcome to the Amerikalinjen Hotel!
Between 1919 and 1983, the iconic building at Jernebanetorget was the bustling headquarters of Den Norske Amerikalinje—the Norwegian American Line—which operated passenger and cargo ships. Founded by Gustav Henriksen in 1910, the company ran a regular transatlantic service between Norway and the United States. For decades, the ticket office was the starting point for many emigrants on their way to America. And with an impressive footprint and central location, it is has long been a landmark in Norway’s capital city.
What struck me first about Amerikalinjen is how accessible it is with its proximity to Oslo Central Station. I came directly there from my transatlantic flight, having flown from Seattle via Amsterdam to Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport where I boarded a train into the city. There was no need to take a tram or hail a cab to get to my final destination; the hotel is literally right across the street. It welcomes you with a purple flag with its insignia “A” letter, and from the minute you walk through the door, you feel at home.
Check-in is quick and easy, with a staff that is friendly, accommodating and fluent in English. Many other languages are represented, but beware that not everyone speaks Norwegian. Like the emigrants who passed through on their quest for a better life, the hotel staff is a mixture of modern-day immigrants and temporary workers looking for new opportunities in Norway. And, as I would learn, they are willing to go the extra mile to make your visit as pleasant as possible.
Jetlagged, I made my way up to my room to start my own new journey at Amerikalinjen, and once inside, I realized that I wasn’t traveling steerage. From the minute you turn on the lights with the ultra-modern control system, allowing you to create different levels of ambiance, you find all comforts of home in place.
With the large, old-style windows, the natural light in the rooms is exceptional. The décor is distinctively modern, set off by a wall of framed memorabilia: vintage photos of captains and crew from the Norwegian America Line ships, passenger tickets and navigational maps.
Exhausted and hungry, I was able to immediately order room service. I didn’t have to wait long for my “Amerikalinjen Burger” to be delivered, and it was delicious. I was also delighted when the staff came by with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, a daily late afternoon tradition to solace the weary traveler.
But is has been said that the real measure of a hotel room’s comfort is its bathroom, and there I have to say that Amerikanlinjen makes the mark, bar none. The design is unique, with its translucent window-like wall, designed to emulate the architecture that would have been found in New York in the 1920s.
Beautiful tilework is found inside, and most of all, the lighting in the bathroom was completely adequate, not to be taken for granted as in many Scandinavian hotels. And for once, I could reach all the controls without any problems (it is not always easy to be 5’2” in a country where many men and women are well over 6 feet tall.).
After a good night’s sleep, I headed down for breakfast, the meal I enjoy most in Norway. In the Atlas Brasserie, a plethora of buffet delights greeted me, including freshly baked breads, pastries, smoked salmon, pickled herring and a variety of cheeses, including my beloved brunost. For those wishing a more traditional American breakfast, bacon and eggs are available, even American-style pancakes. You cannot go away from a spread like this hungry, and after several cups of good strong Norwegian coffee, I was ready to begin my day.
But first, I spoke with Martin Andersen, the hotel’s commercial director, about the history of the building and the idea behind Amerikalinjen. “It’s the story of the emigration that inspired the creators of the hotel,” he explained. “People came to this building full of hope with the dream of America. America represented comfort and luxury for them, and it’s that spirit that we have tried to capture.”
Andersen went on to explain that the hotel’s designers never had the intention to create a museum or period piece; the hotel is meant to provide a living, dynamic environment where modern-day travelers can seek out adventure. “There has been a lot of coming and going in this building over the years,” he said, “and that is exactly what is going on today.”
And from all observations, the designers have succeeded. Nothing feels static or staid at Amerikalinjen with its comfortable Scandinavian modern furniture and stunning light fixtures made by the famous Hadeland Glassworks. Some antiques are interspersed, including old American trunks that double as coffee tables, linking back to the past with a nod to the present.
The hotel is also known for its art collection. Curated by Swedish art guru Sune Nordgren, it includes the famous “Hope” poster for the Obama campaign, created by contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey. In today’s political climate, it resonates well with the Norwegians, who, after all, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama, but does not always align with the sensibilities of some American guests. In the very least, most of the artwork is a bit edgy, providing stimulation and food for thought. “It’s all about sending a signal,” Andersen said.
Notably, large ceiling-to-floor picture windows surround the ground level, bringing in both light and life. “It was a bit risky,” Andersen remarked, “since outsiders can also look in.” Fortunately, the hotel has been busy since its opening, not only a mecca for travelers, but for locals as well.
Food, glorious food
Cuisine plays a central role in the hotel’s success in attracting local visitors. While there is easy access to Oslo’s main attractions, everything between the Opera House and the Royal Palace; in the evening, it becomes a bit of an island at the end of the city’s main street, Karl Johans gate. “We knew we had to do something special to make it work,” Andersen affirmed.
The answer was a menu inspired by traditional food items that Europeans brought to the United States and conversely back to Europe, including New York cheesecake, Wiener schnitzel, and bagels. The latter have become a specialty of the hotel after they went as far as to send their baker to New York to learn how to properly make them. Having lived in Vienna for several years, I decided to try the schnitzel, and I am happy to report that it passed my taste test with flying colors.
Amerikalinjen also hosts special culinary events throughout the year. They will serve Thanksgiving dinner complete with organic turkey, and at Christmastime, they will present a traditional Norwegian julebord, lutefisk and all. But in keeping with the spirit of the hotel, the Christmas tree will be all-American, decorated in an array of bright colors.
Events and adventures
Although Amerikalinjen is not a conference hotel, it is certainly a place for special events. Many couples celebrate their weddings there, and it is a popular venue with musicians for release parties. It was even chosen by Mercedes Benz for the prestigious launch party of their new electric car. None of this is surprising, given the professional catering services offered and unique spaces available.
The Haven is an open, atrium-like gathering space filled with greenery, and downstairs is Gustav’s Jazz Club. The latter is also open for business on Friday evening, featuring some of Norway’s best jazz performers. “Jazz came to Oslo from New York,” Andersen said, “so it is all part of the concept.” He told me how in the 1950s and 60s, many Norwegians saved up to take the American Line to New York to hear the real thing performed in the clubs there. “Some even peeled potatoes on the boats to earn their passage,” he said.
But for most, the wow-factor at Amerikalinjen is at the Pier 42 Bar. There the hotel’s bartenders will take you on a journey through time with designer cocktails inspired by important events in Norway and in the United States from each decade. The bar is stocked with a wide selection of spirits and ales, and there are comfortable seating arrangements where you can sit and relax, engage in people watching, or mingle with friends.
More to explore
As I said goodbye to the staff and headed to the train station, I thought back on the hotel’s founder, Petter Stordalen. Now a billionaire tycoon, at age 12 he started out selling strawberries at a local market. But Stordalen had a vision to improve his lot in life. After many successful business ventures, he decided to bring something new to the tourism market with Nordic Choice Hotels. In many ways, Amerikalinjen is his story, the dream to look beyond the horizon to create something new and exciting. I highly recommend it.
To learn more about the Amerikalinjen hotel, visit www.amerikalinjen.com.
This article originally appeared in the October 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.