Beer Garden with Scandinavian Flavor
Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay has launched a new drinks-focused business. Located outdoors in a former green space next door to the restaurant, the new Stabbur: Scandinavian Garden Bar opened this summer.
For its opening season, Stabbur is serving only drinks, including specialty cocktails devised by the staff, such as the Malmo Mule (vodka, blueberry simple syrup, fresh lime juice, bitters and ginger beer) and The Spicy Fresh (cucumber vodka, jalapeno simple syrup, lemon juice and seltzer).
According to Ingert Johnson, wife of restaurant founder Al Johnson, the new venture started long ago with a customer’s simple comment: “You know, you ought to build a log building.” It was the mid-1960s and Al Johnson’s then had a “modern-looking redwood” exterior, she noted.
The restaurant, founded in 1949, had been in the same location from the beginning, when it filled all the space available in a converted IGA grocery store.
But there was a problem: the business was so popular that summer visitors cascaded through the front door onto the sidewalk and down the street, with guests nudging and pushing to enter. Ingert wanted a lobby added, so guests had somewhere to peacefully wait for their tables.
“By that time, I thought it was better to ‘build old,'” Ingert says now. “‘Old’ never goes out of style, but if you build ‘new,’ it always goes out of style and you have to re-do it and re-do it. So I told Al,’The next time we build I want the real thing, with a grass roof.'”
Al and Ingert thus found themselves in Oslo, Norway in late 1966, where a series of events led them to Norwegian painter Sigmund Arseth, who Ingert met at a Christmas show in Milwaukee the year before.
“If you ever come to Norway, you and Al can come visit me,” he told Ingert. He told the Johnsons that “’Maybe we can find someone here in the mountains to build your log buildings.” He invited Al and Ingert to visit right then, in Fagerness, five hours north of Oslo “on winter roads!” said Ingert.
Introduced to Knut Stenerud, a local master carpenter, a deal was quickly struck. Knut and his two brothers flew to Door County from Norway the following May and built the new Johnson family residence in Sister Bay. A year later, the three-man team returned and built the new log restaurant while business inside went on as usual.
At the end of the restaurant construction in 1973, piles of logs were on Al Johnson’s property and Knut the carpenter asked Ingert if she wanted him to build her a little cottage with the extra materials. “Instead, I wanted him to build us all of the buildings that would be on any Norwegian farm,” she says.
And that’s where the two-story Stabbur (“storehouse” in Norwegian) in Al’s Scandinavian Garden Bar came from — the logs that were left over from building the new restaurant. Knut and his brothers, as always, used a special Norwegian axe to shape the logs, Magne Nering did the custom wood carving, and the man who brought everyone together, artist Sigmund Arseth, rosemaled Stabbur’s ceiling with traditional Norwegian designs.
Today, Stabbur has been sandblasted back to its original state of beautiful wood surfaces, moved from Al’s back property to the green space next to the restaurant, and the interior serves as a beer cooler while the exterior is a unique bar with beer pulls in the walls. It’s also the attractive backdrop to Sister Bay’s most unique outdoor bar. Skol!
Stabbur is open daily, 10am–11pm, through the end of the summer season.