How Grandpa’s Tipple Became a Darling of the Demimonde
This spirit’s tale begins as a love affair with the bottle, but in far from the usual way. Groundbreaking 1980s artist Andy Warhol was a teetotaler who found the scent of Absolut vodka so beguiling that he used it as cologne. This cultural revolutionary, who transformed Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles into Pop Art, became so captivated by the sleek lines of Absolut’s 18th-century apothecary bottle that he decided to paint his own interpretation.
The result—a primal image with ethereal power—suggested an equally radical marketing path to Absolut’s importer, Michel Roux: using avant-garde art from rebels like Warhol, Keith Haring, and Damien Hirst on Absolut’s labels and ads.
When this staid Swedish company began backing Warhol’s fashionably Boho crowd, they carried Absolut vodka into their countercultural haunts: the rowdy scene at Studio 54, the gay bars dictating fashion, even Warhol’s studio, The Factory, transforming grandpa’s tipple into a darling of the demimonde.
Absolut’s boundary-smashing ad campaign ran for more than 25 years, expanding to iconoclasts in other fields, such as fashion designer Stephen Sprouse, filmmaker Spike Lee, musician Lenny Kravitz, and even the remarkable graphics of Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood.
These days, Absolut is backing Indie films, music concerts, and live events, and has just premiered a new limited edition of the Warhol bottle—still available for purchase at press time—to benefit the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
The 850 artworks commissioned by the original Absolut campaign are now on revolving display at Stockholm’s Spritmuseum, a decidedly unorthodox cultural institution. Beyond exploring Sweden’s complicated relationship with alcohol—museumgoers can revisit their last hangover in a room with obtuse angles and piercing lights—this new waterfront institution casts an eye on all things once considered decadent in Sweden, like mid-century nudist colonies and “free love” in films like I Am Curious (Yellow).
At the entry of this year’s Spirits of Sin exhibit, where enticing objects are displayed through peepholes, a sign declares: “Warning: some images in the exhibition may cause offense.” What better way to get people through the door?
Even the restaurant is a culinary adventure, offering New Nordic dishes like blue lobster and blackened beetroots with pickled rosehip blossom. spritmuseum.se
Stockholm’s cocktail scene is white-hot right now. The buzziest place in town may be Tjoget—on the edge of the trendsetting Södermalm district—where, beyond experimenting with some of the Absolut recipes, bartenders give irreverent names to drinks such as “Pushing Daisies” and create cocktails like “La Belle Époque,” featuring the once-outlawed Absinthe. Men who arrive early in the day can have a haircut and old-fashioned shave at Roy & Son, a mid-century barbershop that has groomed generations of hipsters. tjoget.com
Today, Absolut mixologists are taking a cue from Warhol’s soup cans with a series of droll cocktails they call Gourmet Junk. Half of the fun comes from oddball vessels like jam jars, plastic bags, and paper coffee cups. absolutdrinks.com