The story of “the Pearl” on Smålandsgatan

Konstnärshuset (the Artist House) was drawn by the architect, in fashion at the end of the 19th century, Ludvig Peterson. “A pearl in the row of houses” the palace on Smålandsgatan was called. It was built in Venetian style with Moorish touches, and stood finished 1899. Already from the start, the eating habits of the artists had been thought of, by letting Westbeck’s sandwich store operate “the Artists’ Buffet”. 

However, the artists pretty soon tired of the boring beer buffet, which was even called “Konstnärshuset’s shame and the artists’ fear”. Even so it took until 1931 before any change was to occur, that was when the society decided that the ground floor of the building was to be converted, and that a contract was to be written with the restaurant keeper Emil Jansson. Emil was well known on the Stockholm restaurant scene, and had earlier operated, among others, the restaurants Hasselbacken and Gustaf Adolf on Regeringsgatan. Emil Jansson socialized in artist circles, and was culturally dedicated.

It was in other words an excellent starting point for a restaurant in the making. But there was one problem: no licensing rights, which were a scarcity in 1930’s Stockholm. However Emil Jansson was both a sharp and an experienced gentleman. He bought the restaurant Kungstorget that had licensing rights. And in a jiffy Kungstorget was closed and the licensing rights were instead brought along to Konstnärshuset.

Emil Jansson’s good friend, the architect Björn Hedvall, redesigned the locale and managed to put together 150 seats and a new kitchen. He was hailed, and asked to redesign the entire house in the new Functionalist style that was in fashion. However, it was enough with the Konstnärsbaren (the Artist Bar)- or KB as the newly opened restaurant soon was abbreviated. KB quickly became the hotspot of the current celebrity elite. One of them, Evert Taube, who happily went to KB when he was not at Gyldene Freden, in loving bard fashion composed on New Year’s Eve 1933:

You tiny tavern which we on Smålandsgatan seek
Within a frame of Renaissance and Goth antique
And Hedwallian modernistic speak
You are on the Stockholm scene quite unique!

The interior of KB is pretty much the same today as in Emil Jansson’s time: an inner intimate part with low ceilings and paneled walls, an outer with windows to the street. The walls were decorated from the start by current artists who, just like today, display their pieces in this big public living room. 

The furniture and interior were created by the era’s foremost interior designers. Certainly several times restored since then, before the big makeover in 2006, but each time with care, everything to preserve the unique atmosphere.

Those who wanted to retire took their refuge, then as now, in the “upper dining room”, one floor up. The locale is dominated by a striking mural, created during a lush evening and night when Stockholm’s cultural elite, after an extra club meeting, ate, drank spirits, and painted. Those there were: Isaac Grünewald, Gösta Chatham, Edgar Wallin, Einar Forseth, Robert Högfeldt, Erik Jerken, John Jon-And, Engelbert Bertel-Nordström, Ewald Dahlskog, Gunnar Torhamn, Jerk Werkmäster and Karl Örbo.

By the next morning, Svenska Dagbladet had already published an article about the artists’ rampage and called it “A moment of art history”. They who look at the painting today would readily agree! Other humoristic touches that were added this magic night, and during later artist meetings, is for example Robert Högfeldt’s sow with electrical switches as teats. Who doesn’t want to test?

Later, when Emil Jansson was succeeded by his son Gunnar, the artist Pelle Åberg painted the upper dining room’s other long wall, the view of a French city through a studio window “Chez Emil”. The painting was commissioned by the son, and dedicated to his legendary father Emil Jansson.

Also the bar, earlier an antiques shop, to the right on the other side of the doorway, got it’s decoration from Emil Jansson’s artist friends. Different scenes from the restaurant world were painted by, among others, the DN cartoonist Birger Lundquist, Robert Högfeldt, and Pelle Åberg.