Mälarpaviljongen turns 20: Inside Stockholm’s favourite LGBTQ+ summer hub

Mälarpaviljongen, Stockholm

Stockholm’s many waterways, abundant green spaces, and liberal, fun-loving atmosphere have earned it a reputation as a quintessential summer city for LGBTQ+ travellers across the globe. But if there is one institution in particular that is synonymous with queer summertime bliss in the Swedish capital, it’s undoubtedly Mälarpaviljongen.

This iconic establishment, named one of the “best neighbourhood restaurants in the world” by Condé Nast Traveller in 2013, has blossomed into a cornerstone of Stockholm’s LGBTQ+ community over the past two decades, attracting queer locals and tourists like bees to honey, season after season. Now, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary, we take a deep dive into its legacy and why it remains an essential destination for anyone venturing to the city this summer.

Behind the pavilion

The story of Mälarpaviljongen begins over 30 years ago when a young Arto Winter made a life-changing move from Finland to the Swedish capital. Upon settling into Stockholm, Winter found a city that, while more tolerant than many others of its time, still lacked spaces where the LGBTQ+ community could gather openly during the daytime, which ultimately inspired him and his business partner Anders Karlsson to open Chokladkoppen in 1997. This cosy little café in the city’s old town would become the first establishment in Sweden to publicly fly a pride flag. Yet, Winter’s journey towards a more inclusive Stockholm was far from over…

In 2004, he and his partner realised their dream of a waterside sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community with the birth of Mälarpaviljongen, and the rest is history.

Pride and purpose

Since its inception, Mälarpaviljongen has been more than just a place to grab a drink or a bite to eat. It’s been a labour of love, driven by a deep-rooted mission to foster positive change within the queer community in Stockholm and beyond. “As a gay entrepreneur, it’s always been my priority to find ways to give back to the community,” says Winter, embodying the ethos of compassion that permeates every aspect of the restaurant’s operations; compassion that doesn’t stop at the water’s edge.

Seven years ago, he decided to open Mälarpaviljongen’s doors to asylum seekers fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation, offering not just jobs but a sense of belonging. He also founded Regnbågsfonden (The Rainbow Foundation), an organisation dedicated to providing financial assistance to LGBTQ+ individuals worldwide. Fuelled by donations and a portion of the restaurant’s profits, particularly from the sales of the house wines, this foundation serves as a lifeline for those facing discrimination and hardship simply for being who they are and loving who they love.

Love on the menu

Swing by Mälarpaviljongen on any summer’s day, and you’ll be greeted by a mixed crowd that’s as diverse as the bar menu. It’s the kind of place where you’d bump into your old friend, your colleague, your neighbour, or even your neighbour’s dog walker – all while sipping on a glass of sparkling rosé and wondering if life could get any better.

Situated on a jetty along the waterfront of Kungsholmen Island, the open-air bar and restaurant is open only from April to September, taking full advantage of Sweden’s short but sweet summer. During these months, the entire place bursts into bloom with colourful plants and flowers, twinkling fairy lights, and infectious beats from DJ sets and drag performances that regularly take place throughout the season.

Guests are invited to savour a range of gastronomic favourites from the diverse à la carte menu, which fuses international and traditional Swedish cuisine. And for those with a penchant for plant-based food, the adjoining The Green Queen restaurant boasts a tasty selection of vegan dishes.

On particularly stuffy days, it’s not uncommon to see guests taking a refreshing dip in the cool waters of Lake Mälaren, before the sun sets and transforms the entire restaurant into a bustling queer nightlife venue!

To make the most of your Stockholm adventure while celebrating Mälarpaviljongen’s 20th season, opt for a stay at one of these top-notch LGBTQ-welcoming hotels in the city. Trust us, your future self will thank you for securing a spot to crash after the glitter settles.