In A City Filled With Hustle & Bustle, Swedish Cocktail Bar Andra Hem Has Found Quiet Success

Andra Hem depends on their innovative and unique offerings and ambiance to do the talking.

Last summer I was walking our Chief Happiness Officer, Gracie, when I ran into two men staring up at a nearby 3-story brick building.  The entire facade has been painted black, and its only feature was a single unlit globe light on the front next to a similarly painted black door.  Furthering the mystery, all the windows were completely blocked with heavy curtains, adding to the mysterious vibe.  The two men had just left Monk’s cafe, a couple blocks south on 16th street, and may have been slightly tipsy.  

As is often the case with our CHO, they immediately fell in love with Gracie and spent a few moments petting her.  As we stood next to the building, they had some questions about it, which were pretty much the same as everyone else in the neighborhood had…what was this place?  What do they do?    

Being similarly curious, I had asked a similar question of a man I had seen leaving the building from a side door earlier that month, and so I parrotted his answer “I hear it’s a cocktail place from New York, and it’ll open as soon as it has staff.” 

That was in the summer of 2022.

Randomly, on my way to dinner in November last year, I saw some lights on inside, shining above and through the gaps in the curtains, and a person leaving. The light next to the black door was on, next to a new gold plate that read “Andra Hem.”  The mystery would soon be revealed.  Passing through their vestibule, I walked into a dark room to the right, with a beautiful marble counter, stools, and incredible decorations.  There was yet another man lounging on the velvet sofa next to the door, so I asked if they were open.

Philip introduced himself and let me know he was a consultant who was managing the operations at the time.  He invited me in, as this was their first day of a public soft open.  I sat on a teal velvet cushion on those amazing stools on that beautiful marble bar and met Patrick, their head bartender and mixologist. He then introduced me to a cocktail menu that was unlike anything I had seen, in Philly or anywhere.  Over the next few drinks, I learned so much of the story of Andra Hem, why it existed, and what they were aiming for.

“Contemporary art is often misunderstood as intentionally controversial, obnoxiously self–indulgent, or painfully obscure. In this book, contemporary art expert and gallery owner Paige West guides readers toward the understanding that contemporary art can be just as original, tasteful, and breathtaking as traditional paintings.”

The Art of Buying Art: An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Contemporary Art

The building in which Andra Hem resides is owned by Paige West, a known art collector. She and her father Al West have been collecting art for years, and her taste is reflected throughout both floors in the eye-catching art.   The lower level is taken up by the bar, some tables in the corner, and ample standing room.  The second level is filled with small marble tables, velvet sofas, and stools, with a smaller bar.   Apparently, the original plan was to use the top two floors as a bed and breakfast, but the local zoning laws wouldn’t permit it.  

Everything that makes Andra Hem innovative – the unassuming door, the sleek style, and the fresh ingredients used in the food, the drinks themselves –  was inspired by Paige’s trip to Sweden.  People constantly stand outside the door on the sidewalk, unsure about what lies behind it.

“We really want it to be just a really nice place to come and hang out. We want you to feel like you’re at home here,  let your guard down, enjoy yourself, kick back, and relax. Have a drink, have a conversation with your friend, maybe a snack or two, enjoy a cocktail – or two.”

Patrick Jennings knows a thing or two about what makes Philly hospitality tick. Originally planning to be a sommelier, he started out at Table 31, learning the art alongside known local chefs George Perrier and Chris Scarduzio. He went on to further hone his craft, working with some of the best mixologists: Friday Saturday Sunday’s Paul McDonald, and The Olde Bar’s Michael Haggerty, among others. He then went on to create the cocktail programs at Spice Finch and JG Skyhigh before landing at Andra Helm last year.

Andra Hem’s plan of a quiet launch was challenged when suddenly Esquire got wind of the amazing new venue and put it on their annual list of best bars across America.  Once you walk into Andra Hem, you can definitely tell that calling it a “bar” is not quite doing the space justice. “We strived to create a unique cocktail place that’s aesthetically pleasing, not just for your eyes, but for all of your senses,” Patrick noted.  “You can see it in the furniture. Upstairs we have the velvet stools that complement leather couches. And everything we have and use is environmentally friendly.  We have real towels in the bathrooms and imported Swedish hand wash and lotions.”  

The vibes aren’t limited to the decor, furniture, and admittedly lovely hand lotions at Andra Hem. The cocktail menu is also unabashedly extra, using unexpected ingredients like olive oil and beet juice in new ways.

📷: @phillygrub

The Fig Around has olive oil-washed vodka, lemon, black pepper, and, of course, fig. The result is a drink that is creamy and tart.  Then there’s the Nothing Beets a Dala Horse which contains beet-infused mezcal, tequila, rum, and … horseradish coconut cream.  If you’re a beet lover then know that the beet runs strong in this drink. And if you’re not a beet lover, know that you’ll feel you’re drinking a healthy smoothie that has the smokiness of the mezcal.  Then there is the instant hit Lambhattan which has lamb-washed bourbon, vermouth, and bitters.

Andra Hem regulars know that Patrick thrives in creating unique spins on known drinks in order to provide customers with innovative yet delicious drinks. 

“We put a lot of good effort and thought into all the things that we do. All of the bartenders contribute to the menu, and sometimes drinks end up performing better than we ever expected.  One of our most popular drinks, Pears for Heirs, barely made the menu but was a huge hit.  The Fig Around is also super popular.  But what’s been doing the best is tequila drinks. This summer, Philly felt like a tequila town but with fall coming, people are turning to bourbon drinks, like the Pie in the Sky (bourbon, rhubarb amaro, strawberry, lime, bitter), and the Boomerang (Soderblandning infused whiskey, dry vermouth, Swedish Punsch).

A year after its opening, Andra Hem continues to operate quietly, focused on its craft.  It has a website but no social presence. 

“We found Andra Hem to attract two key crowds: The art crowd and cocktail lovers. What’s really surprising is that when we opened, the majority of the people who came to us were from New York, the Bay area, and even Europeans, more so than locals.”

The food at Andra Hem is also unique, organic, and Swedish-inspired. The Swedish meatballs are more delicate than the ones you could find at Ikea, while their cheese and charcuterie board has unusual offerings from upstate New York and Philly.  The honey comes from their own bees that are on the building’s roof, in addition to being supplemented by Paige’s hives in New York.

“The original mission was to be something unique and different. So you take your whole experience and what people are doing in town and try to just be different, take a risk or two. Obviously, we’re inspired by all things Swedish, so we’re trying to use flavor profiles that would work for us here. Ultimately, however, we want to be hospitable, fun, and approachable so you feel at home here.

Never one to apparently rest on their laurels, Patrick is in the throes of making sure Andra Hem continues to evolve.

“We just change up the menu, be relevant to what’s going on in the industry right now, but also with seasonality. We’re going into winter, so we want to have some winter-forward flavors and drinks.  I just want it to be a place where you can get something really neat and different and enjoy it.”

Other plans include reimagining the menu as a children’s book (Swedish, of course). They’ve also introduced a Happy Hour from 4-6 pm on weekdays.

📷: @all2thumbs

It’s late in the evening but you’d never know it as the ambiance inside Andra Hem is intentionally cozy. And that in itself makes Patrick happy.

“All we want is for our customer to say, yes, this is cool. I could hang here. I think that’s the general mission for Paige: just be really nice to people and have people really like their time here. This is what it’s about. You feel that you’re at home and that you’re feeling welcome. Andra Hem means second home in Swedish, after all.”

“And if I had to say what was the one thing that surprised me here at Andra Hem is that it’s all been fun. Work, for sure, but fun.”

Make a reservation at Andra Hem on Resy here.