By Ron Bernthal
Although most visitors to The Thief , in the Oslo neighborhood of Tjuvholmen (tchuv-holmen), arrive by taxi, others can travel by bus, tram or ferry and walk ten minutes along the Aker Brygge waterfront, past the stunning, three-year old, Renzo Piano-designed Astrup Fearnley Museum to The Thief, an equally impressive structure designed by the Oslo firm Mellbye Architekter AS. The hotel’s name came about not because of the property’s high room rates (Norway is not an inexpensive country to visit), but because 18th century Tjuvholmen was called “thieves’ island,” a time when criminals caught stealing were executed in this once isolated area.
Today, Tjuvholmen is one of Oslo’s glittering new arts districts and, as one might expect, The Thief has its own art curator, Sune Nordgren, a noted Swedish-born art and design aficionado and founding director of the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. Mr. Nordgren oversees the 100+ museum quality art pieces that are displayed inside and outside the property, including Sir Peter Blake’s collages in the hotel suites, the Andy Warhol print in the Fru K restaurant, Jeff Koons balloon animal sculpture and Julian Opie’s animated artwork in the elevators. When I checked in at the hotel’s reception desk I kept staring up at the Richard Prince’s huge ink-jet on canvas work, “Cowboy – The Horse Thief” that covered an entire wall of the lobby. The hotel maintains a close working relationship with the Astrup Fearnley Museum next door, and all that priceless, borrowed art in the guest rooms and interior public spaces, and the stunning sculptures outside the hotel, like Antony Gormley’s intriguing cast-iron beggar outside the front entrance, is a great perk for guests. Free admission to the museum comes with your room booking, although few of The Thief’s upscale guests are looking to save the 100-120 krone ($11-$14) entrance cost.
The 119-room property, opened in 2013, is a member of Design Hotels™ and the entire building, and almost every object inside, is a feast for the eyes, including the most common elements, like the perfect round holes that act as handles on the translucent bathroom doors, the adorable glass yogurt cups on the breakfast buffet, and the narrow, rectangular swim-up window at the Thief Spa, where you can float in a heated pool listening to Reiki Zen meditation music while peeking outside at pedestrians trudging along the snow-covered Norwegian landscape in parka’s and woolen ski hats. Every sensory experience, from the images of brightly colored artwork that flash before your eyes, to the pleasing curvature of the hotel’s glass façade at twilight when the golden glow of lighted room windows contrast with the moody dark waters of the fjord, is enjoyable.
The large windows in my room face the Astrup Fearnley and the Oslofjord, as well as the modern, rust-colored Handelsbanken, where, from my comfortable leather desk chair, I watch office workers stay busy at their desks until well after sunset. There are nine pillows on my King bed, with two flexible reading lights on each side of the headboard, and two stunning lamps on each end-table. A glass door allows access to petite triangular balcony, just big enough for a small chair. A wooden shelf holds large-size picture books about Norwegian art and architecture. The 42” Philips plasma HDTV offers dozens of channels from Norway, USA and Europe, and the complimentary Wi-Fi is fast and reliable.
A solid pocket door separates the white and brown marble bathroom from the guestroom, and sensors turn on the recessed mood lighting as soon as you enter the bathroom. A price guide to the bath amenities lists the thick, fluffy Maggie Wonka-designed bathrobe hanging on the door at 1,500 Norwegian krone, about $177, or one can purchase a tube of Marvis, the Italian-designed toothpaste, for $7. Even the little white boxes hanging on a bathroom wall where glasses are stored, is imaginatively designed.
The hotel’s fine dining Fru K restaurant serves three meals daily, and is filled with as much art as any other space in the hotel. I especially liked the original 1976 Andy Warhol silk screen and acrylic on canvas, a piece from a series called Ladies and Gentlemen. This work, valued at close to $2 million, hangs casually in the same room as the gorgeous buffet breakfast spread. Honestly, at 7:00 am it was not that difficult to decide which attraction needed my attention more, but Warhol was a very close second. Fru K has its own meeting room, a private bar area, an outdoor patio and a lunch and dinner menu that rivals any in Europe. Depending on the season, some of its Norwegian cuisine includes cod from Lofoten in the far north, quail eggs from Toten north of Oslo, Langoustine are caught by trawlers off Norway’s west coast and delivered live, and reindeer ribeye steaks arrive from the Nordas region near Bergen.
Although the Thief Spa is physically separated from the hotel by about 50 feet, with its own entrance for local visitors, hotel guests use a private elevator that descends along an outside wall to a below ground location, where an underground corridor leads to the reception area of the Spa. Constructed in 2014, about a year after the hotel opened, Thief Spa offers treatment and dressing rooms, post-treatment relaxation areas, a gym with the newest exercise machines, sauna and steam rooms, and a lovely heated swimming pool with mood lighting above and below the water. A small fee is charged to use the Spa, and includes complimentary fruit, nuts, and tea.
While former industrial areas of Oslo are still being transformed into modern arts and cultural districts, like nearby Bjørvika, where the modern Oslo Opera House opened in 2008, the construction work in Tjuvholmen is now complete. With the Astrup Fearnley Museum and The Thief pushing the envelope in terms of design and art, several of Oslo’s most well-known art galleries, including Galleri Brandstrup (www.brandstrup.no), Galleri Pushwagner (www.pushwagner.no) and Stalper+Friends (www.stolperandfriends.com) have now moved into the area, along with numerous restaurants, outdoor cafes, and a few brightly colored, design-driven residential buildings, all facing the sea, Oslo’s most precious asset.