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Andra Hem, a cocktail bar with sleek Swedish style, quietly opens in Center City

The owner is keeping a low profile for now. It’s two stories of sultry Scandinavian looks, with food and drinks to match.

Taylor Barnes (left) tends the main bar at Andra Hem, 218 S. 16th St.
Taylor Barnes (left) tends the main bar at Andra Hem, 218 S. 16th St.Read moreMichael Klein / Staff

Andra Hem is sultry. Andra Hem is stylish. Andra Hem is a mystery.

Before we attempt to unravel Andra Hem, we must ask: Can someone spend more than a year constructing a showpiece cocktail bar-restaurant on a corner in the heart of Center City Philadelphia and then open it without even a trace of buzz?

Paige West did just that with Andra Hem, which opened last month inside a black-painted brick building at 16th and Chancellor Streets, down the street from Pizzeria Vetri. (For several years, the building sported a jungle mural.)

Andra Hem — joining a growing Rittenhouse cocktail scene (Franklin Mortgage, 1 Tippling Place, Elbow Lane, Ranstead Room) — has no website, social media, or public-relations machine. The low-key bronze plaque and globe light with a martini glass above the front door offer no real hint at what’s inside.

Tipped of its opening by a reader, I stopped in the other night. All vestiges of long-ago occupants Pita Pocket Falafel & Grille and Mi-Lai Vegetarian are gone.

New York designer Ghislaine Viñas, working with Philadelphia architect Richard Stokes, offers an aesthetic reminiscent of Scandinavia. (Andra Hem is Swedish for “second home.”)

The front door opens into the small main barroom, enlivened with a bold, William Morris-style wallpaper. There are a few tiny cocktail tables, cushy banquettes, and a mirror-topped six-seat bar with a Pre-Raphaelite painting behind. Upstairs, intended for 35-person private events but available for walk-ins, is more of the same, with a smaller bar whose top and back are crammed with top-shelf spirits and seats three. There is more cushy seating in semiprivate settings.

Andra Hem uses Toast as its point-of-sale system, so at least the menu can be viewed online. Chef Lisle Clemens, formerly of Suraya and Oyster House after turns in New York at Aureole and Jeepney, is breaking out lighter Scandinavian offerings such as smörgås (beet-pickled herring open-faced sandwiches), boards (including one with nori-cured, thin-sliced Norwegian salmon, salmon rillettes, and salmon roe, $24), and small plates such as Swedish meatballs ($14) served with Merzbacher rolls. John & Kira’s chocolate-dipped chocolates and chocolate-caramel honey bees are available for dessert.

Lead bartender Patrick Jennings oversees a list of classic cocktails as well as eight specialty drinks such as Fig Around (olive oil-washed vodka, lemon, fig, black pepper), Peat Forsberg (blended Scotch, Islay Scotch, lemon, carrot, ginger, honey), and, in another Swedish nod, Nothing Beets a Dala Horse (beet-infused mescal, tequila, overproofed rum, horseradish coconut cream). Cocktails are $14 to $20.

It’s open for walk-ins from 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday to Saturday.

That’s all I know. West, through general manager Jeff Harris, declined further entreaties before an official opening in January.