Mug Shots: Finnish beer and subtlety

“Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.
Finland, Finland, Finland,
It’s the country for me.”
—Monty Python

    Turku, a port city located in southwestern Finland, celebrated its 775th birthday in 2004. Finland’s oldest city also was its first capital and remains a point of maritime departure for Sweden and other Baltic Sea destinations.

    In 1999, while awaiting the departure of the overnight ferry bound for Stockholm, my friend Barrie and I spent most of a Saturday in Turku, meandering through the clean, efficient city, amazed at a seamless blend of new and old, and discovering that there is beer there, some of it served in intriguing and unexpected places.

    As the home of two universities, Turku boasts a thriving nightlife and numerous restaurants. However, the city’s pubs have been the prime beneficiaries of an “adaptive reuse” strategy of transforming historic public buildings into drinking, dining and entertainment venues.

    We began our drinking day with a beer at the 1920s-era Uusi Apteekki (Apothecary), which has been completely restored as an intimate tavern. The same goes for the nearby Old Bank Public House, with taps located where the money used to be. The Daily News pub once had a tiny microbrewery behind the magazine racks, but now functions solely as a tavern. An architecturally impressive school has been refurbished into a large brewpub, with a beer garden operating amid the swings and slides in the playground.

    Even Turku’s former Puutorin Vessa — the public toilet — has been converted into a place for relaxed imbibing. We sipped beer at the very spot where downtown Turku shoppers and passers-by once relieved themselves. Which way is the toilet in the public toilet bar? You’ll have to go there and find out.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit for more beer.