But there are also the less-hushed and less-formal places, which can be more fun and far less costly. I was tempted by the famous Grand Café in the landmark Grand Hotel on the main street Karl Johan, where Oslo's well-heeled bohemians and writers have gathered for over a century. But the menu prices and solemn ambience gave me pause, and I ended up across the street in a darker, hipper place called Ett Glass - Norwegian for "one glass" - where the excellent sound system was playing Al Green's greatest hits and other soul classics. I had a traditional Norwegian meal (mutton wrapped in cabbage and served in a warm, comforting broth) and two glasses of okay Chilean wine for a total of $40 - quite reasonable by European standards. And the people-watching was fun as Oslo's party crowd fortified themselves before a night at the clubs.
Alcohol is the one commodity that is unquestionably expensive in Oslo. Cocktails start at $13, and wine is also astronomical in cost ($10 to $13), leaving only beer as a reasonably cheap alternative. Many people who go out to clubs at night start their drinking at home to avoid the elevated prices they will pay once they hit the city's nightspots.
It's also possible to avoid the high prices by leaving the generally upscale city center for the evolving neighborhood of Grunerlokka, an easy tram ride or brief walk from downtown. Once the exclusive domain of mill and factory workers, it was known for its dimly lit, serious-drinkers-only pubs. But now, students and young families are moving in, slightly gentrifying the area and giving it a pleasant, scruffy feel. Many new restaurants have opened - trendy places like Coma and Hotel Havana - and prices are a bit more reasonable. The menus are eclectic; tapas and bagels and braised reindeer are available.
Here you can linger over a newspaper or magazine for hours, watching the street life, which is now dominated by young parents pushing baby carriages, stopping every few hundred feet to show their infants off to friends.