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SEURAHUONE TURKU – OR "SOCIS" AS THE LOCALS KNOW IT – A HOTEL WITH CHARACTER IN THE HEART OF TURKU SINCE 1928
An example of 1920s classicism, the building and its interiors were designed by renowned architects Erik Bryggman and Ilmari Ahonen. The exterior and interior of the hotel show influences of antiquity, while the amenities were among the most modern for its time – some of the rooms even had private bathrooms! The ground floor had commercial space, and the wing on the Eerikinkatu side of the building housed private residences.
Seurahuone opened during Prohibition, an era that saw restaurants turn to entertainment to draw in customers.
The hotel's profile was that of an upscale establishment. To keep things running smoothly, the hotel needed a whole heap of people – many with their own special areas of expertise, from slicing bread to making coffee. It was a place frequented by the cream of local society. At the end of the 1960s, the property underwent extensive renovation and renewal work under the ownership of Pohjoismaiden Yhdyspankki (Nordic Union Bank). Around town, the new look was described as elaborate and elegant.
In 1971, Seurahuone was acquired by Turku Cooperative Society. The hotel now invested in striking themed restaurants, drawing inspiration from everything from wild jungles to mysterious Arabian nights.
People in Turku still tell stories about Socis and its downstairs bar at street level – about the special atmosphere and the discreetness of the staff that was quite unique. When customers from the banking world came in with their clients, the bar's legendary bartender Veijo and his colleagues would tend to them with great ease and discretion; they remembered every regular's favourite drinks and were oblivious to whatever was being said or done in business negotiations.
Nightclubs became an important part of Finnish restaurant culture in the 1970s and the 1980s. In the early years of the 1980s, Seurahuone's Ladyhill was "the number one haunt for night crawlers". After Ladyhill came the famous Club Socis, which had DJs to keep the party people entertained and also featured Finnish top artists during the early part of the week.
It says something about the versatility of Seurahuone that while people were partying away at the club, the head and mistress of the cold kitchen,Tyyne, was busy at work in the main kitchen with her staff, putting together amazing buffet spreads for example for ship delivery ceremonies at the local shipyard. Tyyne was known for her bravura ice cream sculptures, large pieces she would carve out in the shape of ships and such in the hotel's cold room. The sculptures were lit up from the inside and carried by the waiting staff into the room, with the lights dimmed, always to the great excitement of the party guests. In 1987, Seurahuone reopened after a complete refurbishment. The number of guest rooms was doubled to 131.
Following the refurbishment, Seurahuone was marketed as a high-end hotel with a gourmet restaurant. The new-look interiors were created by Swedish sculptor Lars Liedegren, with rooms decorated in American, oriental and Italian styles. The hotel also launched a new concept, Brilliant Service, where the focus was on catering to the individual needs of customers. Hotel guests could, for example, choose a room that came equipped with an exercise bike or a private solarium.
Too much ahead of its time, the Brilliant Service concept did not catch on. However, Seurahuone has since found its natural niche as an Original Sokos Hotel and now offers the cosiest hotel environment in town, together with good food and drink at the Sevilla & Co bistro, and cheerful and attentive service throughout.