You Can Hang Out with Huskies at This Café in the World’s Northernmost Town
Café Huskies in Svalbard sells coffee, baked goods, and local art—all while local dogs roam the shop
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Café Huskies runs like any other coffee shop: patrons come in, order chai lattes and slices of poppyseed cake, then sit down to read a book, chat with a friend, or type away on their laptops. But on any given day at this cozy space in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the northernmost town in the world, there are also a couple friendly dogs lounging around.
The dog cafe opened in April on the remote, Norwegian-governed archipelago surrounded by the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. Four Norwegian transplants who all worked together at a Longyearbyen hotel—Martin Fiala, Nicola Bunyan, Iris Dahle Bjørkmann, and Kristina Labunskaite—opened the business to create a homey environment for locals and visitors, who come with the hope of seeing polar bears and the northern lights.
A rotating crew of local dogs—pets that belong to staffers, friends, friends of friends, former colleagues, and other residents—“work” several shifts a week. Their entire job is to bring joy to patrons and create a living room vibe at the cafe. After their human parents drop them off, the pups hang out, alternating between several dog beds, couches, and the floor. They’re also in hot demand for Instagram photos.
Like many good ideas, Café Huskies started as a joke over beers. A few years ago, Fiala read about cat cafes opening up around the world. But cats are banned on Svalbard to prevent the spread of disease and protect local wildlife, so he made an off-hand comment about adapting the concept to dogs. Longyearbyen is home to many dog-sledding companies that lead tours across the Arctic tundra, and travelers seem to really love the huskies on those trips, so the concept felt on-brand.
“I said, ‘Gee, someone should open a husky cafe. That would be really popular,’” says Fiala. “It’s kind of a ridiculous idea. But then I thought about it and decided that it would definitely work.”
At the same time, Bunyan and Labunskaite were also considering opening a boutique to sell the creations of local artists, such as photography prints, knitted items, illustrations, and knick-knacks made from reindeer antlers. When a centrally-located retail space came up for rent, the friends took it as a sign to combine their visions and make them a reality. Bjørkmann, who is from mainland Norway and could help with all the startup paperwork written in Norwegian, also joined in.
They quickly spruced up the space, ordered equipment, and began recruiting dogs to spend time at the cafe.
“We don’t have all these dogs ourselves, so we had to figure something out,” says Fiala. “Basically, we’ve asked friends or colleagues who have dogs if they’d like to bring them in as a kind of dog socializing spot and that’s worked OK so far.”
With a few four-legged volunteers, they began pairing various pets together to see who got along and who didn’t. From those interactions, they’ve crafted a special dog schedule that ensures there’s always one or, ideally, two chummy dogs relaxing at the cafe at any given time. (Because the cafe dogs all have different personalities and tendencies, general customers are not allowed to bring their pets on the premises.)
Whenever he’s scheduled to work, Clooney—a long, lanky, white and gray husky—serves as the official greeter, calmly accepting pats and rubs as customers walk through the front door. There are also DJ and Eminem, two elderly retired sled dogs known for sleeping on the job, as well as Jersey, a sweet female with piercing blue eyes. Tequila, a cheery, all-white five-year-old just had her first litter of puppies. And Stuka, Jeti, Fox, Brun, Gandhi, Thando, Nemi, and R2-D2 also pick up shifts from time to time.
It’s a loose arrangement just for fun in which no money exchanges hands: the pups get plenty of treats, lots of affection and stimulation, and regular walks during each shift. Their humans, meanwhile, get to pick up tired, happy dogs at the end of the day, as well as free coffee and food whenever they come in. Customers can enjoy a few hours of dog-induced contentment.
“We created this really nice, cozy vibe because that’s what we like—we wanted to make this type of place for ourselves and share it with everyone,” says Bunyan. “We want people to feel at home.”