Nourish & Refresh in Copenhagen:
Kaffe Baren’s curb side seats outside are right in the heart of the city’s old red light district – Istegade. This is where you come for all your kinky needs… and also if you want to score some cocaine. Grab a tea and watch Copenhagen’s more rough and ready inhabitants go about their business and if you are lucky you might be joined by one of the locals for a long and fascinating chat about the welfare in place for recovering drug addicts – it was also my first time meeting someone from Greenland. The benches are perfectly positioned to catch some mid-afternoon sun, too.
If this does not sound like your notion of fun, Kaffe Baren’s interior is snug and constructed of a mismatch of furniture, interesting things on the brick walls and has a good selection of homemade cakes.
On the corner of Birkegade & Elmegade is a quiet little junction – home of the Laundromat café. On first glance one is reminded of the Breakfast Club in London – colourful, unfancy and fun – and this café also boasts what seems to be a very popular brunch menu. The large, industrial sized washing machines opposite the toilets are not just for show: you can do your laundry here and combine it with a book or a chat with friends.
Being fragile and hungover on that particular Sunday evening, I chose a terrace table in the cool open air, where I could observe the hipsters and beautiful people of Nørrebro, wrapped up in lots of red blankets with a cup of Earl Grey. Right next door is Malbeck, a wine bar that also serves delicious sounding tapas.
Dyrehaven – literally The Animal Park – is café by day, watering hole by night. A great location on the corner of Sønder Boulevard (a minute’s cycle from Kødbyen) with outside tables and an inside which has plenty of deer heads on the walls. It comes with that individual and cosy feel that almost most establishments in Copenhagen have a knack of pulling off. Come here for a hearty lunch that is traditional and satisfying. Smørrebrod are the Danish open faced sandwiches that make the British sandwich of two pieces of sliced bread with a paltry amount of filling look embarrassing and anemic. Here slices of rye bread come heaped with potato, chives, salad, sour cream and smoke herring – a meal I still fantasise about regularly. They also have meat dishes, salads and soup and a breakfast/brunch menu.
In the meat packing district itself is a very small counter – open from 3pm onwards – with only a couple of tables and chairs outside (the majority of people get their food to go). Here you come for Danish specialties like fish balls, pork cutlets and mash potato and also some terrific sandwiches. You would not think it by its appearance, but Kødbyen’s Deli makes the best salad I have ever eaten. A large portion of excellent quality vegetables – beautifully presented, too – topped with salmon and dill, seeds and whatever dressing you choose. It comes with a chunk of fresh seeded bread. One thing the Danes never fail at is making superb bread. Come to Kødbyen’s deli if you are very hungry and in need of some wholesome comfort food at a very good price. Dishes are all made fresh every day.
Half way between Fredriksberg on the way to Nørrebrogade one gets to Jægersborggade. A small little street filled with boutiques, art shops, cafes, bakeries and a slagter (butcher). Perhaps the Copenhagen version of Garosu-gil (literally: tree lined street) in Seoul, albeit with a wholly different vibe. Jægersborggade is quiet and the establishments cute and tiny.
Klaedefabrikken sells pretty pieces of hand made jewllery and other bits and bobs. Right next door Meyers bageri does all those delicious Nordic treats like cinnamon buns and brunsviger – a relatively simple affair of light, brioche type bread topped with brown sugar and butter drizzle. Lagkagehuset is also a must for the pastry-fiend – the black-interiored, high-end bakery has many shops around town.
For the coffee connoisseurs, Coffee Collective is as haute-café as it comes in terms of the range and quality they offer. Beans are roasted and ground on site and I – the coffee hater – even went back to try a rare Panamanian variety at their newly opened Fredriksberg shop, where resides the queen bee of coffee roasters.
If its good tea you prefer, Retro café a few doors down does a wonderful blend of loose tea (how tea should be prepared). Retro is a non-profit café and as the name suggests, is full of kitsch furniture and knick-knacks from the 80s-90s. Super for spending hours in conversation.
The Assistens Cemetery is right opposite Jaegersbrogade and makes a lovely location to take a walk or a rest – coffee and bun in hand.
Denmark comes in fourth in the world coffee consumers per capita at 8 kg per person per year. That’s behind Finland (12kg), Norway (9.9kg) and Iceland (9kg). As a result coffee and café culture is something Copenhagen has down, in summer and winter. Why stay miserable in the dark months when you can sip good coffee and eat cake in a warm coffee shop. Tea people can also take delight in the fact that one can find a decent cup of tea almost everywhere in Copenhagen. At worst good quality tea that comes in a silk tea bag; at best interesting blends of loose tea that come served in a proper pot.
They rarely make tea shops and tea rooms like Tante T anymore. The main shop and salon is on Vesterbrogade, with a smaller boutique in the meat-packing area. Those oriental opium smoking colonial days brought to mind at Madam Chu’s bar are also recalled at Tante T, with its herbal smells, china cups and pots and large tins of loose tea. An impressive range of different blends to suit every appetite (green, red, black, white, herbal, liquorice, berry) is available in small glass jars that one can open and smell before committing to. Particularly awesome are their Caramel Green Tea, Triple Liquorice and Almond Rooibos varieties.
If you like art and take that love to using yourself as a human canvas, then Brightside Tattoo is for you. Knowing a good place to get inked takes insider knowledge, and a newcomer to Copenhagen in search of their next insignia will be surrounded by parlours on most street corners. Finding the right tattoo artist is like finding your perfect yoga teacher – what’s works for one person won’t be suit another and you just have to be plain lucky. Fortunately I had both insider knowledge and serendipity in my favour to guide me to BrightSide tattoo on that given Thursday.
A pretty wooden helm with a heart at its centre hangs outside the shop, which sits happily next to the canal in Christianshavn. Step down into a mahogany rich interior that could double as a mini-museum for all its odd artefacts and tattoo-inspired art. None of the clinical and sterile air that typifies most tattoo institutions I had visited before. Esther was my tattooist – a guest artist from Chicago. I was her last customer before she flew back Stateside and that evening was the last in Copenhagen before we both flew off: her home, me to Russia.
Another other way to accesorise oneself is to buy clothes.
1950s fashion gets a sexy makeover at Dixie Grey with waist-cinching polka dot dresses, skirts and cute tops Bettie Boop style at Dixie Grey – definitely for the girlie girls out there. Further down on Istegade is Donnya Doll which has beautiful designs by local designers and good music on the stereo. A visit here will make you want to buy everything, so be warned.
For a retail binge you can go a few doors down to one of Moss Copenhagens’ branches for some classic cool that is hard to find in London. Simple colours meet funky cuts at very, very reasonable prices. You can get another example of fine Danish made couture at Dansk boutique. Of the quirkier variety – perhaps an independent equivalent of Joy – it also does some great jewellery.
Copenhagen is home to a high concentration of so called hipsters and Prag vintage shop on Vesterbrogade is exceptionally well stocked to cater for any ironic/retro/baggy knitwear needs. On the occasion I went in, there were a lot of would-have-been great purchases: not bad for a second hand shop.
N.B: to get maximum enjoyment out of the above, it is not advised to be in a hungover state.