March 24th-25th 2018
2016 was the year when The Belated Birthday Girl and I went on our Nordic Expedition: a two-week trek around Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Turku and Helsinki. The inspiration behind that route, as you may already know, was that each of those five cities had a new BrewDog bar we could visit. But as I noted in the Oslo section of the report, we already knew we'd have to come back at some point: "in between our making the bookings and going on the holiday, the buggers opened a sixth bar in an awkwardly-located bit of Sweden. We're saving that one for another time."
Easter 2018 was that other time. So over the next four posts, join us on Nordic Expedition II. It's shorter than the first one, but it somehow covers four countries rather than three, including one neither of us have been to before. There are more BrewDog bars, plus most of our usual distractions like food, music, movies, art and lots more. Plus, rather like our holidays in both 2016 and 2017, they're introduced on this site with a video of something on fire. Unlike those years, though, I won't keep you in suspense over where the fire was - it was in Copenhagen, the first stop on NEII.
We're visiting five cities in total, and - rather like last time - we've got a slightly fancy hotel lined up for the last one. So for the hotels leading up to that splurge, we've gone a little budgety, particularly as we're only staying for one night in some of them. Take, as an example, the WakeUp Copenhagen on Carsten Niebuhrs Gade, just a few minutes walk away from Central Station once you’ve worked out the right exit to take. The rooms come in several price tiers, and we've gone for one of the middle ones, Heaven (so called because they're a few storeys higher up than the less expensive Sky rooms, and give you a slightly better view over the city). Sure, to get the price down to this level you have to pay for a couple of things that would normally come as standard, such as our bedtime cup of tea or the ability to store your luggage in between checkout and you leaving the city. But all the stuff you need in a hotel room is there, and it's surprisingly well designed despite the lack of frills.
For those of you who remember Nordic Expedition I, one of the changes you'll need to be aware of this time round is a biggie: not every city we're going to visit has a BrewDog bar. It's not for the want of trying, though - Copenhagen has been on their shortlist of locations for some time now, as craft beer has become quite a big thing here. We're only here for a Saturday night and a Sunday morning, but we still get to visit four different beer joints in that time, and might even have squeezed a fifth in after midnight if we hadn't been ready for bed at that point. (For the record, it would have been the brewpub Warpigs.)
One of the places we encounter is more or less by accident - the map of Copenhagen we get from the WakeUp's reception has a small advert for a 61-tap craft bar called Taphouse, and I spot it out of the corner of my eye during our early evening walk down Strøget. It's pretty much as advertised: a modern-looking beer bar with a relaxed atmosphere and a staggering range of beers. Our enthusiasm is tempered only by the discovery that thanks to a recent tap takeover, at least 20 of the 61 taps are dedicated to the work of Wild Beer from Shepton Mallet, which we can literally get back home. We stick with beers from a couple of Danish breweries instead, Dry And Bitter and Brewify.
We head over to Vesterbro, walking in the shadow of the biggest Danish brewer of them all. But close to the Carlsberg brewery are a couple of places owned by their equivalent in the craft world, Mikkeller. I've complained in the past that some of their beers are closer to peculiar science experiments rather than things you'd actually want to drink, but it would seem rude to not pay them a call in their home country. We have dinner at Ramen to Biiru, which as the name suggests almost exclusively serves Japanese ramen and Mikkeller beer (although one of the beers we have on the night is a guest IPA from the aforementioned Warpigs). The ramen is ordered from a ticket machine like it would be in Japan, and comes in a number of variations: The BBG's spicy veg miso ramen ticks all of her required boxes, while my Electric Bjergso is a lot hotter than I was expecting but still tasty. The decor is a bit like the film Isle Of Dogs in restaurant form, cramming the maximum number of Japanese design cliches into the smallest amount of space: from a beer vending machine on the back wall, to a giant Pikachu hanging from the ceiling. But somehow it transcends the cultural appropriation to create an atmosphere all of its own.
On the wall at Ramen to Biiru, there's a map suggesting a possible bar crawl, taking in all the Mikkeller-owned properties in Copenhagen as well as those of some of its friends (yep, Warpigs again). We have late-night plans, so the only one we get to visit is the original Mikkeller Bar itself, which I'd been to before on a previous work trip. I'd forgotten just how tiny the place is, particularly when compared against its other Copenhagen relative Mikkeller and Friends. And, of course, going there at peak time on a Saturday night doesn't really help. Still, after a few minutes hovering we manage to get a table, where we can relax with our Ginger Brett IPA and Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse. It's fun seeing a much wider range of people than you'd find in your usual English craft beer bar: the table next to us has two middle-aged couples playing a hand of poker, in a much classier version of the hipsters playing Cards Against Humanity you'd find at BrewDog Camden.
Those three count as a very satisfying crawl for a Saturday night (and they aren't even the main focus of the evening, as you'll see). We also have a bar lined up for first thing on Sunday morning, mainly because we've decided to skip the WakeUp's breakfast for something a little fancier. Surprisingly, our excursion to Brus is the only time we need to fork out for a bus ticket - everything else we've done in Copenhagen has been within walking distance of the hotel. It's located in Nørrebro, an area which seems to be undergoing rapid redevelopment if the prevalent ‘fuck off hipsters’ graffiti is anything to go by. Acknowledging the irony, we take pictures of the graffiti and then head down the road for brunch. Brus is a combination of brewpub and restaurant, and at 11am on a Sunday it's more the latter, with the usual poached egg options enlivened by being served on traditional Danish black bread. But you can see the relaxed atmosphere change ever so slightly at noon when the metaphorical covers come off the taps, and you can make the logical transition to Breakfast In America, a chewy breakfast stout they've brewed in collaboration with To Ol and Mondo.
But apart from that return bus ticket, our 24 hours in Copenhagen are spent just walking around looking at stuff, with The BBG tracking down her old haunts from the 1990s and seeing how much they've changed. Right this minute, it has to be said, Copenhagen is a city neither of us would recognise, as the centre of it is largely a building site. The metro system (still retaining the shortest web address I've ever encountered, m.dk) is undergoing major work, with tunnels being dug for a new circle line, making the centre of town look a lot like Riyadh did when I went there last year. I'm sure it'll be great when it's finished: in the meantime, the city is trying to make the best of it, setting up elevated viewing platforms so that you can see the depth of the holes for yourself.
Ignore all the holes and the fencing, and Copenhagen is still a fine city to wander around on a Saturday evening. Inevitably, there are large crowds of drunk men doing the same thing: it appears that the fashionable wear on Danish stag nights is a pair of accessorised trousers that make you look like you're being carried by a gnome. (Last week I saw something similar in the wild in London, so maybe I've been failing to notice them all this time, or just assumed they were real gnomes.) We roll down the pedestrian street Strøget, weaving down side streets if anything catches our eye, get as far as the harbourside restaurants at Nyhavn, and then head back again, enjoying the view as the sun goes down.
Our main plan for the evening requires actual darkness, so once our craft crawl is complete we head to the pleasure gardens at Tivoli. We went there during the daytime on our Christmas 2007 visit, purely for the rides and the restaurants. But at night, it's a different story: and we've managed to accidentally time our visit for the opening night of the summer season, for added excitement. Despite that, it's much less crowded than we'd expected - we'd bought advance entry tickets from the website, but there weren't any queues at the gate. The small number of people makes it feel like you're doing something slightly naughty even being there, and it's fun to see the rides and the buildings all lit up. But there are two major events we're actually here for: a lakeside light show at 10.45pm, and fireworks one hour after that, just before the midnight closing of the complex.
The light show - or at least what we get to see of it - feels curiously familiar: I think we may have caught it in 2007, but again that would have been in broad daylight. You can imagine the kitsch appeal of the combination of lasers, smoke and water effects, but sadly we pick a bad place to watch it and end up with processions of people barging in front of us and spoiling our view. (The trick appears to be to get yourself on the bridge over the lake as early as possible, and punch anyone who tries to make you move.) The fireworks are thankfully much better, and easily watchable from the benches in front of the main stage, as you can see from the video extract at the top of the page. Like all the best displays, they finish with the organisers spunking away 50% of their fireworks in the final ten seconds. Hopefully they've got some left over for the rest of the summer season, as they're apparently doing this every Saturday night till September.
Anyway, that's Copenhagen. Next stop is the bridge, as seen on The Bridge...