A unique piece of Danish culture is disappearing – the local pub. At the end of the 1980s there were over 1,000 pubs in Copenhagen. Today just over 200 are left. Two authors and a photographer have visited them all. See some of the most striking Copenhagen’s last local pubs and hear about their secrets and oddities in a new exhibition at the Museum of Copenhagen – afterwards you may want to visit some of them yourself.
Smoky surroundings and welfare office
Enjoying a beer in smoky surroundings has been replaced by a drinking a cortado with oat milk at one of Copenhagen’s new outdoor cafés, and these days the emblems of biker gangs are outnumbered by hipster lumberjack shirts. As urban renewal reaches into every nook and cranny of the city, Copenhagen’s old pubs either disappear or change into something else. But being a regular is still an important part of some Copenhageners’ lives. The local pub also functions as a welfare office, drop-in center, family and home.
Places of stories and secrets
Copenhagen’s pubs are places of stories and secrets as dark as the murkiest stout. But they’re also full of laughter and life that can last until the small hours seven days a week. Some of the pubs have Christmas decorations they’re reluctant to take down. Others are full of baubles of other kinds. Regardless of the décor, every single one of them has a story to tell.
This exhibition presents edited excerpts and photographs from the bestseller book ‘Stamsteder – Københavns sidste værtshuse’ (The Local – Copenhagen’s Last Pubs). The book’s authors Anders Højberg Kamp and Johannes Jacobsen and photographer Thomas Skou visited every old pub in town. The museum has chosen 14 of them from 14 different areas of Copenhagen.
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Youngsters and oldies, philosophers and cokeheads, alcoholics and celebrities, there’s room for everyone at the bar whether they want to quench their thirst with a single beer or drink to forget. As long as the punters don’t resort to fisticuffs or cross the fine line between charming tipsiness and looking for trouble.
Case: Nørrebro – one of 14 different areas of Copenhagen
There might be less pubs in Nørrebro – a traditional old Copenhagen working class neighbourhood close to the city centre – than in the good old days when there were hundreds. There’s not that many left in central Nørrebro or east of Jagtvej, but if you head west they’re still alive and kicking.
Sorte René (Dark René) at Nørrebro
Choosing to name his pub after René was an obvious choice for Frank. René had been a regular at Café Ægir where Frank used to be the bartender.
“He had a catchy name, but he was in a bad way. He was an ex-junkie and shoplifter, so he got called Sorte René [Dark René] because there wasn’t much light on the horizon. He took too many drugs, only had half a finger left, and had lost half a leg to gangrene. Naming the pub after him was a way to give him something brighter, and he actually came to the opening party,” Frank says at a table with two bottles of Carlsberg as garage rock mixes with the din of the pub’s gaming machines.
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There was even an interview with René in the local newspaper. He told the journalist that he’d discovered the no. 66, went right to the door of the pub, so he didn’t have to take a taxi or get there on his crutches.
“But he never did take that bus. The last time I saw him was when he did that interview. He never came back,” Frank says.
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Frank’s mates have been given free rein to decorate the walls of the pub. Once someone came with a huge piece of art from the Youth House at Jagtvej 69. It now hangs left of the entrance. Frank also tells us that there have been times when they’ve set the floor on fire and ignited hydrochloric acid bombs inside.
“Why would you do that in your own pub?”
“For kicks. I couldn’t give a damn. We like a bit of action around here.”
Photo exhibition: The Local – Copenhagen’s Last Pubs
December 1st 2022 – February 28th 2023
Curator Regitze Lindø Westergaard
Copenhagen’s Last Local Pubs, based on a press release from Visit Denmark
All images © Thomas Skou