When writing about a place you’ve been to, it’s important that you recreate the atmosphere of that place, so that the one reading can develop a clear picture in their head of how that place is. When faced with writing about Cafe Retro, which is located in the centre of Copenhagen, doing so in a manner that is enjoyable to read while staying truthful is a difficult task. That is mainly because there are two sides to Cafe Retro – the packed place where students come for a beer and a fair share of chit-chat, and the side that offers quiet enjoyable shade from a burning Sunday afternoon sun so rarely seen in the streets of this city.
That first instance happened just a few days after I had moved to Copenhagen. I did not know any streets, no idea about the means of transportation and I knew literally no one in the city. Some failed couch-surfing requests had left me with an invitation to the weekly gathering of the town’s couch-surfing travellers, which that week just happened to be held in this place. I thought it would be boring. To me, all bars and cafes in the old city are the same: overpriced and tacky. But as is always the case, my preconceptions never have anything to do with reality.
After a confusing start, triggered by some people at the door asking for donations of some sort, I managed to locate the menu consisting of a short list of the basics, handwritten in chalk above the bar. The feeble looking list offers bottled or draught beers with prices ranging from 30-50kr, or if you feel like wine the choice is between the 50kr glass and the 120kr bottle. More potent spirits are also available, and the designated drivers have not been forgotten either, with a choice of the most familiar soda drinks, warm drinks and either hot or iced coffee. Some snacks are also available but you truly don’t need anything else.
The place might be one story high but the feeling is very cosy. The whole interior decoration complements the exterior design of the building very well – it is clearly not at its prime, but it feels full of stories and looks like an open invitation to get more familiarized with the place – a simple endeavour. With the menu being so simple, I just had to go and find the crowd of strangers I was due to meet. The place felt like a maze and I couldn’t make out the odd looking door hiding the staircase to the top story.
The top story is regrettably not as cosy as the street level floor. Heavy, cumbersome wooden chairs replaced the well-cushioned sofas, and the matching tables bring back thoughts of German wurstles served at the countryside during a beer festival. But even though the menu doesn’t include any sausages, beer was given! Soon our group grew as more and more people started filling up the place – which is open until 1 am on Friday and Saturdays.
When we began sitting in pairs on a single chair, a bright Californian among us opened the door to salvation: we would not feel crowded anymore, as right behind us was the event room, which can be booked for any purpose without cost, and we were fortunate enough to find it vacant. Our 15-square- metre haven provided us with a well earned feeling of privacy away from the human chaos found elsewhere.
On Sunday I returned, alone and not expecting company. I was just yearning for those relaxing sofas and a coffee table to rest my weary feet on, and perhaps indulge myself with an ice-latte, the specialty this summer for 30kr. There was free Wi-Fi and they even had a laptop I could borrow from the bar. I also managed to strike up a nice conversation with the volunteer bartender, who enlightened me about the people raising funds at the entrance, and how the entire profit from the place is sent to countries in need like Sierra Leone or Tanzania. That helped explain a lot about the essence of the place.
No, it’s not tacky, and no, it’s not overpriced. It’s a place where your beer or wine make a difference in the third world, where the small shop by the entrance sells hand-made souvenirs from Africa, and where any person with an artistic talent can take centre-stage.
Oh yeah, and it’s definitely a prime place to roost when taking in the Jazz Festival.
Knabrostræde 26, 1210 Cph K
Open Tue and Wed 12:00-23:00, Thu 12:00-24:00, Fri and Sat 12:00-01:00, Sun 12:00-23:00, Mon closed,
Drinks prices between 20-70kr