Ernest Hemingway once said that if you really want to taste the local culture and find out about a city, you should spend a night in one of its bars.
Well, thanks for the directions, Ernest! Any specific instructions, or do you want me to meander around the city centre, like the old woman of the Strøget perhaps, desperately trying to reel in the marlin of drinking holes?
But then again, Hemingway tended to know what he was talking about when it came to bars, and it was on Valkendorfsgade, one of Strøget’s quiet cobblestone side-streets, where I found Balderdash, a city institution that reopened four months ago.
Greeted by a man wearing a leather apron, who hung up my jacket and scarf in an old yet classy closet, I instantly felt comfortable. I was served a glass of cold water (appreciated if you’ve just biked there), which gave me an immediate sense I was being well looked after.
I felt like I had time: that I didn’t need to rush my order and could instead warm up, relax and soak in the surroundings and atmosphere. Almost as if I was being encouraged to collect my thoughts.
Steeped in ‘your’ history
And if those walls could talk! Housed in a building that dates back to the 1730s, it has a long chequered history of entertaining the city’s drinkers that seeps from every pore.
Founded by one of Copenhagen’s first ever Jewish immigrants, it was arguably the first bar for internationals, and for a while at the start of the 20th century, perhaps fittingly, it was the only place in the city to have a telephone (although I’m not sure how popular it was with people trying to escape their wives).
Today, it is owned by a New Yorker living in Denmark who wanted to revive its former glory. He has overseen a complete makeover of the place to preserve its origins and stay true to the old atmosphere.
Incorporating many of the hygge elements of Copenhagen that so many outsiders find charming – antique Danish cabinets, old telephones, a cosy fireplace and (most importantly) neon signs – Hemingway would know from the moment he entered that he had made the right choice and stay until (for whom?) the last orders toll.
A team effort
The menu, which is in Danish and English, is only a guideline, as they can pretty much prepare anything you crave, with a little touch of their own. Want to be surprised? Just ask for it!
That’s what I did. For starters, I had something simple and fresh. Rum with lime juice served in a chilled glass. Strong but delicious, and complemented by pork scratchings. Be careful, you will be addicted after just one bite.
Next came their Banana Daiquiri. I’ve tasted several daiquiris, but never this kind. Think ice-cream in a glass with a hint of cinnamon. Divine.
And it got better. Their White Russian was the best I ever tried. Made of bacon-infused vodka – made in their own cocktail lab – with coffee liqueur and cream, if you have a sweet-tooth, you will adore it.
Hemingway would be happy
As the evening progressed, I remembered Hemingway’s advice, and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that sampling a city’s flavour wouldn’t be a question of what a bar might have or have not, but more what experience it would allow.
“It’s not about the drink, but the drinker”, says Balderdash and they’re really on to something. They’re not afraid to let you take control. If he was alive today, Hemingway would be in his element.
Valkendorfsgade 11, Cph K; open Wed-Sat 17:00-02:00; balderdash.dk