Good vibrations in Vesterbro – a close encounter of a distinctly Irish kind

The Irish pub where the bodega crowd happily mix with the yuppies and theatre-goers on Gammel Kongevej

Almost 14 years ago, Tim Tynan and Tony Kennedy stumbled across a dilapidated, pink-walled workers’ bodega and transformed it into the bar we know today as Kennedy’s Bar. Today, Tim and Tony may look out of place in the trendy Vesterbro district, but their bar takes pride of place.

On the way from Wexford
Tim Tynan originates from a small seaside village in County Wexford, but like so many of his generation he decided to leave Ireland in 1985. His travels took him around the world before he finally settled in Denmark in 1990. Sitting in the kitchen of the bar he co-owns and manages 14 years on, Tynan, sporting a wry smile and one of the flamboyant shirts he collected on his travels, fondly recounts the early days.

So the story goes, Tim met Tony on the football pitch while playing for Copenhagen Celtic, and while they may have been a success on the pitch, the self-described “contrary” Irishman remembers it as a completely different story off it.

Likely lads around town
“We used to hang out in bars around the city,” he noted. “Whether or not I used to pull, I can’t be sure, but I remember it wasn’t very often – I was the unlucky one.” By contrast, he described how it would only take a few mojitos for his partner to come out of his shell: “Tony has the chat and it’s the same in the bar today, he talks to everyone – I can’t compete.”

Aside from scouring the bodegas, the pair worked on building sites and in hotels, but it wasn’t long before they decided to ply a trade closer to their hearts.

“The bar business wasn’t the most difficult thing to get into at the time,” admitted Tynan. “We may not have had that much experience, but we did know what people like in bars, and we did what we thought we could do.”

Their first step was to find a place that suited their budget. They decided on an unlikely location in Vesterbro at the end of Gammel Kongevej. “When we moved in, the whole area was boarded up and run-down, but we liked it,” he recalled. “We knew we were on the edge of town, but it was something that we could afford with good passing trade.”

And the pair knew exactly what they wanted. “We decided to add our own personal touch instead of trying to be a ‘bought-off-the-shelf’ Irish pub as so many are,” he continued. “The bar is a statement of where we are from, and it’s very similar to a country pub in Ireland.”

The times they are a changin’
In the late 1990s the entire Vesterbro district underwent significant urban renewal. Almost overnight the area became trendy. “Old shops were renovated and some very good restaurants, tapas bars and clothes boutiques opened up in the area surrounding Vesterbrogade,” explained Tynan. But despite this transformation, the bar was able to retain its old patrons while recruiting some new ones.

“It was always a working class area and now it’s a yuppy one, but today, we have all walks of life in here,” said Tynan. “We get suits and ties in the evenings, students playing pool during the day, carpenters and labourers, football fans. We have people in their 60s and 70s who come in for an Irish coffee after going to a performance at Den Nye Teater next door. And it’s also a regular haunt for the musicians from the orchestra.”

The song remains the same  
Fresh faces bring fresh challenges, and according to Tynan, some of the new crowd, unlike the stoney-faced regulars, have been known to struggle with their order. “I have been asked for all sorts: Kilkinnes, Kilkennedys – sometimes I’m not sure what to pour. People even come in and ask for Irish pilsner. I have to explain that although we do make pilsner in Ireland, it’s so crap we can’t sell it.”

But far from scoffing over the prospect of new custom, Kennedy’s has adapted and now stocks beers, ales and ciders from all over the world. Despite this, the old stalwart Guinness, which is widely claimed to be the best pint in town, is a clear favourite and still accounts for 50 percent of the bar’s sales.

In addition to the black stuff, Kennedy’s also boasts a regular international comedy night, a monthly quiz and a trad music session every Friday. For Tynan however, it is the atmosphere that keeps bringing people back.

“It’s intimate – if you come in here you can’t avoid meeting other people. The bar is so small that at some point you are going to get in someone’s way and be forced into a confrontation – luckily enough, 99 times out of 100, they are good confrontations!”