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January/February 2006 | Cool and Cozy Copenhagen

January/February 2006 | Cool and Cozy Copenhagen

A whirlwind tour of the Danish design capital

Despite its small stature, the bohemian nation of Denmark has often stood fearlessly as an outspoken voice of tolerance for individuals from all walks of life. The trailblazing country was at the forefront of gay rights before they were even up for debate. In 1948, Denmark became one of the first countries to house a gay and lesbian organization; the first gay magazine, Vennen, launched a year later. In 1989, the trendsetting nation hosted the world’s first gay marriage, followed by the first gay adoption (of a partner’s child) in 1999. Because of these progressive attitudes, Denmark is fast becoming a popular destination for gay and lesbian jet-setters. Whether attending the second World Outgames in 2009 or just looking for a relaxing jaunt through a land that was once home to fairy tales and Viking plunderers, there has never been a better time to visit gay Denmark.

Located just north of Germany, the country of Denmark is composed of thousands of islands—all traversable by a network of numerous bridges. The second largest landmass, Zealand, is home to the nation’s capital, Copenhagen, one of the coziest cities in Europe. This isn’t an accident: Cozy (hygge) is one of the Danes’ favorite words. The canals in Nyhavn and Christianshaven are dotted with romantic fishing boats as well as old tall ships; the narrow streets are covered with cobblestones (so, no Chelsea boots, boys). Don’t think cozy is synonymous with small, though. In addition to having one of the liveliest gay and lesbian scenes in Europe, Copenhagen’s wealth of museums, restaurants, and shops is sure to impress the gay traveler.

Copenhagen is a walking town, so it may be best to plan to see the city district by district. Spend a day at the Royal Palace and Opera House, another at Tivoli and the Glyptotek, and a day at the canals in Christiania. The palaces and castles of Copenhagen are well worth a visit, most notably Rosenborg. Built in 1606, Rosenborg was a country estate that later became a storage bin for royal discards. Therefore, one can find the craziest assortment of objects, from rooms piled to the ceiling with Venetian glass to life-size silver lions. The adjoining park, Kings Garden, is the oldest in the city and a great spot to sit and enjoy the grounds’ fountains.

Amalienborg castle is home to the Danish royals, with some interesting sights to see. Directly across the river is the new Opera House, the newest star of Danish design. Take a ferry from the city library (called the “Black Diamond” for its sleek granite exterior) to the Opera House and then to the canals at Nyhavn. “Freetown” Christiania is a must-see. What was once a military barrack was taken over by hippies in 1971 and is still thriving as a partially self-governing counterculture neighborhood. Drop by the self-proclaimed “free state” for a beer and a quiet walk. Notice I haven’t mentioned the Little Mermaid? Don’t bother. Her statue is situated in the industrial area of town and is about as exciting as pickled herring.

Tivoli Gardens amusement park is great fun in good weather. The rides are amusing, but it’s more interesting for the eccentric Victorian architecture. Check local papers to see if there are any concerts scheduled in the park. Famous names tend to drop by. If you are going to visit just one museum, make sure it’s the Glyptotek. Built by the founder of Carlsberg beer, Carl Jacobsen, who had a love for all things classical, the museum boasts an amazing collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek artifacts. There is also an extensive Impressionists collection.

The best time to see all of this is from May to August, the unusually long Danish summer. The sun is out for a glorious 18 hours a day, though even in June you may still need a light sweater. Cross your fingers for a heat wave, because the Danes can’t get out of their clothes fast enough to swim in the Baltic, tan in the royal parks, or dance the night away in their skimpiest shorts and sandals.

Copenhagen can be seen in a couple of days, but you could always book a longer visit to check out some other parts of the country. While in Copenhagen, make sure to take advantage of the lax attitudes: Hold hands, kiss in public, or, hell, get married. This is one of the queerest capitals in Europe. Enjoy.

ESSENTIALS

ACCOMMODATIONS
There are some great hotels in every price range in Copenhagen. The famous Arne Jacobsen–designed Radisson SAS (Hammerichsgade 1, 45-33-426000) is located directly across from Tivoli Gardens and near many bars. For a real fashionista locale, drop your Louis luggage off at the new Saint Petri (Krystalgade 22, 45-33-459100), which has a hopping bar scene at night. Finally, for the überhipster there is no better spot than Hotel Fox (Jarmers Plads 3, 45-33-957755), where each themed room has been decorated by international artists in the fields of graphic design, street art, and illustration.

RESTAURANTS
Copenhagen has a plethora of great eateries. If you are open to it, try to eat regional cuisine. The Danes have some great dishes, like open-faced sandwiches and top-shelf seafood. For high design in decor and menu, try Grisobasovitz (Overgaden neden Vandet 17, 45-32-545408), a restaurant operated by Søren Gericke, the Jamie Oliver of Denmark. Be sure to sit outside for maximum ambiance. Another cozy and unusual option is Bastionen and Løven (Christianshavns Voldgade 50, 45-32-950940), located in a historic home turned museum; the restaurant has a great garden terrace with candles on every table. Try the Lovemad, which is basically a hamburger sans bun. To keep the traditional vibe going, head to gay-owned St. Annae’s restaurant (Sankt Annæ Plads 12, 45-33-125497), located near the royal palace. This is a perfect rest stop to fill up on beer and shrimp before heading out for more sightseeing. Finally, go Asian at Copenhagen’s trendiest new spot, Umami (Store Kongensgade 59, 45-33-387500), but be sure to make a reservation—seating is slim, and the bar bustles nightly.

SHOPPING
Ever since Georg Jensen began hammering out silver in the late 19th century, the Danes have been known as superstars of design, so go wild for silver at Georg Jensen (Amargertorv 6, 45-33-114080), porcelain at Royal Copenhagen (Amargertorv 6, 45-33-137181), and housewares at the chicest department store in town, Illum (Ostergade 52, 45-33-144002). Clothes are not out of the question either. Storm is a downtown destination with all the coolest labels, magazines, and cosmetics; and Acne (Gammel Mont 10, 45-33-939328) is the only place Scandinavians go for denim.

NIGHTLIFE
There is a ritualistic circuit of barhopping that, if followed, guarantees a night of Dutch debauchery. Start off at Oscar Bar (Radhuspladsen 77, 45-33-120999) for swank cocktails, pints of Carlsberg, and an introduction to the gay boys in the city. This culture is very standoffish at first, so if you approach a group and ask what to do and where to go, you may be snubbed. From here, the brigade heads to Scandinavia’s biggest gay club, Pan (Knabrostræde 3, 45-33-113784). The sofas here are as sticky as the bar, so keep to the wild dance floor, where the people from Oscar tend to loosen up a bit. Next on the march is Cosy Bar (Studiestræde 24, 45-33-1274277). This small little discotheque has great music, and during the summer, when the sun hardly sets, the boys spill out onto the streets at 4 a.m. to strip off their crusty club clothes and tan their bodies. Finally, a bar not on the circuit but worth visiting is Centralhjørnet (Kattesundet 18, 45-33118549); this is the oldest gay bar in the city, opened 80 years ago.

GAY INFORMATION
The best-known site is www.copenhagen-gay-life.dk, but www.woco.dk is a broader Web site, with everything you need to know about the city plus a gay and lesbian information page.

GETTING THERE
Scandinavian Airlines is the only airline with direct flights from Newark to Copenhagen. Other airlines with one stop are Iceland air, KLM and Delta

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