The restaurant industry suffered a shock in January when the story broke that Noma, one of the world’s most groundbreaking culinary destinations, will close its doors in 2024. While it is an undisputed blow for Copenhagen’s gastronomic landscape, the Danish capital is bursting at the seams with other talent. Between the pet-nat-pouring restaurants and the classic Michelin-starred destinations, the dining scene continues to create headlines (three-starred Geranium came first in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants last year) but Copenhagen’s cocktail bars are beginning to flourish too, from no-nonsense dive bars to luxurious neighbourhood havens and multi-floor behemoths.
While cocktail-bar culture in Copenhagen may be young compared with other cities, there are bartenders doing work to bring it up to speed. ‘The scene has a good mix between old favourites and some exciting new bars that are pushing the industry forward,’ says Michael Hajiyianni, general manager of Ruby, a contemporary bar housed in a historic building that overlooks the Slotsholmen Canal (he also just won Bartender of the Year at the Norse Bar Show). ‘There are also world-class restaurants in Copenhagen with some very passionate sommeliers, so the wine-bar scene is very strong – perhaps more so than the cocktail one.’ Indeed, Geranium’s Andrea Sala won Best Sommelier of Denmark 2023.
Over at Ruby, Hajiyianni and the team are producing smart but approachable cocktails that change with Denmark’s seasons. For the Ruby team, flavour is the most important element, says Hajiyianni. They work with the best farms and foragers they can find, such as Klippingegaard and Sanketurethe – the latter of which is currently supplying them with sweet cicely, pine shoots and meadowsweet for their summer menu. They also work with fermentation specialist, Meta CPH, which makes barley koji for the team to play around with. ‘From here we like to incorporate different techniques or methods of production so that we are always learning and developing. We also like to offer drinks with different textures to make it interesting for the guest.’
Copenhagen is also the birthplace of some seriously innovative drinks brands. Hajiyianni namechecks Muri, a range of non-alcoholic drinks made using fruits, flowers and teas to produce elegant and characterful wine and cocktail alternatives from their water-side facility near Copenhagen’s Nordhavnstippen park. Elsewhere, Copenhagen Distillery is producing whisky, gin, aquavit and coffee spirits from its base in Nordøstamager. Copenhagen Winery is making vermouth, gin and amaro, alongside fruit wine, flower wine and cider, all using local ingredients from their farm north of the city.
Perhaps one of Copenhagen’s most talked about drinks exports, however, is Empirical, a spirits brands co-founded by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, both previously of Noma, whose original distillery sits in a former shipyard. A cult following has been driving their inventive spirits since 2017, in addition to the duo’s fascination with fermentation and hard-to-categorise spirits made from unlikely ingredients, including plum kernels, Pasilla Mixe chilli and sorghum. They use malts, wheats and yeasts found in other areas of the industry too.
‘The spirits scene has been dynamic in the past 10 years but even more so in the past five,’ says Williams, who has seen a growing number of micro, craft and hybrid distilleries coming to life, with an increased focus on local ingredients and sustainability. ‘There have never been more cross-disciplinary collaborations between distillers and producers, winemakers or brewers. Copenhagen has been a petri dish in that sense for experimentation and innovation.’
And while the distillery has only just recently closed (with production moving to Brooklyn, NYC), the brand’s presence in the Danish capital is far from over: next year, Empirical will be opening its new experience venue for tastings, a full-service cocktail bar, cross-disciplinary events and an R&D space. While spirits and cocktail lovers wait, there are plenty of bars to keep them busy – here are some of the best in Copenhagen.
Six places for cocktail lovers to visit in Copenhagen
Spread across two floors, Ruby is a seasonal cocktail bar serving drinks intended to be as accessible as they are delicious (while also nailing the classics), with ingredients ranging from sea buckthorn and miso, to palo santo and sour cherry. Upstairs, the drawing room-style space is bathed in the sunlight that streams through its generous windows; downstairs, in the old vault, it’s more of an after-hours vibe. This is a beautiful bar with a friendly team and a relaxed atmosphere, making it a place to become a regular.
Found inside the Villa hotel (itself housed within the old Central Post & Telegraph Head Office), T37 is striking. Its name is a nod to the code used by the building’s former post office employees to alert each other that an after-work gathering was happening in the exact same space now occupied by the bar. With a central service bar (where you can chat to the bartenders) as well as banquettes lining the walls, it’s a bit of a beast, and come evening it’s filled with live jazz or DJs. Drinks are experimental but fun: lobster-infused Irish whiskey, sourdough ice cream and nettle tea soda are just a few examples of what to expect.
Walk off the street and into Bar Deco and the place immediately envelopes you in a sophisticated warmth. The noise hums and the energy is buzzy with guests at different stages of their evenings. The bustling bar greets you before you move into cosy corners to enjoy drinks that exude class and watch the bartenders wielding their impressive spirits knowledge. Think clarification, simple garnishes and column ice cubes, mixed with vivid and distinctive flavours, from tea and watermelon to cherry meringue. There’s a bold focus on dark spirits too, like funky Jamaican rums.
Whisky lovers will find nirvana upstairs at Lidkoeb (sister bar to Ruby), which is found in Copenhagen’s famous Vesterbrogade district. More than 200 bottles are at guests’ disposal on Friday and Saturdays but the rest of the week is reserved for cocktails over the buzzy, multi-floor bar. Classics get a contemporary Copenhagen twist here, with the likes of the Cosmo Highballs, Biscoff Old Fashioneds and seasonal Whiskey Sours. Don’t miss one of the house classics either: the Ostero Cola – vodka, Pimm’s, peach liqueur, lemon and Danish favourite, liquorice.
A touch of whimsy comes with a visit to Pulp Bar; the menu alone will keep you entertained. Drinks have fun names, are peppered with interesting ingredients and still look serious: The Freckled Americano comes with Szechuan pepper; the Smash Queen includes peach sorbet and green herbs with grassy rum; Brother Salsa is a Tequila Spritz with tomato tonic water. A nice touch is the cocktails-to-go offering, with bottles and buckets for anyone wanting to continue the party back home.
Anyone who enjoys a soundtrack of jazz played on vinyl with their drinks must visit Bird. This is a spot to also experience classic, technical bartending, alongside of-the-moment flavours and no-nonsense ingredients – spirts are king here and pre-batched cocktails make service seamless. Menus change monthly and seasonally but expect the likes of Melon Cream Soda, Umeshu Martinis and Bonfire Manhattans. And if you really like the cocktails, you can buy a bottle from the bottle shop too. This is low-key chic at its finest.