After checking in to our extremely compact room in Copenhagen (“you’ll find a towel, blanket and pillow for the second person in a drawer under the bed”), we decided to find a local establishment for dinner. The modern phone is an amazing tool for this as it allows you to locate restaurants within walking range, and even get a sense of their menu and pricing and how others have reviewed them.
We identified a candidate and walked the few blocks through the new winter night to find it. The European style bistro seemed just right for the occasion, so we entered and immediately found ourselves inside the coat check room. We weren’t sure we wanted to surrender our coats; it might be cold or drafty in there, but there was no option. All coats were checked; we were told that there simply wasn’t enough room inside.
This made me wonder about their dining room density, and as we passed the coat check gateway into an old-world-styled room with marble panels and other architectural accents, we could see that the tables were indeed close together. The room was only partly occupied by dinner guests, but was already quite loud, festive chatter echoing off the hard surfaces. We had no reservation; this seemed to surprise the waiter and he had to check if there were any tables available. We were led around a corner of the room to where a piano player was trying to remain relevant in the din, pounding out Christmas themed tunes.
The waiter realizes he doesn’t have a table for us in the back, but we are in luck; there is one in the front, so we are led back to a table just next to the coat check entry, where each opening of the outer door reminds us of the cold we had escaped and the disallowed option to keep our winter wraps.
We are glad to not be adjacent to the piano, but it is still too loud for casual conversation. We are intrigued by the boisterous guests who seem to be mostly men. Are they getting together after work? It is the Friday before Christmas, are these holiday parties?
A group of five men are seated immediately behind us. They are in fine spirits, telling jokes and stories at high volume, trying to upstage one other and proving their hilarity by loud guffaws and hollering. This seems likely a continuation of a drinking party that started elsewhere and has moved on to its next venue, perhaps for something to eat. Platters of appetizers are delivered as they pour shots from some bottle of spirits and synchronously bolt them down, followed by beers all around.
Next to us, in our special section, a young man and his date are striving to make the best of it, but this date will be a failure; there is no way to have an intimate conversation here, and with each explosion of jokes at the table behind us, they roll their eyes and suffer through what would otherwise have been a fine meal.
Poldi and I too cannot converse meaningfully. But this is not our first date, and our mutual curiosity about this culture keeps us intrigued. We wonder how the evening will progress.
The room has now filled up, all of the tables more than fully occupied. The coat check woman has managed to fill her double-decker coat closet. A few women have joined the population of the room, holding their own and adding to the decibel level, but in a higher register.
Suddenly, one of the tables breaks out into a drinking song. After a stanza has rung out, they are joined by the “big five” behind us. The song ends in a hearty “Skol!”, and everyone in the room drinks up.
Our meals are substantial and tasty—duck with fruit, roast pork, accompanied by pickled red cabbage, potatoes, gravy, and other Danish accoutrements. We trade samples from our plates but are unable to exchange much information about them. The young couple next to us has ordered a chocolate cake dessert. If I were on that date, I would have suggested finding dessert elsewhere.
The five boisterous men depart their table and the volume is incrementally lower for a moment. But they are only gone for as long as it takes to smoke a cigarette outside. Meanwhile, our waiter comes by with the check. We are somehow able to ask him about the busy evening, and we understand him to say that this will continue until 5 AM.
The check includes the tip for the coat check, so we collect our pre-paid coats and head outside to the clear crisp air where the noise level on the street fails to exceed the ringing in our ears. This is how Danes welcome the winter solstice!