Behind the Bar Snap Shot

A Game-Changing Copenhagen Bar

Inside Holmens Kanal | The classic Clover Club

The Danish capital has been the new darling of the food world since a little place called Noma hit the top of the world’s best restaurant lists. Copenhagen’s bars, however, have gotten relatively short shrift. Many of the city’s bars are small, not near the center of town and aren’t producing much in the way of house-made spirits and cocktail ingredients.

Holmens Kanal is a shining exception. The brassy bar opened in late 2013, recreating a classic American cocktail bar from the first golden era of cocktails. Holmens is shifting the way Copenhageners drink—one well-made cocktail at a time.


Holmens Kanal was constructed from an 1863 building that was the country’s first department store. The group ripped the bare bones out of the establishment to create what Altenburg calls, “Art Deco meets Don Draper at Titanic.” To that end, Holmens steers clear of traditional “Scandinavian” light wood and open-fire décor. Instead, the design focus is on mahogany, gold, brass and marble with a 1950s American cocktail vibe, says owner Peter Altenburg.


“We use seasonal ingredients for infusions, syrups and liqueurs,” says Altenburg—like so many of his American cocktail-revivalist brethren. In line with the keep-it-local approach, the absinthe and aquavit served at Holmens are produced in a small town outside of Copenhagen. The gin is made by a Dane in London and comes in four different styles including Geranium—which contains geranium and has notes of rose and licorice, according to Altenburg.


The bar has been instrumental in trying to change local drinking habits. “Danes are very hesitant to go out during the week,” Altenburg says. “But as we are open every day but Sunday, we want to push people to go out instead of entertaining at home.” The bar focuses on low-key, efficient service: No more than 10 guests are standing at a time and generally all of them can have a well-made cocktail in hand within five minutes after chatting with their server. The bar is also trying to tweak locals’ penchant for sugar by using better spirits to create more elegant cocktails. Less citrus is also used in the bulk of the drinks, in hopes of creating “a more crisp, coherent, balanced and layered cocktail.” There are also plans for a food menu. Altenburg notes it won’t be New Nordic.