Dive Bars and Dice Games… How To Fall In Love With Copenhagen
The first thing that greets you when you walk through the front door of the Eiffel Bar in Christianshavn is… another, slightly more sinister looking metal door. Open this one though, and you’re met with air that’s as thick with smoke as it is with conversation. Copenhagen’s bodegas still allow smoking inside – weirdly, bars under 40 square metres are not subject to the smoking ban (provided they’re not serving food). It’s quite a thick smog and a heady atmosphere to walk into, especially when you’re coming in from the wide, clean, unpolluted streets of Copenhagen. But once your olfactory sensibilities adjust and you’re sitting with a 20 kroner beer in front of you, you’ll start to realise that you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bodegas are the ultimate dive bars, true ‘old man’ pubs – small and smoky, with low lights, low ceilings, and most importantly if you’re visiting Copenhagen on a budget – low prices. Those 20 kroner beers (around €2.70) are about as cheap as you’ll find in Copenhagen, a place where I am ashamed to say I’ve been stung – in more than one bar – paying around €8 for a depressingly normal pint. In a notoriously expensive city, these Bodegas are like smoky little oases for those of us who drink enough beer to make €8 a pint simply unthinkable. So it’s unsurprising that they’ve really caught on in recent years. If you’re in Copenhagen on a budget, the bodegas are for you.
It’s about 6:15 when we walk through that second metal door and as yet, the after-work ‘trendy’ (sorry) crew hasn’t arrived at the Eiffel, but my Copenhagen companion Marie-Louise assures me they will. Right now, a few groups of older men are drinking beers and puffing cigars, and there’s a jukebox in the corner playing Thin Lizzy. So far so good. The service is fast and friendly, and it’s happy hour until 7pm so those 20 kroner beers are actually only 17. And there’s only one thing to do when you find beer this cheap in Copenhagen…
Danish drinking games.
Marie-Louise heads to the bar and comes back with three leather cups full of dice, announcing that we are going to learn how to play both Meyer and Snyd. Apparently everyone plays them here, and it’s not unusual for total strangers to ask to join you, or for two groups to join together to play. Both games are great craic, but in my opinion Snyd (called Liar’s Dice in English) is definitely more fun, so I’ll attempt to tell you how to play it.
Basically, it’s a game that perfectly marries probability with bare-faced lies. Each player has five dice in a leather cup. You give the cup a shake and place it upside down in front of you, with the dice hidden underneath.
You can look at your own ‘hand’, and judging by what’s in front of you, make a guess at a quantity of a particular face value of dice in the whole game. Ones are ‘wild’, so they can take on the value of whatever you like. So, if I’ve rolled two ones, two fours and a six, I could say that the ones are now fours, so I technically have four fours. I could then bid quite confidently that out of fifteen dice in the whole game there are, say, eight fours in total (remember, everyone else’s ones will count as fours too).
The next player can either raise this bid by betting that there are nine fours, or they can stick with 8 of something – but that something has to be a face value higher than fours (eight fives/sixes). Or, they can challenge my bet and we all have to show our dice. If there are eight or more fours, the person who challenged me has to drink, and they lose one of their dice. If there are fewer than eight fours, I drink and lose a die. And so the game goes. When all your dice are gone, you drink, and you’re out of the game until the next round.
Does that make sense? I don’t know how well I’ve explained this, but I hope you get the idea. There are better instructions out there if you’re interested. Rounds continue and people lose their dice and eventually there are two people left in the game who have to bluff/big against each other, with very little room for bluffing. Last person with dice left is the winner, the other one drinks. The winner probably drinks too, to be fair.
Then if you’re anything like us, you start all over again.
The point is, it gets a lot more fun as the dice get fewer and the players get drunker. Before we know it, the bar is full of young people. They’re all drinking beers, putting tunes on the jukebox, laughing and playing dice, and it’s lovely. One of them wants to join us. Kristian is a funny, typically good-looking young Dane with a lovely little grumpy-old-man dog called Perro, who he rescued and took back to Denmark from Spain (this should give you an idea of what kind of a person Kristian is). We play round after round, and we drink round after round, and we’re all in tears laughing, and I suddenly get that feeling that you get when you’re away and you realise you’ve fallen for a place.
My favourite part about that feeling, when it hits, is that it rarely happens when you’re staring at a famous landmark or visiting a museum. By all means, go to see the Little Mermaid statue (she’s nice if a little moody looking, but who can blame her). Do the tours and see the ‘must-see’ stuff, whatever city you go to. But those aren’t always, or even often, the moments where you get that real ‘sense’ of a place that make you love it.
Those moments happen when you’re half-cut and talking to a lovely old Jack Russel terrier in a tiny little bodega while trying to lie to people about what dice you’re hiding under your cup. This is that ‘hygge‘ thing that’s so cherished here. And this what I really love about Copenhagen – dice games and awesome, friendly, open people who will just come over and join you for a few rounds. And cheap beers in dive bars.
Oh, all that, and the burgers at Grillen, which is just a few minutes walk from the Eiffel Bar, and the perfect place to satisfy a proper beer-hunger. In a city where the food is excellent but expensive, Grillen is like a beefy beacon, calling in the hungry and the budget conscious with its towering hamburgers, awesome curly fries and dips for just 89 kroner (for the whole meal). Go here for some seriously satisfying soakage once you’ve had your fill of beer. I got the habanero dip because I was showing off, but honestly the aioli and chilli mayo dips are better with chips. You’ve been warned.