CAFÉS AND RESTAURANTS

THE most interesting thing, to the complete stranger, in a large
foreign city that does not live on its own past is not the museums, but
the restaurants and cafés, even in the dead season. We were told that
August was the dead season in Copenhagen, and that all the world was at
the seaside resorts. We had, however, visited a number of Danish seaside
resorts, and they were without exception far more dead than Copenhagen.
In particular Marienlyst, reputed to be the haunt of fashion and
elegance, proved to be a very sad, deserted strand. Copenhagen was not
dead.

We went for our first dinner to Wivels Restaurant, signalized to us by
authority as the finest in Denmark, a large, rambling, crimson-and-gold
place, full of waiters who had learned English in America, of
hors-d’ouvre, and of music. The hand was much better than the food, but
it has to be said that we arrived at half-past seven, when Danish dinner
is over and Danish supper not begun. Still, many middle-class people
were unceremoniously and expensively eating–in the main hors-d’ouvre.
The metropolitanism of Copenhagen was at once apparent in this great
restaurant. The people had little style, but they had the assurance and
the incuriousness of metropolitans, and they were accustomed to throwing
money about, and to glare, and to stridency, and to the idiosyncrasies
of waiters, and to being in the swim. Wivels might show itself on
Fifth Avenue or in the Strand without blushing. And its food had the
wholesale, crude quality of the food offered in these renowned streets
to persons in the swim.

Next we went to the Hôtel d’Angleterre, which was just the restaurant
of the standardized international hotel. Once within its walls, and
you might as well be at Paris, Aix-les-Bains, Harrogate, Rome, Algiers,
Brussels, as at Copenhagen. The same menu, the same cooking, the
same waiters, the same furniture, the same toothpicks, and the same
detestable, self-restrained English travelers, with their excruciating
Englishness. The café on the ground floor of this hotel, overlooking a
large and busy circular _place_, with the opera and other necessaries of
metropolitan life close by, was more amusing than the restaurant. It was
a genuine resort in the afternoon. The existence of Copenhagen rolled to
and fro in front of its canopied terrace, and one might sit next to an
English yachting party of astounding correctness and complacency (from
one of those conceited three-hundred-ton boats, enameled white,
and jeweled in many holes, like a watch), or to a couple of Danish
commercials, or to a dandy and his love. Here we one night singled out
for observation a very characteristic Danish young man and young woman
with the complexions, the quiet, persuasive voices, and the soothing
gestures of the North. It was an agreeable sight; but when we had
carried our observation somewhat further, we discovered that they were
an English pair on their honeymoon.

[Illustration: 0186]

In a day or two, feeling more expert in things Danish, we wanted a truly
Danish restaurant, unspoiled by cosmopolitanism. We hit on it in the
Wiener Café, appanage of the Hotel King of Denmark. A long, narrow room,
anciently and curiously furnished, with mid-Victorian engravings on the
somber walls. The waiters had the austerity of priests presiding at
a rite. Their silent countenances said impassively: “This is the most
select resort in our great and historic country. It has been frequented
by the flower of Danish aristocracy, art, and letters for a thousand
years. It has not changed. It never will. No upstart cosmopolitanism can
enter here. Submit yourselves. Speak in hushed tones. Conform to all the
niceties of our ceremonial, for we have consented to receive you.”

In brief, it was rather like an English bank, or a historic hotel in an
English cathedral town, though its food was better, I admit. The menu
was in strict Danish. We understood naught of it, but it had the air
of a saga. At the close of the repast, the waiter told us that, for the
_prix fixe_, we had the choice between cake and cheese. I said, “Will
you let me have a look at the cake, and then I ‘ll decide.” He replied
that he could not; that the cake could not be produced unless it was
definitively ordered. The strange thing was that he persisted in this
attitude. Cake never had been shown on approval at the Wiener Café
of the Hotel King of Denmark, and it never would he. I bowed the head
before an august tradition, and ordered cheese. The Wiener Café ought
to open a branch in London; it was the most English affair I have ever
encountered out of England.

Indeed, Copenhagen is often exquisitely English. That very night we
chose the restaurant of the Hotel——–for dinner. The room was darkly
gorgeous, silent, and nearly full. We were curtly shown to an empty
table, and a menu was dung at us. The head waiter and three inefficient
under waiters then totally ignored us and our signals for fifteen
minutes; they had their habitués to serve. At the end of fifteen minutes
we softly and apologetically rose and departed, without causing any
apparent regret save perhaps to the hat-and-coat boy, whom we basely
omitted to tip.

[Illustration: 0191]

We roved in the wet, busy Sunday streets, searching hungrily for a
restaurant that seemed receptive, that seemed assimilative, and luck
guided us into the Café de l’Industrie, near the Tivoli. The managers
of this industrious café had that peculiar air, both independent and
amicable, which sits so well on the directors of an organism that
is firmly established in the good-will of the flourishing mass. No
selectness, no tradition, no formality, no fashion, no preposterous
manners about the Café de l’Industrie, but an aspect of solid, rather
vulgar, all-embracing, all-forgiving prosperity. It was not cheap,
neither was it dear. It was gaudy, but not too gaudy. The waiters were
men of the world, experienced in human nature, occupied, hasty, both
curt and expansive, not servile, not autocratic. Their faces said: “Look
here, I know the difficulties of running a popular restaurant, and you
know them, too. This is not heaven, especially on a Sunday night; but we
do our best, and you get value for your money.”

The customers were samples of all Copenhagen. They had money to spend,
but not too much. There were limits to their recklessness in the pursuit
of joy. They were fairly noisy, quite without affectation, fundamentally
decent, the average Danish. Elegance was rarer than beauty, and
spirituality than common sense, in that restaurant. We ate moderately in
the din and clash of hors d’ouvre, mural decorations, mirrors, and music,
and thanked our destiny that we had had the superlative courage to leave
the Hotel ——–, with its extreme correctitude.

Finally, among our excursions ‘n restaurants, must be mentioned a crazy
hour in the restaurant of the Hotel ——–, supreme example of what
the enterprising spirit of modern Denmark can accomplish when it sets
about to imitate the German _art nouveau_. The ——– is a grand hotel
in which everything, with the most marvelous and terrifying ingenuity,
has been designed in defiance of artistic tradition. A fork at the
——– resembles no other fork on earth, and obviously the designer’s
first and last thought was to be unique. It did not matter to him what
kind of fork he produced so long as it was different from any previous
fork in human history. The same with the table-cloth, the flower-vase,
the mustard-pot, the chair, the carpet, the dado, the frieze, the
tessellated pavement, the stair-rail, the wash-basin, the bedstead, the
quilt, the very door-knobs. The proprietors of the place had ordered a
new hotel in the extreme sense, and their order had been fulfilled. It
was a prodigious undertaking, and must certainly have been costly. It
was impressive proof of real initiative. It intimidated the beholder,
who had the illusion of being on another planet. Its ultimate effect was
to outrival all other collections of ugliness. I doubt whether in Berlin
itself such ingenious and complete ugliness could be equaled in the
same cubic space. My idea is that the creators of the Hotel ——– may
lawfully boast of standing alone on a pinnacle.

It was an inspiration on the part of the creators, when the hotel
was finished to the last salt-spoon, to order a number of large and
particularly bad copies of old masters, in inexpensive gilt frames, and
to hang them higgledy-piggledy on the walls. The resulting effect of
grotesquery is overwhelming. Nevertheless, the ——– justly ranks as
one of the leading European hotels. It is a mercy that the architect
and the other designers were forbidden to meddle with the cooking, which
sins not by any originality.

The summary and summit of the restaurants and cafes of Copenhagen is the
Tivoli. New York has nothing like the Tivoli, and the Londoner can only
say with regret that the Tivoli is what Earl’s Court ought to be, and is
not. The Tivoli comprises, within the compass of a garden in the midst
of the city, restaurants, cafés, theater, concert-hall, outdoor
theater, bands, pantomime, vaudeville, dancing-halls, and very numerous
side-shows on both land and water. The strangest combinations of
pleasure are possible at the Tivoli. You can, for instance, as we
did, eat a French dinner while watching a performance of monkeys on a
tightrope. The opportunities for weirdness in felicity are endless. We
happened to arrive at Copenhagen just in time for the fêtes celebrating
the seventieth anniversary of the Tivoli, which is as ancient as it is
modern. On the great night the Tivoli reveled until morning. It must
be the pride of the populace of Copenhagen, and one of the city’s
dominating institutions. It cannot be ignored. It probably uses more
electric light than any other ten institutions put together. And however
keenly you may resent its commonplace attraction, that attraction will
one day magnetize you to enter its gates–at the usual fee.

I estimate that I have seen twenty thousand people at once in the
Tivoli, not a bad total for one resort in a town of only half a million
inhabitants. And the twenty thousand were a pleasant sight to the
foreign observer, not merely for the pervading beauty and grace cf the
women, which was remarkable, but also for the evident fact that as a
race the Danish know how to enjoy themselves with gaiety, dignity, and
simplicity. Their demeanor was a lesson to Anglo-Saxons, who have yet to
discover how to enjoy themselves freely without being either ridiculous
or vulgar or brutish. The twenty thousand represented in chief the
unassuming middle-class of Copenhagen.

[Illustration: 0197]

There were no doubt millionaires, aristocrats, “nuts,” rascals,
obelisks, and mere artisans among the lot, but the solid bulk was
the middle-class, getting value for its money in an agreeable and
unexceptionable manner. The memory of those thousands wandering lightly
clad in the cold Northern night, under domes and festoons and pillars
of electric light, amid the altercations of conflicting orchestras, or
dancing in vast, stuffy inclosures, or drinking and laughing and eating
hors-d’ouvre under rustling trees, or submitting gracefully to
Wagnerian overtures in a theater whose glazed aisles were two
restaurants, or floating on icy lakes, or just beatifically sitting
on al-fresco seats in couples–this memory remains important in the
yachtsman’s experiences of the Baltic.

You may also like