Historic Copenhagen gay bar turns 100

Centralhjørnet in Copenhagen, one of the world’s oldest gay bars, is celebrating its 100th birthday in style with a fully packed week of entertainment and a big birthday reception.

Historic Copenhagen gay bar turns 100

Since 1917 the legendary pub Centralhjørnet (the Central Corner) has had the same address in Kattesundet in the very heart of Copenhagen. While the last hundred years have seen many pubs open and close again in the Danish capital, the grand old lady of gay Copenhagen is still very much alive and kicking. In week 22, from May 29 to June 4, Centralhjørnet is celebrating its 100th birthday with a big reception on Monday followed by a week full of special events and entertainment. Homotropolis met up with owner Torben Rasmussen and manager Kenny Hoffland to talk about the past, present and future.

We are sitting around one of the wooden tables inside what is arguably the world’s oldest gay bar still in existence. Since it’s April, the ceiling, walls and windows are literally covered with Easter decorations in every colour of the rainbow. An abundance of glittered eggs, chicken figurines and spring flowers in every direction you look.

“This year we seriously went all in. We never had this much Easter decor before. When the truck arrived the driver unloaded 5 full europallets of decorations”, says Kenny Hoffland who is the daily manager of Centralhjørnet.

Always a meeting place for men
In Centralhjørnet’s 100 years of history it has always been a place predominantly frequented by men, and private letters show that men were meeting other men here as far back as in the 1930’s.

“In the earlier years it was still illegal for men to have sex with men, and of course this is the main reason why there is very little documentation about what went on in here. Having your photo taken in the wrong place or simply being spotted in a pub like this could be dangerous”, Torben explains.

“In 1960 soldiers and recruits were banned from coming to Centralhjørnet and three other gay bars in Copenhagen wearing their uniforms because many of them were making extra money or receiving drinks or cigarettes in return for sexual favors”,
Kenny adds.

Old but not tired
Lots of water has flowed under the bridge in the same way that many people have come and gone throughout the years, and it is quite impossible not to admire the simple fact that Centralhjørnet is still standing and doing well.

“Centralhjørnet might be very old, but this does not mean that we are getting tired. We might not be first movers when it comes to beverage selection or the latest music, but instead we remain a true classic. A golden oldie”, says Kenny Hoffland with a big smile.

In December 2016 a fire on the first floor of the building nearly spread to the pub itself forcing Centralhjørnet to close down for a day in order to clean up the mess after all the smoke. That update which was published on facebook resulted in messages pouring in from around the world.

“Guests from everywhere wrote to us letting us know how terrible it would have been if Centralhjørnet was no longer here. We are in the minds of many people of all ages. It’s like …this place has just always been here”, says Kenny who has worked at Centralhjørnet for 8 years.

Time stands still
Even though an extensive renovation has taken place and improvements are continuously carried out, the overall style has not been changed and the priority was always to remain true to the essence of what is Centralhjørnet and to give a sense of timelessness.

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Owner, Torben Rasmussen, is celebrating Centralhjørnet's 100th birthday in May 2017.

Owner, Torben Rasmussen, is celebrating Centralhjørnet’s 100th birthday in May 2017.

“We have a clock hanging above the bar without any clock hands. We removed them on purpose, because once you enter Centralhjørnet time is standing still”, says Torben who has been the owner for the last 15 years.

“This place was always my favorite bar, so when the former owner Preben died I had no doubts about taking over. I own Centralhjørnet with my brother, but since I am the gay in the family it was natural for me to run it. I believe that a gay bar is best run by a gay person, and I have always loved it here and still do — although I won’t deny that it’s also tough at times. This place is like my sandpit – or my playground. We are never afraid to try out new ideas and we spend quite a
lot of money on entertainment, decorations and our annual pride party. I believe it takes money to make money, and you need to be ready to invest and feel your way while being patient since new things or new concepts tend to need some time to catch on”, Torben explains.

Welcoming atmosphere
One of the trademarks of Centralhjørnet is the friendly and welcoming attitude of both the staff and the many regulars who are always happy to chat with newcomers and tourists who happen to drop in for a beer or two.

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Owner, Torben Rasmussen, and the bar manager, Kenny Hoffland by Centralhjørnet's entrance.

Owner, Torben Rasmussen, and the bar manager, Kenny Hoffland by Centralhjørnet’s entrance.

“Everybody is welcome here. I believe that diversity is important and we are proud and happy to have a mixed clientele of both straight and gay, young and old — and of every gender. And we never have any trouble here. Our guests are here to have a good time together”, Torben explains.

“And in my experience our regular guests are really good at welcoming new guests. They are always ready to share stories and involve everyone, and there is a sense of pride and joy to be a frequent guest of Centralhjørnet which makes this place very unique. And of course you can always come here as you are. It’s all very casual and down to earth, and many of our guests enjoy that”, says Kenny.

100 years more?
Whether it is the world famous decorations, the annual Christmas and Easter lunches or the weekly entertainment on the intimate stage, Centralhjørnet is all about traditions. And there are no signs that any dramatic changes will happen in the next many years to come.

“This place is build on traditions and to be honest I believe that Centralhjørnet has become an institution. There can be good years and bad years, but it will never die. There have been gay pubs out there before Centralhjørnet, but they do not exist any longer. To think that this business has survived for 100 years is just amazing, and I honestly can’t see Centralhjørnet close down in my lifetime”, says Kenny.

Well neither can we. The grand old lady of Copenhagen is showing no signs of decay or losing its timeless charm. A 100th birthday for a gay bar is still a very rare occasion, and many guests from both Denmark and abroad are expected to pay a visit to Centralhjørnet to congratulate and celebrate the centenarian during the week from May 29 to June 4.

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