A chat with three of Copenhagen’s LGBTI+ bars
By Mariya Alfa Staugaard (She/Her)
Photography by Rikke Høyen (She/Her)
There are a number of LGBTI+ bars in Copenhagen, and what could be a better chance to explore them than during Pride Week? We’ve spoken with three bars about the kind of space they’re trying to create for their guests, and how they’re working towards making them safer.
Marcel Juul Östergreen (He/Him) is a resident DJ at the nightclub Never Mind, where he’s been working for 12 years. He didn’t plan on sticking around that long, but he became part of the club’s family, and now he’s been able to see the place develop through over a decade, lately with most recently with the opening of a new and larger venue on Axeltorv.
Can you say a bit about what to expect when you go to Never Mind?
First and foremost, it’s about safety. You step into a place that feels like entering a bubble, you have a blast, let loose, and feel safe being yourself, no matter how you identify.
We keep an eye out for whether someone is too inebriated or seems spaced out. Then we check that they’re okay and make sure they get home safely. And people should always feel comfortable bringing an issue to the attention of the staff.
We have had situations with security guards that were not okay. And those guards do not work here anymore – so we take it seriously. Previously, we worked with external security guards, but now we employ our own. And it really makes a difference that it’s the same people and that they know our guests.
How has the place changed since you started working at the club?
Musically, the place has changed a lot. Back when I started, we mostly played Grand Prix and Schlager, whereas now it’s a bit more ‘clubby’. But it still has that trace of well-known pop music you can sing along to.
Since opening on Axeltorv, I feel like we’ve gotten more young guests. And that’s great, because a lot of our guests used to be a bit more on the mature side. But people come and go – it makes sense when you’re young, you have to go and try things out. Fortunately, it seems like a lot of our guests come again. And that has to be a sign that they like coming here!
What do you hope Never Mind can contribute to the LGBTI+ community?
A community space and a space to be yourself. Some people think we’re fighting tooth and nail with our ‘competitors’ to be the best, and of course we want to be a good club, but we’re also dependent on our ‘sister’ bars and clubs doing well, ’cause that’s when people feel the best.
Never Mind Night Club is located on Axeltorv 3 and is open 22.00-06.00 Monday to Thursday and 22.00-07.00 Friday and Saturday.
Maria (She/Her), Freja (She/Her) and Shuki (all pronouns) took over ownership of Cosy Bar two years ago. Apart from owning the club and taking care of the daily administration, booking, and managing the bar, all three also perform as DJs. When the opportunity to buy the place presented itself, they decided to use the chance to create the space in the nightlife they had all been looking for.
What kind of space did you want to create at Cosy?
Maria: Primarily a safe space for the people who come here.
Freja: It’s hard to teach people that it’s okay to speak up. For some people, it might be an age thing because they haven’t been going out for very long, but it’s also hard to speak up when you’ve become so used to it not being taken seriously. It’s a culture that’s so ingrained in you, and we can’t take responsibility for making sure that people do.
Shuki: But we can make it safe to do so.
Maria: And it’s so important to keep having the conversations. Because it’s when you share your experiences that you learn what you could have done differently.
How did your guests react to the bar having a different framework?
Maria: I think it’s been extremely well received. People have been so positive about us creating such a clear concept so you know what you’re going into.
Freja: The only ones giving us negative feedback are the straight cis men, who think it used to be way more fun – interestingly enough. And I’m actually pleased with that. Because it’s the exact opposite of the kind of place we want to be. Anyone is welcome as long as they behave themselves and can respect that we create a space for queer people. So it’s really encouraging that the only negative feedback we get comes from the kind of people this place is not for.
Shuki: Obviously the target audience has changed because we’ve changed the place. But most of the old customers who still come here are completely cool and appreciate the development. Maybe one or two will ask why we don’t serve whiskey, but otherwise it works really well.
What’s the vibe of Cosy, and what kind of parties do you host?
Shuki: Great dance music you can sing along to while you find someone to make out in the corner with.
Maria: Or in the middle of the dance floor!
Freja: At the end of the day, we’re trying to create the party we’ve been missing. And it’s important that the people behind the deck and behind the bar represent the crowd we want in here. So I make sure to book trans persons, femmes and non binary people – we’re trying to have a platform to those who aren’t getting booked elsewhere.
What do you hope Cosy can contribute to the LGBTI+ community?
Shuki: Creating the party we’ve been missing, both in terms of having fun, but also when it comes to feeling at home and safe, which is especially important when you’re younger. I had a talk with two 18 year olds who had come all the way from Bornholm to go to a party here, then take the ferry home at 5 in the morning. Cosy was the only place where they felt like they could be themselves – and I’m happy for us to be that place. And at the same time you can have a great party!
Cosy Bar is located on Studiestræde 24 and is open 20.00-05.00 Friday and Saturday.
Jailhouse CPH opened its doors in 2002 and was founded as a bar primarily aimed at men who have sex with men – but through the years, it’s become a place for cosy evenings for the whole community. Niels Holm (He/Him) is the daily manager of Jailhouse CPH, where he’s been working for 10 years. Signe Bundgaard (She/Her) came on board a year ago and works as a bartender and event manager.
What kind of bar is Jailhouse CPH today?
Niels: It’s a very fetish-orientated theme. The place has this kind of hard facade, so people have to get to know the place, but when you walk in the door, you very quickly feel a festive and welcoming atmosphere.
Signe: It’s mostly people who identify as men who come here, but it’s becoming more and more diverse. Over the last couple of years, it’s become something very different – and for the better, I would say. There’s a lady behind the bar and there are a lot more women coming in.
What initiatives have you taken to create a safer environment?
Niels: Making sure to be explicit about this being a place where there’s space for everyone. I created my first code of conduct in 2017, but back then it wasn’t very visible. When we reopened after lockdown, I changed that. I’ve also written a short welcome on our menus, where we make it clear that your freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say anything you want in here.
Signe: Niels also makes it clear to those of us who work here that we are completely free to turn people away, no matter what. It’s hugely reassuring for us that we have that option.
Niels: If you don’t enforce your guidelines, it’s all just empty rhetoric. It doesn’t create the sense of security that it’s supposed to provide for the people who come here. We have lost some guests because of this, but they are not the kind of guests we want to keep.
What kind of evening can you expect at Jailhouse CPH?
Signe: One of the key things here is that we have a good time with our guests. People love to sit at the bar because we spend a lot of time making them feel welcome. We know people’s names, profession, and drink of choice.
Niels: I think the Danish word ‘værthus’ is such a great word, because it puts an emphasis on the hosting. And that is really the most important thing.
What do you hope Jailhouse CPH can contribute to the LGBTI+ community?
Signe: There’s only a few places that are actual pubs. You shouldn’t go in here expecting a club – you can smoke in here, and it’s a place to sit down and have a good time.
Niels: I think there’s a balancing aspect to having a business on the premise of a minority. It requires that you give back to the community. So the key thing to me is that we contribute to upcoming performers and artists and create opportunities for the LGBTI+ community.
Jailhouse CPH is located on Studiestræde 12 and is open 14.00-02.00 Monday to Thursday and 14.00-05.00 Friday and Saturday.
Other LGBTI+ bars and clubs:
Det Rene Glas
GAG x Module
Kiss Kiss Gay Club