|Cafe Malmo, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Amongst the bloke's many admirable talents is the ability to sniff out the best dive bar within a 5 kilometre radius.
Amongst my talents is the unconscious ability to aid and abet him in a city we've never visited by booking the hotel that is located within 500 metres of said dive bar.
I suppose I should clarify my definition of "best". It's the sort of place that hasn't been refurbished in the last three decades. When you walk in, you hesitate to lean on the bar for fear of getting stuck to it. The barman is also the owner, and he gazes at you with the melancholy of a teetotalling ex-alcoholic who sympathizes deeply with his loyal clientele of current alcoholics. The pool table and the darts board are the only items of furniture that are in excellent condition and presently in use. The jukebox is only ever allowed to bleat out the favourites of the locals - in this case, a CD of Danish naval ditties that I was profoundly grateful not to be able to understand. You cautiously pick your way through the drunks to place your order for beer. (There is no other drink in a dive bar until it's just before closing time and you're barely lucid enough to discern the dimly lit row of dusty bottles of hangover lurking on the shelf behind the barman.) You take note of their "special" decor through the haze of cigarette smoke. (The dive bar will never be legally required to obey a smoking ban, being subject to a grandfather clause.) In Cafe Malmo's case, this is the collection of novelty bottle openers lining every inch of wall space and suspended dangerously from the ceiling. You admire the decor aloud, which allows one of the fixtures, who appears to have been glued to his bar stool since three in the afternoon, to begin a conversation with you.
Your fixture's name is Søren, although he's so drunk that it sounds like Shorn, which he was, so you call him that. Shorn informs you that today is the first day of the Yule season, and so the beer you are drinking (Julebryg) has been released by the brewery (Tuborg) just today. This explains the large quantity of drunken revellers you met on your way from the train station to the hotel. Perhaps this is not so unusual at 9:30 on a Friday night in Scandinavia, but it did seem odd that 90% of them were wearing Santa hats with flashing lights in them - a freebie from the brewery.
Within a short period, Shorn introduces you to most of the other fixtures, salty old sailors with peculiar tics and lots of exciting if slightly incoherent memories to share. They make wildly inaccurate speculations about your age (21), occupation (student) and country of origin (Thailand/Japan/Morocco), none of which you feel particularly moved to correct. You listen to them and have three or four Julebrygs before a couple of other people who are under the age of 50 and aren't sailors finally meander in. In conversation, these younger people warn you not to drink too much Julebryg or you'll feel like a bear with a sore head in the morning. You nod disbelievingly - the beers are small and don't seem stronger than 5%. Shorn finally gets up the courage to make a lewd comment to you when your partner's back is turned.
"In Denmark*," he says, leaning confidentially towards you, "the shex ish free."
"I'll bear it in mind," you answer. Turning to your partner, you suggest that perhaps after this beer is the time to make a graceful exit. Partner, who is by now leaning on the bar with shirt sleeves rolled up and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, reluctantly agrees. You bid farewell to Shorn and the men. You amble out into the cold night air, feeling smugly that you haven't drunk that much and will be fine tomorrow.
You are wrong.
* insert any other country here