History Comes Alive in Copenhagen's Curfew Cocktail Bar

The interior of a bar with green and blue furniture.

Shadows cast the name “Curfew” above the Copenhagen bar, and the tone is set. Inside, guests are transported back in time, to an era when drinking was refined and socializing was elegant. And no, Curfew is not the first Prohibition-themed, speakeasy-influenced bar. But Curfew goes beyond the '20s decor and classic recipes to bring cocktail history to guests in tangible ways.

Located in trendy Vesterbro, Curfew plays on the neighborhood’s sordid past. Once an area you’d frequent only if you were up to no good, Vesterbro has had a dark history since the days of World War II. And that adds to the character of Curfew.

“Since WWII, the location has been the home of many dark and murky bars, hosting German soldiers and other gangsters from time to time,” says Humberto Marques, owner of Curfew. “The name Curfew, was inspired by the prohibition time, and associates with the hidden and forbidden speakeasies.”

The word curfew written in shadows above a door. With its name written in shadows above the entrance, Curfew's mystique is established early on. Photo courtesy of Curfew.

Curfew’s decor visually merges Marques’s varied bartending influences — photos, prints and memorabilia from America’s prohibition era; artisanal, traditional tiles from his native Portugal on the bar front, and elegant green and blue velvet furniture pieces are at once modern and classic. A record player spins jazz and ragtime. It’s warm, sexy and plush. In glass display cases, antique spirits bottles, silver and crystal bar tools and vintage cocktail books are illuminated for fellow cocktail enthusiasts and novice imbibers alike to admire.

But the tools and antiques aren’t limited to shelves and cases — Marques actively incorporates them in his bar service. With a manual stirring and mixing machine, he cranks the handle attached to the glass globe to mix six or more cocktails at a time. He pumps the rapid mixing glass to whip up a Negroni at the speed of light. Every bitters bottle speaks to a time past. Cocktails are spritzed with absinthe from a siphon that harkens back to an era of bartending precision and grace. Ask about a recipe, and Marques might whip out a first edition Jerry Thomas book to show you its origin and context. He’s working on a replica of a 1930s Ramos Gin Fizz machine to make the infamously foamy cocktail better than a human hand could ever hope to.

A man in suspenders next to a glass case. Humberto Marques's love of vintage cocktail culture and all that it entails is what sets his bar apart. Photo courtesy of Curfew

Clad in suspenders with gangster gun holsters, outfitted to hold bar spoons, bottle openers and the like, Marques’s enthusiasm for antique cocktail gear is contagious. And the tools serve more to stir conversation than they do drinks.

“Politeness and due diligence are cornerstones of my service,” says Marques, whose keen attention to detail is evident in every element of the bar. “I'm also eager to share a genuine passion for the cocktail history and the bar trade with my guests.”

Bitters bottles in a glass case. Original bitters bottles are among the antiques on display (and in use) at Curfew. Photo by Jodi Cash.

Curfew is forging a path that’s unfamiliar to many Danes. Between the famous Danish breweries, Carlsberg and Tuborg, the people of Copenhagen love beer. And since the days of vikings drinking wine from human skulls (Skol!), wine has remained central to Danish drinking culture. Cocktails are gaining traction throughout the city — but even the act of drinking is less common than in many major cities.

“I wish that the Danes were more social,” says Marques. “Danes mainly go out Friday and Saturdays from 9pm to 2am. If you visit London or Milan, you will see people out on the street all week long. Socializing is not part of the Danish culture — yet.”

But a spirit of conviviality is promoted at Curfew, where Marques and his employees actively engage with guests — something that the Danish service industry is not necessarily known for.

A staff working behind a busy bar. The staff at Curfew is changing the way Danish people imbibe. Photo courtesy of Curfew.

“Copenhagen does not have a good reputation on service. Visitors feel that they have to pay too much and they don't feel the service matches the price level,” he says. “Now, Denmark is not cheap place to run a business. Materials, salaries, taxes, rents, etc. are high, so the price of quality products are equally high. However, training your staff to service your customers properly does not cost you much … If you can create a good ambience at your bar, and if the team are having fun while working, this may show in the service, and suddenly they actually take pride in delivering good service, because they are proud of being part of the team.”

But what good is a beautiful bar and exceptional service if the cocktails are subpar? Fortunately, the drinks at Curfew are what’s truly worth writing home about.

“The drinks are inspired by things that interest me; countries, origins, ancient recipes and cuisine,” Marques says. His menu is also largely influenced by merging the flavor of his two homes. “Ingredients from my home in Portugal are; lemon verbena, mimosa, eucalyptus, port wine, madeira wine, and from Denmark we use licorice, aquavit, rose hip and elderflower.”

A cocktail on a bar. For all the thoughtful touches and cocktail history at Curfew, the drinks are still the real show-stoppers. Photo by Jodi Cash.

The menu is thoughtfully divided between award-winners, seasonal drinks, and cocktails distinguished as “artistry,” “unforgettable,” “forgotten” and “low-spirited.” Next to each drink entry is an image of the glass the cocktail is to be served in, as well as hashtags like #invigorating, #refreshing and #astringent to help guide guests’ choices.

Marques opened Curfew in 2014, and for him, the cocktail bar provided a platform to express his passions — making exceptional drinks and sharing cocktail history.

“It had always been a plan of mine, to open up my own bar,” says Marques. “I'm not just a bartender — I'm a bartender that through my career work alongside chefs and pastry chefs, I developed some insight [on] flavor, so I love to make up my own ingredients and create new recipes," he says. "This was only really possible if I was the owner of the bar. I also needed to find a place to display all my vintage bar gear and artifacts.” And in Curfew, Marques has found all of that and more.