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An American moves to the capital of Denmark to open a bar in a building that is older than America itself. Sounds like the set-up for a creaky punch line. Not this time.
The bartender: Geoffrey Canilao, who formerly worked at New York City’s Pastis and the East Side Social Club, a now-shuttered venue from the team behind the legendary Employees Only. The bar: the months-old Balderdash, a commingling of local ingredients, that enviable Danish cozy vibe and the clear vision of one cocktail veteran.
Canilao’s drinks are unabashedly edgy. One of his current favorites is the Frederiksberg Alle Cocktail, made with Jameson Black Barrel, whey, banana, chamomile and beaver-gland tincture. He calls it a “forward-thinking drink” as the whey produces a creamy texture without solids and also has the natural acidity to balance out the cocktail.
He adds that while the beaver-gland tincture—made from the anal glands of the beaver—can put people off, Canilao reminds guests that beaver gland has been used in Schnapps and perfumes since the 19th century. Balderdash sources Balderdash’s from a hunter in Sweden.
Another inventive cocktail is the bar’s take on the Hemingway Daiquiri. It arrives tableside—clear as water. Balderdash uses a local Danish rum, Skotlander, and the drink is clarified with agar and pre-batched before the other ingredients are added. Canilao notes that “the daiquiri is visually appealing, but clarified juice has another advantage: It lasts longer than regular juice.”
The bar also features a cocktail “laboratory” that is modeled on a new wave “drinks think tank.” The idea behind it is to “help the bartending community to look for new flavors and use of ingredients,” like the Nordic food lab has done for the Danish food industry. At this point it has only been used by employees and was was also host to a European pop-up from New York’s Dead Rabbit team while on a European tour.
The venue was created in a historic 1732 building built by a goldsmith, which became a tailor store and later one of the City’s first public bars. “What we did was just try to emulate its rich history, doing research into the old building and give ‘The Old Lady’ back some glory.”
Balderdash tries to embody traditional Danish values. The word hygge, according to Canilao, “only exists in the Danish language and is one of the first words you learn as a foreigner.”
He says that that it means “cozy” as a verb, not an adjective, conjuring a vibe that Danes relish because it “allows people to interact comfortably.” Hygge also reflects the uniquely Danish collaborative attitude.
The collective approach is also one Canilao uses when working with local artists for the gallery space within the bar—and also for pairing art with Balderdash’s cocktails. “A space with food and booze is far more multi-sensory than just walking into a hall of paintings,” notes Canilao, who got into the bar business to pay for art school.
When the bar’s partner artistic group 68 Square Meters had its first show last December at Balderdash, the team asked them what they would ideally like guests to drink while looking at the work. “Art and gastronomy and drinks have a rich history, thanks to the famous food-and-drink still lifes that decorated the area’s castles,” Canilao notes. It’s a kind of historical debauchery that fits well with Balderdash’s easygoing breed of cozy.
Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about drinks for two decades. She is the principal of the San Francisco–based Liza the Wine Chick consulting firm and regularly contributes to publications such as Wine Business Monthly, DrinkUpNY and the SOMM Journal.