Our socks were soaked through with slush, and our bellies warmed with glogg from a cozy basement bar on Copenhagen’s cute Nyhaven pedestrian street, when we walked into the lobby bar. It was 9:25pm on a freezing-cold Saturday night, and it’d been snowing all day; still was and still would be in the morning. Winter had settled in unseasonably early, and after exploring the city all day and slipping around on iced-over cobblestone streets, nothing sounded better than another glass of glogg, or maybe a pint of seasonal Tuborg Julebryg ale, in the comfort of our hotel.

Tuborg Julebryg

There were four, maybe five occupied tables in the bar/dining room. The lone bartender, dressed in black slacks, black button-up shirt, and the sort of black demeanor reserved for disgruntled servers and bartenders, was filling a tall half-liter glass with Carlsberg beer. Of the eight glasses on her tray, two had already been poured.

I ordered a glass of wine and a Julebryg, but her response, whispered through a thinly disguised faux smile, was that the bar was closed. Closed? Puzzled and distraught, my girlfriend and I confirmed with the front-desk receptionist that the bar was indeed open until midnight, or at least it was supposed to be. Perhaps she didn’t realize we were staying at the hotel.

“Closed even for guests?”, I asked her with a knowing, wink-wink smile.

“Yes, sorry, closed.”

Huh.

After some mild protest, we coaxed the receptionist—he, the bartender, and a cook seemed like the only employees on duty—into pouring us two beers and billing them to our room. He obliged only because we weren’t checking out the next day, and refused to serve a number of guests who were; he wasn’t accepting cash because the bartender had apparently locked the cash register, and he claimed he couldn’t make her reopen it (or make her serve us, for that matter). Oh, he pleaded with her once, twice, and later a third time, shoulders hunched, head cocked to the side and speaking in hushed tones, but he too failed to crack that hard-boiled egg.

More rosy-cheeked, half-drunk guests wandered into the bar. One of them was a tired-looking group of about five seniors, including a wheelchair-bound bloke in in his mid-sixties. They were rejected like everyone else, and soon retired to their rooms, grumbling. A young Norwegian couple in their thirties patiently sat down at a two-top table, incredulous looks on their faces as the receptionist refused to pour them drinks.

Finally, a middle-aged man in snug stone-washed jeans, flanked by a steely-eyed blonde, made his way to the bar, where the bartender was nonchalantly going about her closing duties. I couldn’t hear everything that was said, but what I did hear was:

“… and I’m sorry that you want to close early and go home, but I think you’ve handled this situation very poorly, and I plan to speak with the manager first thing in the morning.”

“Thank you for that information, sir, I will take it into consideration,” she replied, like a robot with a pull-string on its back and a memory card full of insincere, pre-canned service industry responses.

“I don’t give a shit what you do with that information, we came here for drinks and…”

“Sir, please don’t be rude to me…”

At that, the receptionist stepped in and began pouring concillatory beers. The man in snug-fitting jeans nimbly turned on his heels, beaming, his yellow sweater gleaming in the overhead lights like a pot of golden coins, and pranced back to his table to share his tale of successful defiance. A quiet roar of approving laughter erupted from his table.

Thirsty Guests 1, Disgruntled Bartender 0.

Like the man in butt-hugger jeans, we had finagled a few beers, but still the Norwegians sat there. We offered to put their drinks on our room tab, but they thanked us and politely declined. Seeing that the receptionist had extricated himself from the scandal, and that the bartender was busy setting the dining room tables for breakfast, my girlfriend finally came up with a brilliant solution: “This is silly. You should just go up there and pour everyone some beers.”

Now that was an interesting idea.

Like the Grinch carefully tip-toeing through the houses of Whoville at nightfall, I approached the bar, but retreated, twice. The fear of getting caught held me back… but then, what’s the worst that could happen? Tell me to stop? Charge me for the beers? I decided I was prepared to accept the consequences.

Without futher deliberation, I leaned over the bar, opened the tap, and filled a glass about three-quarters full of Tuborg Julebryg (a fragrant, delicious, very drinkable ale, by the way). This beer was handed to the surprised Norwegians, who didn’t see me pour it.

Emboldened by my success, I returned to the couch, finished my beer, and strode back over to refill my glass full; I even tilted it to avoid getting too much froth. The Norweigans laughed, gave me the thumbs up, and raised their glass. My girlfriend was giddy, mischief flashing in her beautiful brown eyes. I was a hero!

The bartender suddenly appeared from behind the swinging kitchen door in a huff. Though trying to feign ignorance, we caught her shoot a furtive glance at the Norwegian’s beer as she swept towards us and grabbed my girlfriend’s nearly empty glass before she could finish it.

About 15 minutes later we finally got up and squeezed through the now half-shut sliding door that separates the reception area from the bar and dining room. Still, our new friends in solidarity from Norway remained seated; they seemed to be staging a sit-in as their protest. They waved goodbye; we felt like we’d be good friends with them if we lived in the same city.

The receptionist was nowhere to be seen. At the front desk of this trendy four-star hotel, with nightly rates starting at US$275 and up, there was only a sign: “The receptionist is currently unavailable and will return shortly. Thank you for your patience.”

Thirsty Guests 2, Disgruntled Staff 0.

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Brian Spencer

Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance writer. He has written for BBC Travel, CNN Travel, DestinAsian, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among other publications.