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Cocktail chat: Ruby, Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s Ruby bar offers comfort and cutting-edge cocktails. We visited Denmark to talk to general manager Michael Hajiyianni about what makes the acclaimed venue so popular.

Michael Hajiyianni
Ruby general manager, Michael Hajiyianni

During the day, going through the doors of Ruby, one of Copenhagen’s staple bars, isn’t too dissimilar to the feeling of walking into someone’s stylish, Scandi-themed living room – which makes sense, given that the bar used to be an apartment.

Space is ample, and made more welcoming by a large, oriental rug in the middle of it. Light floods in from large windows looking onto a canal. But it’s the bar directly in front of you that is the showstopper: neatly lined with tall, wooden bar stools, and displaying bottle upon bottle in an aesthetically pleasing way, Ruby isn’t a bar you’d leave in a hurry.

And when time starts to stretch towards the darker hours, Ruby offers adjacent rooms, filled with booths, and playing the likes of David Bowie, The Specials, and Talking Heads. Downstairs, the basement delivers a moody allure, with a second bar among the nooks and crannies.

Banking on it

The venue opened in 2007 when married couple Adeline Shepherd‐Lomborg (who is Scottish) and her Danish husband Rasmus decided to settle down in the Danish capital, and, after much effort, managed to obtain a loan to set up Ruby. Initially, Rasmus was turned down by countless banks.

“He went to every single bank he could in Denmark, they all said no,” explains general manager Michael Hajiyianni. “But back then no one, especially bank managers, really knew what a cocktail bar was. They asked about European cafés or bodegas. After about six months, Rasmus was like, I’m going to go around again. But I’m going to ask for the youngest bank managers because maybe they’ll actually be a bit more receptive.

“The first bank manager that he spoke to this time had just got back from a holiday in New York, and was familiar with the bars there, so he gave him the loan to open Ruby.” Hajiyianni joined Ruby in 2017 as a bartender. “I started working part‐time, and really enjoyed the work‐life balance here as well, which is very different to what I was experiencing in London. Coming here was great – the whole hospitality industry here pays very well.”

Hajiyianni hasn’t strayed too far from the legacy his family upholds in Plymouth, UK. The Hajiyianni family is a major player in the hospitality industry there, with three generations involved in the sector. Yet, the general manager “moved into bars as opposed to restaurants and hotels” – and is a long way from Plymouth.

Hajiyianni worked at Ruby for three years from 2017, participating in a World Class cocktail competition along the way. He then moved back to London. “It felt like living in Copenhagen was just something I was doing in my 20s – living abroad for a few years. But I didn’t really want to move back.”

Hajiyianni did move back to London despite his gut feeling, but soon found himself being called back just as the world was ready to shut down. “In March 2020, I got a call from Rasmus saying, ‘do you want to come back as general manager?’”

Ruby interiors
Ruby’s basement delivers a moody allure, with a second bar among the nooks and crannies

A really good place

He returned in July 2020, and has since come to appreciate the bar even more. “Ruby’s a really good place where you can sit in the corner with your mate and just get happily drunk,” he explains.

“You don’t feel paranoid. Cocktail bars can be very intimidating for a lot of people. Even for me, when I get to a small cocktail bar, I always feel a little bit attuned to what’s going on.

“Ruby is a place where you can just comfortably get drunk with friends, or have a date, or be with a big group as well; we’ve got some big seating areas. So it caters for all these different people. And it’s not a place that people just come for a cocktail – the older generation of Danes don’t go out for cocktails, but they go out to be with each other in a comfortable environment. Ruby’s really good at that. And it’s gotten better as the years have gone on because of the reinvestment in the décor. That’s what I appreciate about Ruby so much as well; it’s changed so much, even since when I started working there.”

Whisky for Breakfast, Ruby
Whisky For Breakfast was nominated for Best Signature Cocktail at the Nordics’ Bartenders’ Choice Awards

Hajiyianni has played a large hand in crafting cocktails for the bar, and claims that on the current menu all cocktails contain ingredients that are “interesting” –“other than the Purple Mojito, but the name makes up for that. You could finish it in 10 seconds,” he says, “and that’s exactly what I wanted.”

A similar theme is to be found with the OG Melon, which includes an infusion of cucumber, salt, and honey. “I describe it as a three‐gulper. In three gulps, it should be away. It’s the only savoury drink on the menu.”

Classics are still ‘in’ for the bar though, as all the bartenders learn to make different types of classic cocktails every three months. “People drink a lot of Dark and Stormies here,” Hajiyianni says. “Whisky Sours, and gin and tonics are also popular. We try to have drinks with different textures.”

Yet the most popular serve on the menu is the Frozen ‘Amaretto’ Sour. The drink is a blend of Empirical Spirits’ The Plum I Suppose floral bottling, sea buckthorn, and apple. The sea buckthorn acts as the sour element, instead of a classic ingredient such as lemon. Why is the Amaretto Sour such a hit? bartender Edoardo Leali chimes in: “These people [the Danes] love sugar and slushies.” Leali was responsible for crafting Whisky for Breakfast with Hajiyianni, a fresh Highball composed of Johnnie Walker Green Label, toasted oats, milky oolong, and tonka soda. It is Hajiyianni’s preferred cocktail on the menu, as well as an industry favourite, he says. “I could drink this every day, all day.”

Up for awards

The Whisky For Breakfast was nominated for Best Signature Cocktail at the Nordics’ Bartenders’ Choice Awards, and the finale took place on 12 March. The bar’s cocktail menu was also nominated, and Hajiyianni himself as Best Bartender. While the three didn’t take the top prizes, the venue’s stellar offering of craftsmanship and cocktails does not go unrecognised.

I ask Hajiyianni, if he could have a drink with anyone in the world at Ruby, who would it be? Someone to make him laugh, he says. “My initial answer would be the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld is a show that I used to watch every day until I was 23. If you’re having a drink with someone, you’ve got to have a laugh. Just someone who is really funny, and would make fun of me – and you can make fun of them. No one too serious. Someone who is relaxed, and probably doesn’t give a shit about cocktails would also be a good person to have a drink with.”

Ruby’s Old Fashioned and Charming was the subject of our Cocktail Stories feature in the December 2022 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.

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