428 Little Bourke Street Melbourne, VIC 300003 9600 4477
|Opening hours||Mon-Tues, 11.30am-4pm; Wed-Fri, 11.30am-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
The thin line that divides theme from theme park is always present whenever a business decides to decorate along ethnic lines. Depending on which ethnicity we're talking about, the slippery slide into twee Disney-esque cliche can happen almost without trying (take a bow, most German or Swiss-themed restaurants).
On the other hand, there are places that can slap on the cultural render with a large shovel and still appear to be bastions of cool restraint. Bar DANSK, dripping with clean-lined, minimalist Danish drag, is a case in point.
Given that the Danes are world-renowned for making aesthetes salivate over their design and that Bar DANSK is part of the Danish Club (on the third level of the city's Danish House), it was a no-brainer that this bar would be a cheerleader for Team Denmark.
And, from the pale-oak floorboards to the embracing hug of the Finn Juhl Pelican chairs, the logical functionality of the Borge Mogensen leather sofa, the gorgeously filtered light from the PH "Artichoke" lamp and the scattered reindeer-hide rugs, it certainly flies the flag.
But the building housing the club equally adds to the mood with its large metal windows framing atmospheric city views, and peaked ceilings with exposed beams. It's almost as if this were a building designed to house Danes, so well do its bones fit with the theme.
It's not a large space. Twenty people can feel like a crowd and there are not enough seats for them all, but neither does it ever really feel crowded, thanks to all that high-ceiling airiness.
Add the fact that, if you're not a paid-up member of the Danish Club, you have to sign in at the front desk in order to have a drink here, and the feeling of being transported somewhere else is pretty attractive.
The drinks list has an expected Danish lean but doesn't press the point. Cocktails, for example, are from the standard martini/daiquiri/whiskey sour school, though there are a couple of themed drinks that take advantage of liquor from the homeland, such as the Copenhagen ($16), a refreshing, powerful, citrusy number that uses the Danish Cherry Heering liqueur in the mix and the Danish Mary ($16) that replaces the usual vodka with Taffel Aquavit.
There's a good list of the Aquavit, displaying the various intensities of caraway, dill, anise and citrus flavours for which the clear grain liqueur is known. It's a good fit for having an authentic Scandinavian quaffing session, alongside a short list of snacks such as an excellent hotdog ($9) packed with pickled cucumber, fried shallots, mustard, ketchup and addictive pork bubble ($6).
The wine list is brief and to the point, with mostly Australian labels supplemented by a couple from France, Austria and Germany. What's puzzling is that the Danes' remarkable reputation for boutique and artisan beer is absent from the list. Still, a couple of Tuborgs later, snuggled on a superbly designed sofa or lounging back in a sleek chrome-and-leather chair, the outrage over the beer situation will no doubt have abated. Surrounded by all that Danish attitude and design, it's hard to feel anything but chilled.
Cheers: The joy of being dunked in Danish design
Jeers: A disappointingly predictable beer list
"What we are trying to create here," Denmark House's Aileen Christensen says, "is a snapshot of what modern Denmark is about at the moment." That's certainly the case with Bar DANSK's blend of designer furniture, simple lines and the combination of openness and cosiness that the Danes do so well. But it's also there with the signature cocktail, the Copenhagen, which also blends "the modern and trendy with the historical and traditional", while still emphasising flavour and not shying away from packing a powerful punch.
50ml Bols Genever
20ml Cherry Heering Liqueur
20ml fresh-pressed lime juice
20ml sugar syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1. Shake all the ingredients with ice and then strain into a martini glass.
2. Garnish with a slice of organic orange peel.
The Age Good Bar Guide 2012, edited by Michael Harden, is available as a free app from iTunes or from bookshops for $10.