In order to understand the present, one must look at the past. One of my favourite quotes (by American Astronomer, Carl Sagan) and very befitting for a property like Phoenix Copenhagen. Cause here, history plays a very central role everywhere you look. Join me for a stay inside this 342 year-old building, which stands just as prominent as it did some hundred years ago.
Rich in history and old-world elegance
Together with its neighbours – the Royal Castle of Amalienborg and the Marble Church – Phoenix Copenhagen has been a key player in the writing of Copenhagen’s history. Back then, a preferred hang-out spot for the nobility and even royals. Today, a four-star hotel run by the family-owned chain, Arp-Hansen, who also manage several other properties in the Danish capital.
Built by Colonel Samuel Christof von Plessen in the 1680s – when Copenhagen was a rich and flourishing merchant city of approximately 50.000 inhabitants – Hotel Phoenix was originally a two-storey house with 12 windows. “Den Plessenske Gaard”, it was called, taking name after its builder.
Over the following decades, the area become a hub for the Danish nobility, and it all accelerated when King Frederik the 6th requested to have four mansions built in the area. That came to be the impressive Amalienborg, and the Danish royal family still reside here today.
The second owner of the building (the current Phoenix Copenhagen) was a French nobleman by the name of Jean Henri Huguetan Gyldensteen. He used it as his private home, but when he died in 1749, the future for the property laid open. From 1749 up until the 1830s, several different residents came to live here; from the co-founder of the East Indian Company, William von Halling, who kept African slaves in the basement, to Urban Jürgensen; a praised clockmaker for the royal court. The location of the building was indeed practical if you were involved in noble or even royal affairs. This reputation still lingers around the area, which in modern times is also known as Copenhagen’s financial district. One can still find some of the city’s most prominent shops and companies in the streets surrounding Phoenix Copenhagen.
When the Scottish engineer William Murdoch bought “Den Plessenske Gaard” in 1837, he instantly saw the need of a restaurant in the area, where merchants and noblemen could have a drink and exchange stories. So, he established “Stadt Hamburg”, which became hugely popular, and in the following decade, Mr. Murdoch made a fortune.
But the real hero, at least in terms of Phoenix Copenhagen, was a Danish merchant by the name of Joachim Topp. He bought the property of William Murdoch, and decided to re-build it completely. He wanted to create an exclusive hotel unlike any other in Copenhagen, and so – like a Phoenix rising from the ashes – the building opened its doors once again in 1848, only this time as a hotel with one extra floor.
The hotel quickly became “the place to stay” for both local and foreign noblemen, merchants and other good people who were looking for quality and exclusivity. This wasn’t so easy to find back then, unless you were a part of the royal court, so Phoenix Copenhagen quickly became very popular.
Of course, the cuisine here had to be high end as well. Joachim Topp knew this, which is why he decided to call in Stephen á Porta from Switzerland. The legendary chef turned the establishment into a sought-after venue and introduced concepts such as dejéuner á la fourchette – hot lunch.
Every grand hotel have had its share of permanent guests coming over and over again. The ultimate love declaration! For Phoenix Copenhagen, it was the poet Adam Oehlenschläger who didn’t just stay for a night; he lived here from 1848-1849. King Christian the 8th paid several visits here, and he would also lodge visiting royalty inside of the old hotel (when there was no room at the castle).
The end of a grand era
New winds started to blow during the First World War. In 1917, when Henry Søborg took over the hotel, the culture around the hotel had changed. The aristocracy could no longer afford prolonged stays in the capital, and people didn’t need accommodation when they could get to and from the capital on the same day, thanks to the modern railways.
As time went by, the existence of the hotel was threatened. The old loyal clientele was no longer around, and the roaring 20s had other things in stock then elegant hotels. Then, in 1940, at the beginning of World War II, German officers took over the building, and with the liberation in 1945, the hotel was used as military headquarter for the Allied Forces.
The old grand hotel stood empty for a while before Denmark’s Communist Party bought it in 1946. Our first chapter of Phoenix Copenhagen’s story ends here. A burned-out nest and no rising phoenix on the horizon. Only many decades later, in 1990, the property was purchased by the Arp-Hansen family who already ran several other hotels in town. The family decided to re-open the address as a hotel, and to revive the splendour of the past – or at least, to some degree.
For 32 years consecutively, the house has done what it was always supposed to do; welcoming guests from near and far. Many other hotels have seen the light of day in the Danish capital ever since, but real magic still resides inside the old walls of the Phoenix Copenhagen. The two restaurants are named after its gifted predecessors; Restaurant Plessen and Brasserie Murdoch’s Books & Ale. The suites also carry names after royal attractions and important personalities who contributed to creating the hotel as we see today.
As you’re greeted by the marble-covered lobby, the first thing you notice is an interesting collection of Golden Age art. This belongs to the Arp-Hansen family and help preserve the original spirit of the place. As an art lover myself (especially Golden Age art), I was pleased to explore both the lobby and the corridors of the hotel. An interesting story is connected to each piece, and it reminds you that in order to understand the present, we surely must look into the past.
The 213-room hotel still sits on one of the best addresses in Copenhagen – and inarguably the most exciting history as well. After enjoying a sumptous breakfast, you can immerse yourself in local culture, art and shopping right outside the revolving doors. If you’d rather stay indoors, there’s plenty of room to do so. Dogs are welcome, and there’s even a small gym in the basement.
Enjoy your stay in the old part of Copenhagen. Go to www.phoenixcopenhagen.dk for more info.