Copenhagen’s Latest Draw? An Abandoned Shipyard

Danes see potential in unlikely places. In Copenhagen, a city that cultivated a worldwide gastronomic movement from the ostensibly meager bounty of the Nordic landscape, the latest local hot spot is a decaying former shipyard.

Refshaleoen, in the city’s northeastern docklands, is a heavily industrial area that once housed one of Europe’s largest shipbuilding operations. When the shipyards closed decades ago, many of the hulking warehouses and factory buildings were left deserted.

“So many of my colleagues in the city, when I told them that we were going to open up out here, they said to me, ‘You’re crazy. It’s so far away, it’s so far away. No one’s going to go,’” said Matt Orlando, the former head chef at Noma who left to open his own outstanding restaurant, Amass, in Refshaleoen in 2013. (In 2018, Noma itself opened its much-anticipated new location minutes away.)

“Five years ago, it was a place where, at night, really weird things would go on,” Mr. Orlando recalled of the early days, when the restaurant’s large dining room windows offered guests views of both the adjacent garden and occasional illicit drug use.

“If you’re coming out here, you’re coming because you want a different experience,” he said. “It’s this kind of industrial, kind of post-apocalyptic vibe out here. Everything’s in containers, it’s kind of anything goes, so to speak.”

On his first visit to the waterside site two years ago, Mr. Schmidt said, “I remember at the time thinking, ‘Wow, it’s kind of like the wild West out here.’ It’s definitely evolved since then.”

“Now the island is a destination for Copenhageners as a cool place to hang out,” Mr. Orlando said, particularly as spring approaches and sun-starved Scandinavians eagerly venture outdoors again. “The more people out here, the better.”

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