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There's a golden moment in gentrifying city districts - the period just before the local bohemian communities, with their eccentric shops and cheap coffee, are pushed out by their fellow travellers, real-estate developers. Such is certainly the case now in the Copenhagen neighbourhoods of Vesterbro, once a mustering point for prostitutes, and Norrebro, formerly the destination of choice for protest-hungry students.

"A few years ago, Vesterbro was one of the worst areas in Denmark," says 29-year-old Rune Jochumsen, one of the chefs/co-owners of area restaurant formel B. "People would have to take a 50-krone cab to get here."

The angriest screeds in Norrebro these days are on the walls of an espresso bar, and in most parts of Vesterbro you can shop for a lovely pair of pumps without being aggressively propositioned.

"It's cleaner now, but a little more boring," says Jonas, looking up from his book on the steps of Bang and Jensen, an old Vesterbro pharmacy that has been transformed into a trendsetters' gathering place. It's the middle of the afternoon and already the moth-eaten couches and rows of old cinema seats are filled with locals sipping craft beers and devouring muesli-based cuisine.

For a little excitement, perhaps Jonas could put down his book and head to the neighbourhood rock palace, Vega, whose mahogany floors and flamboyant friezes were a beehive of union offices a generation ago. Now, the building houses the soignée Ideal Bar, Vega Lounge and two concert halls that host headliners such as David Bowie, the Foo Fighters and Canadian star Feist, progressive groups like the Danish metal band Volbeat and ripping DJs like Fatboy Slim.

A few blocks away near the suburb of Frederiksberg is Meyers Deli, a café and artisanal grocery store at the centre of a culinary revolution known as the New Nordic cuisine. At square communal tables, fashionistas and toddler-toting parents sample the region's unique style of gastronomy in the form of brown ale ice cream, the oddly tropical sea buckthorn juice and a jam made of rare Arctic brambles. Some drop strawberries into a glass of birch juice, a barely sweet liquid that makes the fruit explode with flavour.

At formel B, meanwhile, Jochumsen and his 28-year-old partner, Kristian Moller, employ a shadowy local icon known as the Master Forager, a bike-riding countercultural elder statesman in his 70s who sometimes pulls lamb's lettuce and wild mushrooms straight from the ground of Vesterbro.

Danish style

Denmark's designers are attracting as much attention as its chefs these days, and design devotees should set their sights on Norrebro, where some of the country's most unconventional craftspeople are alighting on the quarter's pinwheel lanes.

On Elmegade, spirited clothing designers light up the racks at Funf, the lingerie at Missekat is dangerously flirty, and the neon-hued bicycles at Cykelmageren look like pop sculpture.

On adjacent Faelledvej, LLLP carries gem-coloured scarves and a respectable catalogue of cutting-edge Scandinavian jeans, from high-end Acne to Cheap Monday for the frugal.

The shop's fanciful lampshades, which pack flat for travel, illuminate one of Norrebro's liveliest - and cleanest - gathering spots, the Laundromat Café. Nirvana for the traveller who wants a good spin cycle with his cappuccino, the bistro is equipped with washers and dryers, as well as 4,000 used books, chess and backgammon sets, wireless Internet service and clued-in English-speaking locals.

"We opened here because Norrebro is a neighbourhood of designers," says Icelandic born owner Fridrik Weisshappel Jonsson, "the kind of people open to new things" - not because he felt the area needed a cleanup.

Maria Peterson agrees. The owner of Tea Time, a velvet-draped parlour offering delicate pink and yellow cupcakes, maintains that there would be no "princess" pastries here without the gritty streets. "In a nice neighbourhood, there would be no tension," she says. "My other shop is in Vesterbro."

Of course, compared with its firebrand era, Norrebro is counterculture lite these days. A political café has been transformed into one of Copenhagen's hottest music spots, Rust; a gathering place called Gefährlich, German for "dangerous," delivers underground trends via vinyl records and T-shirts; and a bit of raunch remains at concert venue Stengade 30, where the Rub a Dub Sundays promise to "waste" your Mondays.

But even now that the agent provocateurs have decamped for more affordable locales, parts of the neighbourhood remain untouched by sushi bars and shoe shops. A few metres from the chaotic second-hand stores on Ravnsborggade, the pierced and tattooed brush shoulders with hijab-clad women, Muslim kids lift their robes to kick a soccer ball and shawarma stands outnumber smoked-fish shops.

Gentrification still seems a long way off.

Pack your bags


Free Audio Guided Walk

The Museum of Copenhagen ( ) offers six walking tours of Vesterbro guided by MP3 soundtracks from innovative young artists. You can also bypass the museum by downloading the walks from .

Bang & Jensen Istedgade 130; .

Vega Nightclub & Ideal Bar Enghavevej 40; .

Meyers Deli Gammel Kongevej 107; .

formel B Vesterbrogade 182; .


Funf Elmegade 2; .

Missekat Elmegade 17; .

Cykelmageren Kongensgade 57; .

LLLP.DK & Kirk Design

Faelledvej 18; .

The Laundromat Café

Elmegade 15;


Tea Time Birkegade 3;


Rust Guldbergsgade 8; .

Stengade 30 Stengade 18; .

Gefahrlich Faelledvej 7.