Long before design hotels became hip hostelries, Copenhagen had one in 1960 – and it may well have been the first. Today that landmark hotel is called the Royal Hotel Radisson Blu, the latest of several incarnations although “Royal” has been a constant since Arne Jacobsen, Denmark’s master architect/designer, first began work on the Royal Hotel in 1956 for Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS). When it opened four years later it was Scandinavia’s largest hotel and Copenhagen’s first skyscraper.
And that was by no means all.
Everything about the hotel – from the exterior to the interior, from the lobby to the top floor restaurant, the faucets, door handles, even the restaurant’s flatware – was the product of Arne Jacobsen’s creative mind. No wonder he is called the father of modern Danish design and is famous the world over.
The building itself is a spare 22-storey vertical rectangle in the International Style, with bands of uninterrupted windows marking each floor, set at one end of a low horizontal slab that originally accommodated the SAS terminal, now long gone. It was inspired by New York City’s Lever Building, and caused consternation among the locals who feared it would fall down. Noted architect Philip Johnson reportedly called it the worst copy of the Lever house, to which Jacobsen replied, “At least, it came in first when they held a competition for the ugliest building in Copenhagen.”
Inside, the spacious lobby is all Arne; marble floors, rich wood walls, a seemingly free-floating staircase, and what could pass as a showroom for several of Jacobsen’s ground-breaking swivel chair designs, welcoming groups of red and black Swan chairs, black leather Eggs, tan leather Swans, and hanging over the circular check-in counters fellow designer Poul Henningsen’s golden “artichoke” lamps. Another famous chair, the “Seven,” provides seating for the Cafe Royal, the hotel’s casual restaurant off the lobby, and in the elegant Alberto K, but more of that later.
A relatively recent refurbishing, overseen by interior designer Yasmine Mahmoudieh, honored Jacobsen’s modernist style while modernizing outworn fittings, and retained the flavor with a lot of maple and mirrors. Most rooms have a pair of Swan chairs, and all have broad windows with city views; some, if you’re lucky, of the nearby Tivoli Gardens.
Room 606, now called the Arne Jacobsen Suite, has been restored exactly as the master created it; soft marine blue Egg and Swan chairs, sofa, an early version of the “Seven” at his cantilevered desk-dressing table with flip-up mirrored top, and palisander rosewood panels. You can book Room 606 like all of the 260 rooms – it’s pricier – or see it if it’s unoccupied: The hotel loves showing it off.
The other Jacobsen gem is the top floor Alberto K. Restaurant. Named for Alberto Kappenberger, the hotel’s first general manager who promoted Jacobsen’s design, diners get panoramic city views through wraparound windows as they sit in the popular green leather “Seven” chairs, and sample Scandinavian-Italian cuisine with Jacobsen’s sleek minimalist cutlery (for sale at Georg Jensen).
With all this going for it, the hotel’s superb city center location is icing on the cake. Just a block from the train station, it is virtually across the street from Tivoli Garden, the famous playground-park with amusements, rides and restaurants to delight the most down-to-earth or sophisticated visitors.
Every so often one hotel embodies one particular architectural style so perfectly it becomes an icon. Copenhagen found its icon half a century ago: It is still the place to stay for Danish design aficionados.
Royal Hotel Radisson Blu (most recently the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel), Hammerichsgade1. Call 800-447-4136 or visit the website.