After 125 years, the Danish Athletic Club has recently been renovated as a lodestar of Scandinavian culture in a community which, while it still hosts the Miss Norway Contest and the Norwegian Constitution Day Parade, is no longer dominated by the Danish, Scandinavian, and Norwegian people who once comprised a significant percentage of the population.
That said, President of Danish Athletic Properties Dave Thorsen — who gave this paper an exclusive tour of the newly refurbished facility at 735 65th Street — is looking to do is “share the culture, and pass it down to kids.”
“We’re hoping to act as a lighthouse in the Nordic community, to be able to attract more attention in the South Brooklyn area. The goal is growth,” Thorsen added.
The club wasn’t always at the border of Bay Ridge and Sunset Park. At first, in 1892, the club met on Court Street in Piper Hall. Despite the decades of change, the club managed to stay afloat, he said, though, he added, it has morphed since it’s initial opening.
Rather than being exclusively Scandinavian, the traditional spot has long since started accepting other cultures. Among those in the kitchen is Moe, the dishwasher and prep cook in training, who is Egyptian but is considered in the club to be Danish by association.
He works with Thorsen, who at present doubles as the club chef, creating such traditional favorites as Kjottkaker (Norwegian meatballs), Frikadeller (Danish Meatballs), and assorted desserts that include an apple pie so fresh it felt like it came right out of the oven.
Three years after renovations began, the club now has a Nordic gift shop, a coffee room, a Tudor facade and twice the number of members. The focus in the new business model is more on catering as opposed to a traditional restaurant, and Thorsen credited the success to internal restructuring with his father Ted along with help from local businesses. A skylight is almost completely reinstalled, and the next big steps for the club include bringing back the dart team and putting in a rooftop deck.
Nonetheless, the experience of being at the club is like a surreal form of time-traveling. In the new coffee room, AKA the Kaffe Stua, wood from the ’70s lines the walls, and the club has maintained a level of comfort, “like coming to Grandma’s house on a Sunday for dinner,” said Thorsen.
The combination appears to be working. Thorsen said he noticed more hipsters in addition to current members finding the old culture interesting and said that, by “doubling down on what we are, we attract more people.”
Coming up on Saturday, September 9, the club will celebrate its 125th anniversary at a gala that begins at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75 and include a cocktail hour, open bar, full meal and music performed by Jeanne Eriksson Andersen and Smørgasbandet. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-748-7844.