Flyvergrillen: This offbeat gem might be the most famous fast-food place in Denmark
Despite its cult-like status among Danes from all walks of life and a few initiated foreigners, Flyvergrillen is still a well-kept secret for most international visitors to Copenhagen.
It might not look the part, but Flyvergrillen is a Copenhagen classic. If you continue along one of the city’s main roads, starting in the heart of the city and continuing for some five miles until you literally can’t go any further (it’s very reachable by both bike and bus), you’ll find it. It’s tucked away in an old industrial neighborhood, its nearest neighbors being an auto repair shop and a road safety center.
And the airport, of course.
The main attraction: Throughout the day, plane spotters and more casual observers flock to Flyvergrillen to look at and photograph the nearby airplanes. Photo:Thomas Høyrup Christensen
Its location is the defining characteristic of Flyvergrillen, and the reason for its name (which loosely translates into “The Airplane Grill”). It’s also a big part of its appeal: It’s become a magnet for plane spotters, families, and anyone else looking to get an up-close look at different types of aircraft as they land or take to the sky, the ground nearly shaking from the low roar of the jet engine less than a hundred meters from the grill.
A time-capsule on the edge of town
The other part of what makes Flyvergrillen tick is the unmistakable feeling of nostalgia that washes over you when you’re there. It’s a time-capsule giving you a rare glimpse into a simpler time, before Copenhagen was named international capital of cool. Where the staff still use a landline to take orders by phone, and families and pensioners rub shoulders with famous footballers and celebrities to enjoy traditional Danish fast-food, whose original recipes and ingredients have stood the test of time.These two factors have turned out to be a winning combination.
Even on a Wednesday in November, the grill is sizzling with activity, and owner Jannie Eilsø is busy churning out pork-roast and steak sandwiches with brown gravy – two of Flyvergrillen’s signature dishes, certain to make the eyes of Danish fast-food aficionados light up.
”I remember seeing this place for the first time on a sunny day, with green grass and blue skies, and immediately thinking to myself: This is where I want to be. It was just so completely different from the inner city where I came from”, recalls Jannie Eilsø, when thinking back to the spring of 1991, when she first laid eyes on the now legendary grill bar. She bought it soon after and swapped working in a restaurant in Copenhagen’s iconic Nyhavn district for a different vibe altogether
A plane-spotter’s paradise
Ironically, the nearby planes were the last thing on her mind when she first fell in love with Flyvergrillen, and she still feels that way.
“I enjoy flying and travelling, but I’m not a plane enthusiast at all myself. To be honest, I’ve grown so accustomed to the sound that I hardly even notice them anymore,” she says of her airborne neighbors.
Still, the plane spotters are a fixture of the place, even if they don’t frequent the grill itself that much. An elusive community of mostly middle-aged men (although Jannie does recall at least two women), they sometimes spend entire days camped out by the barbed-wire fence separating the airport from the rest of the world, their cameras equipped with long-focus lenses the length of a small arm.
“They often bring their own food and coffee, and occasionally pop in for a refill or an ice cream, which is actually fine by me,” says Jannie Eilsø. She believes strongly in making sure Flyvergrillen is a place where everyone can feel welcome and at home and has cultivated a long-lasting community with both returning customers and her own staff, some of whom have worked at Flyvergrillen for close to 20 years. Numbers like that are a rarity in Copenhagen’s fast-changing restaurant landscape, where new places open and close on a whim.
50 years as a Danish fast-food temple
The loyalty of local guests also kept the grill afloat during the pandemic (where the main attraction was suddenly gone for months on end), as well as the Icelandic ash cloud a decade earlier. Even if things slowed down considerably for a while, Flyvergrillen pulled through.
The bøfsandwich literally means “steak sandwich”. One of the signature dishes at Flyvergrillen, it’s an over-the-top greasy, Danish take on a hamburger drowned in brown gravy.Photo:Thomas Høyrup Christensen
All in all, Flyvergrillen is living through a streak of remarkable years right now. 2022 is the 50th birthday of the grill itself, whose humble beginnings can be traced back to 1972, when it started as an ice cream stall, and 2021 also marked a special anniversary, as Jannie Eilsø celebrated 30 years at Flyvergrillen. Even though she still gets a kick out of meeting friendly new faces, she recently put the grill up for lease. She will remain on as the owner, however, ensuring that the legacy of Flyvergrillen lives on.
For the food alone, Flyvergrillen is worth a visit – for the atmosphere, it’s a must. It’s reachable from central Copenhagen in roughly 30 minutes either by bus or by bike.