Where in Bangkok do you go when you get a craving for a piece of Danish rye bread for lunch or fried slices of pork with parsley sauce for dinner? Where can you celebrate Danish Christmas or Morten’s Night with duck ad libitum?
There is only one place, and that’s Stable Lodge on Sukhumvit soi 8. The legendary Danish restaurant and hotel is a whole institution in Southeast Asia and a regular meeting spot for Scandinavians. Both tourists and expats gather there when they are in need for some Danish ‘hygge’ and Scandinavian food.
The man who runs Stable Lodge is Steffen Ingemann. He spends most of his time at the restaurant, keeping an eye on both guests and staff. Everyone knows who he is – and yet they don’t. Because the fact is that Steffen behind his very social role at the restaurant, is a private man who doesn’t like to talk about himself. Just to do this interview with ScandAsia took a good deal of convincing and encouragement to happen.
“Well, you know… there is not much to say about me,” Steffen Ingemann, 62, says, sitting in the restaurant by a table with the characteristic red and white chequered tablecloth. He orders a cup of coffee.
“I never drink alcohol before 5pm… and only two beers maximum per day. Then maybe a glass of red wine and a drink later but that’s it. I also exercise every day,” he reveals.
Stable Lodge is Steffen’s second home, and no doubt about the fact that he is proud of it and its great success.
“We are the best Scandinavian restaurant outside Denmark, both in terms of food, service and Danish ‘hygge’. You will not find a place with better traditional Danish food than here. Go to Spain, Pattaya or anywhere else. Our food beats it,” the Dane promises, adding:
“All credit for the good food goes to Erik ‘Buddha’. Everyone knows how much he loved food. We still have the same Thai kitchen chef as 18 years ago when Erik taught her to make the dishes”.
Freedom as travel guide
To get to know the history of Stable Lodge we need to go back to the mid 70’s in Bangkok. Here, a Danish guesthouse named ‘Mermaid’ opened on soi 8, on the opposite site of Stable Lodge and closer to the Sukhumvit road. It was the Dane Jørgen Lundbeck who started Mermaid which was mainly used by Danish seamen who came to there to get a place to stay or some Danish home cooked food far from home.
In 1979 the young man 31-years old Steffen Ingemann from Nykøbing Falster arrived to Thailand as a travel guide for Tjæreborg. He had been a guide for two years and worked in many different countries.
“I had been married nine years in Denmark, had a house, a big car and a really good job for the Scandinavian Tobacco Company. But then I got a divorce and went on a charter trip to Italy. I saw how the local travel guides lived their life. The sun was shining, the wine was plentiful and it simply looked like a good life. Shortly after, I quit my job in Denmark. Everyone thought I had gone nuts, but I didn’t care. Money isn’t everything. I grabbed the opportunity to enjoy my new freedom and exploring the world,” he remembers.
He travelled to many countries and enjoyed it; however, when he arrived to Thailand, he was sold.
“I had already seen a lot of Asia but I knew that I would not find a better place than here. But hey… it’s the same old story. Everybody falls in love with Thailand,” says Steffen.
The Stable name
As a part of the Danish community in Bangkok Steffen started hanging around at the Mermaid Guesthouse. However, as Thailand became more and more popular among tourists in the beginning of the 1980’s, Mermaid with its 25 rooms became too small.
The owner Jørgen decided to get a new apartment building in the same soi 8 on Sukhumvit, and he did it with Erik ‘Buddha’Winther and Steffen. However, it took a few years before it became the Stable Lodge we know. First, a rich Thai woman bought the whole place, made it into a hotel, which didn’t work and then she asked Steffen, Jørgen and Erik if they wanted to run it again as a Scandinavian concept. They agreed and it is now 18 years ago.
“We needed a new name for it and the name ‘Stable Lodge’ was actually suggested by an American friend. We loved the name instantly; it had a catchy sound in English but also in Danish ‘På Stalden’. It sounded good and we decorated the place after its new name,” Steffen says and looks around in the restaurant.
The team of three – Jørgen, Erik ‘Buddha’ and Steffen – expanded the hotel with the restaurant and has run it ever since. In the late 1980’s Steffen stopped working as a guide and was now fully devoted to Stable Lodge.
It isn’t a secret that Erik ‘Buddha’ was a man who enjoyed life, including a lot of food and beers. Unfortunately, he got very sick, had a leg amputated and needed to move back to Denmark four years ago. Jørgen and Erik took over his share of Stable Lodge.
“Erik used to be the restaurant entertainer and front figure while I was running the hotel and administration. When he went to Denmark, I had to come out in the spotlight,” Steffen says with a shy smile.
His partner Jørgen is busy with other business and is a ‘sleeping partner’ as Steffen describes it.
“Jørgen doesn’t interfere but trusts my judgment and work. He is a perfect partner”.
Steffen spends 10-12 hours every day at the Stable Lodge. However, he still sees his family a lot, since his Thai wife is the one with the overall responsibility for staff and paper work.
They met in the beginning of the 1980’s, she went to Sweden to get an education. 17 years ago after finishing her education, she came back to Thailand and later became a lawyer. She is working fulltime at the Stable Lodge, making sure that everything is up and running. Together her and Steffen have 15 year-old daughter.
“Our daughter is more European than Thai and speaks Danish, Thai and English fluently. She studies at an international school out here and is going on a Danes Worldwide summer camp to Denmark this year for the first time,” Steffen says with a proud smile adding:
“After my mom died three years ago I haven’t been to Denmark. However, this Summer I will go with my daughter, so she doesn’t have to travel all alone to Denmark,” he says with a warm smile.
Future of Stable Lodge
Last year was tough all over Thailand for hotels and restaurants. However, Stable Lodge with its 41 rooms managed to get by.
“Usually we help filling up the neighbor hotel since we can’t accommodate all our requests. We couldn’t help them last year, but even though it went slower than the previous year we were never in a crisis. We are fully booked ten months of the year,” Steffen says.
Being 62 years old, Steffen has thought about the future of Stable Lodge.
“I’m getting older and one day we want to sell. Of course the price should be right, but the ownership is also very important. I really hope it will be kept on Scandinavian hands with the Scandinavian concept. I would be sad to see it being turned into an Indian restaurant,” he says adding:
“I mean, why change something that is such a success as Stable Lodge.”
Steffen has to go and the interview is over. ScandAsia’s reporter forgot to thank him and his partners. Thank them for the little piece of Danish ‘hygge’ that exists in Bangkok, far away from home.