On top of the world, headed under the table
Stars and Stripes June 16, 2007
THULE, Greenland — It’s a pretty safe bet that every person in the bar was about as high as he or she had ever been.
Latitude-wise, you just can’t go much farther up the globe and still have solid land under your feet. So the folks at the Top of the World club at Thule Air Base were having the world’s northern-most Thursday night.
It was a big night in Thule because the Air Force announced its promotion list earlier in the day, and a number of the base’s 140 or so military personnel were awarded a stripe. It entitled them to buy a lot of people a lot of drinks, from tall glasses of dark, Danish Tuborg Classic beer to a devilish two-toned mix of tequila and Tabasco sauce called, depending on whom you asked, a Tornado or a Prairie Fire.
So the airmen and a number of the approximately 550 Danish and American support personnel came out for a rousing round of drinks at the Viking Bar at the TOW club, as it’s called, because quite literally there is not another place that doesn’t involve an airplane flight to get to for a cold bottle of Bud and a plate of hot wings.
As such, it was somewhat crowded in the one-room establishment with the rectangular island bar, set up to look and feel like a good old American sports bar. It’s well-lit and festooned with TVs, with two pool tables in the middle — one for the regular game of eight ball, the other with five wooden dowels standing upright in the center and just three balls on the felt.
This is for a game called Danish pool or “pins billiards,” according to a man named Henrik. The game involves trying to hit combinations of the one red and two white balls without colliding with the dowels.
Few tried their hand at the game on Thursday, however, because the patrons of the Viking were somewhat more single-minded in the pursuit of another activity — making newcomers drink rows of shots of increasingly distasteful liquor.
To be sure, the most unique thing about a bar 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle is the drink selection. Because Greenland has historically been a Danish colony, the only beers on tap are Denmark staples, the Tuborg and an amber selection called Carl’s, though U.S. bottled beers are available.
But it’s the Danish liquors that separate the Thule drink selection from bars in more hospitable climates, and descriptions of them run like a horror story.
The first was called Gajol. It comes in two varieties, blue and yellow. Both are a viscous dark liquid of identical appearance, but of distinctly different flavor — yellow is like a mouthful of fermented Good & Plenty candies, and blue’s a sinus-clearing sour concoction.
“We have a tradition in Denmark to drink schnapps,” said another man named Henrik, so it’s on to Red Aalborg, a light-brown liquor named after the town where it is distilled.
“It’s made of old potatoes,” Henrik said. It’s an esophagus-searing liquid with a bitter aftertaste.
“Smells like gasoline,” reads a scribbled note under the words, “86 proof.”
Numerous patrons lament that the Viking was out of the two most notoriously bad-tasting Thule treats Thursday night, a pair of drinks called Fisherman’s and Northern Sea Oil.
Similarly, people are waiting for Friday to delve into the most popular drink on the world’s biggest island in the planet’s northernmost American military installation. That night, patrons will dip into pitchers of orange juice, vodka and an unnamed blue mixer that are combined in an evil potion called “Green Goop,” for their entertainment.
It sounds devastating, but with 24 hours of sun and only a few roads on the base, at least it’s hard to get lost on the way home.