Black Louis: Delicious food in calm waters
Having lived for five years on an old Dutch customs boat in Aarhus, Preben Hald and Tina Steen had the idea of running a café on the water. Such were their ambitions that they decided to buy a small ferry, and convert it into a restaurant.
After a total makeover lasting several months, the boat now has a professional kitchen, oozes charm and even boasts a public bar. Now, diners can board Black Louis (Sorte Louis) and enjoy food prepared with fresh Danish raw ingredients in a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.
Photo: Pigeon Air Photo ApS
In June 2016, the first guests stepped inside the restaurant on board the Black Louis in Marselisborg marina, Aarhus. Here, the kitchen serves everything from hung-aged Danish rib-eye beef to fish from the local fishmonger – and even an affordable dish for students. The saloon has seating for 48 people, with space for almost as many on deck.
Both the ship and the restaurant are owned by the couple Preben Hald and Tina Steen. Before opening the restaurant, they spent the previous season running a café, but they are old hands when it comes to life on the water.
“We have sailed for many years, and six years ago we bought an old customs boat which had spent much of its life cruising the Dutch canals. Since then it has been home for us and our three children, while passers-by have often assumed our vessel in the marina was a café – perhaps because we have a draught beer tap in the kitchen table,” says Preben Hald.
“So, a couple of years ago we looked each other in the eyes and decided to open a café on board. Here, we mostly served drinks and beverages, but also panini and tapas. It was a huge success with lots of satisfied customers, but we soon felt that we were running out of space given that the boat was also our home,” he says.
The solution was to buy a bigger boat so that the family could run a restaurant while also being able to enjoy the peace and quiet on their own houseboat.
Extensive alterations required
Preben Hald knew about the ferry Black Louis, which previously sailed to the island of Endelave near Horsens. He traced the ship to Holbæk harbour, and when the owner – a local businessman – agreed to sell, the dream started to take shape.
“On 10 January 2016, I sailed Black Louis back home to Aarhus together with a couple of friends. Then we started the alterations by pulling the boat to pieces. It was in excellent condition, but we had big plans for it,” says Preben Hald.
“We removed everything below deck to lay vinyl flooring and install a professional kitchen complete with gas, water, drains, heating and air extraction systems. In addition, we installed screens to shield diners from the wind wherever they are on the boat. The third big change was that we cut the wheel house in half and extended it by a few metres to create space for a proper public bar.”
Full house without excessive noise
One of the few things on board the Black Louis which has been left untouched is the white-painted wood wool ceiling, which had been installed when the boat was previously refurbished in 2005.
“When the restaurant is full to capacity, the ceiling ensures that the acoustics remain comfortable. It helps a lot in the confined space, where there is not much else to dampen the noise,” says Preben Hald, who has added a mahogany strip to the ceiling as a finishing touch.
Throughout the renovation project, he has been both architect and tradesman in the process of transforming the ferry into a charming restaurant with modern facilities. Previously, Preben Hald was a commercial artist, but now works full time in the restaurant. His wife Tina Steen also plays a key role, but has a different day job. The couple has also employed a chef to prepare the delicious dishes.
“We do not have that much experience at running a restaurant and café. On the other hand, we know what it means to have a boat. What is most important, given that everything has to function properly from water and diesel tanks to ventilation systems and pumps, and that we always have to make sure that the boat is moored correctly, is that our guests have a calm and relaxing visit,” says Preben Hald.