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For visitors to the city it is an attraction, for locals a second home, and for artists and literati an institution: the Viennese Coffeehouse.

Coffeehouses in Vienna are much more than just places to drink coffee – they are a way of life. The city boasts in excess of 800 of them – in addition to the numerous café bars, café restaurants and pizza cafés throughout the city. Around 150 are classic coffeehouses, where the waiters are still dressed in black, and the décor is as unpretentious as it was in the ‘good old days’: wooden floors, marble-topped tables, and seating that is simple and plush.

Every ‘scene’ in Vienna has its own café: workers at the ministries have Café Ministerium on Georg-Coch-Platz, art students Prückel at Stubenring, and politicians Landtmann at Dr. Karl-Lueger-Ring. The coffeehouse is a place for philosophizing, meditating, idling, reading the newspaper, gossiping, canoodling, playing billiards or chess, discussing everything under the sun with strangers – and, of course, enjoying coffee and cakes.

The great novelist Heimito von Doderer wrote in 1960 that Vienna was “a city of Roman origin aspiring to the Mediterranean”. To him this explained why the atmosphere in a Viennese café was one of “meditative quiet and idle passing of time” familiar to anyone who had visited an Oriental or Turkish café.

Tradition and Turmoil

However, such an ambience is less prevalent in the city’s most popular coffeehouses. Griensteidl on Michaelerplatz is a former meeting place for literati, which was reopened in new premises on the original site in 1990. It lies directly on the Hofburg-Kohlmarkt-Graben-Stephansplatz tourist route, making it a good place for visitors to Vienna to rest their feet and enjoy a hot pick-me-up. Café Central in Herrengasse, whose large columned hall was painstakingly restored in 1986, is just 100 meters further down the street as you head towards the university and Votive Church.

Both establishments can look back on a long tradition. The atmosphere in the “old” Griensteidl was legendary. For 50 intensive years, from 1847 to 1897, the café in the former Palais Dietrichstein was Vienna’s most famous cultural “institution”. There was hardly a writer, actor, critic, architect or musician of note in this fin-de-siècle world who did not frequent it. The main pioneers of Viennese Modernism were present practically in their entirety: Hermann Bahr, Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Hugo Wolf, Fritz Kreisler, Arnold Schoenberg and many more. A “compact system of energy circles”, wrote Edward Timms, from which an “astonishingly creative energy” emanated. In 1897, Griensteidl was demolished. With a nostalgic and an ironic regard, Karl Kraus lamented in Die demolierte Literatur: “Our literature has entered into a period of homelessness; the thread of literary production has been cruelly cut.” Fortunately, other cafés continued to exist. The regulars at the Griensteidl simply moved to Café Central.

Stammtisch Code of Conduct

Today the poet Peter Altenberg – or at least a papier-mâché version of him – still presides over Café Central in Herrengasse. In the first third of the 20th century this was the eccentric bohemian’s postal address and where he had his Stammtisch (“regulars’ table”), meeting up with Adolf Loos, one of the most important Modernist architects, his wife Lina, the actor and essayist Egon Friedell and the writer Alfred Polgar.

Altenberg, whose short prose pieces and sketches, once described by Egon Friedell as “thousand section magazines full of small and miniscule observations”, even established rules – albeit not to be taken too seriously – for his regular Stammtisch. For example: “It is forbidden to cut one’s nails at the table, even with one’s own old-style personal scissors, but particularly with the new-fangled nail cutters, as the cuttings could land in a beer glass and would be very difficult to extricate.” It is at one of these tables that the 20-year-old Caroline Obertimpfler (pen name Lina Loos) is said to have spontaneously accepted the proposal of marriage by Adolf Loos, twelve years her senior. Her later celebrated Buch ohne Titel, contained articles, sketches and recollections holding a mirror up to this fin-de-siècle generation.

Today the atmosphere in Café Central is businesslike, bourgeois and cultivated. During the week it is frequented by staff of nearby banks. At weekends, tourists, genteel old ladies and retired civil servants join the papier-mâché poet and listen reverently to the piano player.

Another favorite meeting place of the big names of turn-of-the-century Vienna  (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus, Georg Trakl, Elias Canetti, Hermann Broch, Robert Musil, Leo Perutz, Alban Berg, Franz Lehár, Oscar Strauss and Otto Wagner) is Café Museum, which first opened its doors in 1899 in a prime location by Naschmarkt and the Secession building. The original, pared down interior was created by Adolf Loos, who would go on to become a regular. Featuring Thonet pieces, it provided a striking contrast to the historicist fashions of the day, earning it the tag of Café Nihilismus. In 1931 the interior was replaced by Josef Zotti, who although one of the most successful of all Josef Hoffmann’s students has today faded into obscurity. After several closures and a number of redesigns the café reopened in 2010 with the Zotti design concept restored.

A Naked Man and Self-Delusion

Another traditional café in the 1st district is Café Hawelka. Its popularity and arty image go back to the post-war years when Hans Weigel, himself a writer, promoter of talent and cultural institution, chose the tiny coffeehouse run by Leopold and Josefine Hawelka as his home from home. The reason was simple: it was open until midnight. Following the death of Josefine in 2005 the café upheld the legendary tradition of serving fresh baked Buchteln (a bohemian specialty) every day at 10 p.m. On December 29 2011 Leopold Hawelka passed away in his 101th year, having spent a couple of hours in his café virtually every day up until a short time before his death.

Hans Weigel’s example was soon followed by other writers, artists and intellectuals – “on the snowball or avalanche principle” (Weigel). In the 1950s and 1960s Café Hawelka became the home of the anti-bourgeois oppositional artist movement. It was a public meeting place for individualists, an ideas exchange and an island of unconventionality. It is little wonder that the naked man in Georg Danzer’s song Jö, schau doesn’t raise an eyebrow in Café Hawelka.

Many literati used to meet regularly at Hawelka and the Vienna group – H.C. Artmann, Konrad Bayer, Gerhard Rühm and Oswald Wiener – used to spend long nights there. Artmann said of the small, smoke-filled establishment in Dorotheergasse that without it “much would have remained undone, unsaid or even unthought of”. The great novelist Heimito von Doderer also felt at home there. André Heller visited the café for the first time at the age of 14 and, as he wrote in 1982, immediately molded his behavior. He fantasized and made up stories like there was no tomorrow – from writing to travel – and by all accounts with great credibility. “Later I often had the feeling,” said Heller, “that these first minutes of my acquaintanceship with the Buchteln paradise already had all the main ingredients for future Hawelka nights: story telling, self-deceit, the urge to reminisce, criticize and stylize. The ground floor of Dorotheergasse 6 was filled with people who did not keep their own promises. […] Yet the gracious waiter took his guests to be what they vainly aspired to be. Fantasy and reality were all one for him – and he was just as incapable of imagining his guests as inhabitants of a real, fug-free world as they were of imaging him without his jacket and grease-specked bowtie.”

Hawelka is no longer fuggy thanks to the smoking ban which was enforced despite protests by regulars and the Hawelka family’s failed attempt to secure listed status for the café’s atmosphere., Its clientele has also changed. Although the tables are now filled with students and tourists, the atmosphere between the thick layers of posters on the walls, the telephone booth and worn-out plush benches remains unique. And the hot fresh Buchteln (jam-filled yeast cakes) at 10 pm are not to be missed.

Home from Home

After the great lull in the coffeehouse tradition in the 1960s and 1970s, many cafés were restored to their former glory in the subsequent 20 years, including such well known establishments as Schwarzenberg at Kärntner Ring and Landtmann. Other old Viennese cafés reinvented themselves as cool post-modern espresso bars, much to the delight of the young and fashionable.

Café Drechsler on Naschmarkt is an outstanding example of how to marry tradition with a stylish and modern atmosphere. Drechsler opened its doors for the very first time in 1919 and was sympathetically remodeled in 2007 by star British architect Sir Terence Conran to create a Vienna coffee house for the 21st century. Open virtually round the clock, instead of the customary pianist visitors will be treated to live DJ music several nights a week.

Coffeehouses might have changed, but the reasons for visiting them have remained the same. As Stefan Zweig wrote in Die Welt von gestern, the café is still “a democratic club where a cup of coffee can be had cheaply and where for this pittance every guest can sit, discuss, write, play cards, receive mail and, above all, consume an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines for hours on end.” The café becomes a home from home where you are alone and yet in company.

In Wittgensteins Neffe Thomas Bernhard described his love for the coffeehouse in his own incomparable fashion: “I have always hated the typical Viennese café – as it is known throughout the world – because everything in it is against me. On the other hand, for decades I felt completely at home in Bräunerhof, which was always strictly against me (like Hawelka), and in Café Museum and other Viennese coffeehouses.”

Where the Best Coffee is served

Bellaria

Art Nouveau café, live piano music every evening

Bellariastrasse 6, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-523 53 20, www.cafebellaria.at

Mon – Fri 7:30 a.m. – midnight, Sun & public hols 11 a.m. – 11 p.m

Bräunerhof

Stylish café – Thomas Bernhard’s favorite

Stallburggasse 2, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 38 93, www.braeunerhof.at

Mon – Fri 8 a.m. – 8.30 p.m., Sat 8 a.m. – 6.30 p.m., Sun & public hols 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Central

Tradition revived, piano music 5.p.m. – 10 p.m.

Herrengasse 14, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-533 37 63–26, www.palaisevents.at

Mon – Sat 7:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun & public hols 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Diglas

Perfect example of a good, old coffeehouse

Wollzeile 10, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 57 65, www.diglas.at

8 a.m. – 10.30 p.m.daily

Drechsler

Viennese café house with a modern twist.

Linke Wienzeile 22, 1060 Vienna, +43-1-581 20 44, www.cafedrechsler.at

Mon – 7.30 a.m. – 2 a.m, Fri-Sat 3 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 3 a.m. – midnight

Dommayer

Coffeehouse elegance

Dommayergasse 1/Auhofstrasse 2, 1130 Vienna, tel. +43-1-877 54 65, www.dommayer.at

7 a.m. – 10 p.m.daily

Griensteidl

Illustrious past in a great location

Michaelerplatz 2, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-535 26 92

8 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.daily


Hawelka

Artists’ haunt, congenially shabby. Buchteln cakes!

Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 82 30, www.hawelka.at

8 a.m. – 2 a.m. daily, public hols 10 a.m. – 2 a.m.

Hofburg

Large café in an imperial setting

Hofburg/Innerer Burghof, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-241 00-420, www.cafe-wien.at

10 a.m. – 6 p.m.daily

Hummel

Spacious meeting place, practical and original

Josefstädter Strasse 66, 1080 Vienna, tel. +43-1-405 53 14, www.cafehummel.at

Mon – Sat 7 a.m. – midnight, Sun & public hols 8 a.m. – midnight

Landtmann

Next door to the Burgtheater, where politicians and artists meet

Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 4, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-24 100-100, www.cafe-wien.at

7:30 a.m.– midnight daily

Mozart

Shining splendor

Albertinaplatz 2, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-241 00-200, www.cafe-wien.at

8 a.m.– midnight daily

Museum

Traditional Viennese coffeehouse at Karlsplatz.

Operngasse 7/Karlsplatz, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-241 00-620, www.cafemuseum.at

 8 a.m. – midnight daily

Prückel

Ringstrasse café with a 1950s interior

Stubenring 24, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 61 15, www.prueckel.at

8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.daily

Residenz

In Schönbrunn Palace. Apple Strudel Show at the Court Bakery

Schönbrunn Palace/Kavalierstrakt, 1130 Vienna, tel. +43-1-241 00-300, www.cafe-wien.at

9 a.m. – 8 p.m.daily

Ritter

Oasis of calm in Mariahilfer Strasse

Mariahilfer Strasse 73, 1060 Vienna, tel. +43-1-587 82 38, www.caferitter.at

7:30 a.m. – 11.30 p.m.

Sacher

Elegance par excellence

Philharmonikerstrasse 4, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-514 56-661, www.sacher.com

8 a.m.– midnight

Schottenring

Contemporary and classic

Schottenring 19, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-315 33 43, www.cafe-schottenring.at

Mon – Fri 6:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sat, Sun & public hols 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Schwarzenberg

Vienna’s first Ringstrasse café

Kärntner Ring 17, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 89 98-13, www.cafe-schwarzenberg.at

Sun – Fri 7 a.m. – midnight, Sat 9 a.m. – midnight

Sperl

Popular and award-winning – coffeehouse romanticism at its finest

Gumpendorfer Strasse 11, 1060 Vienna, tel. +43-1-586 41 58, www.cafesperl.at

Mon – Sat 7 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sun & public hols 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; closed Sun in July & Aug

Tirolerhof

Urban reservation

Führichgasse 8, 1010 Vienna, tel. +43-1-512 78 33

Mon – Sat 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sun & public hols 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Weimarbei der Volksoper

A meeting point for audiences and artists at the Volksoper

Währinger Strasse 68, 1090 Vienna, tel. +43-1-317 12 06, www.cafeweimar.at

Mon – Sat 7:30 a.m. – midnight, Sun & public hols 9 a.m. – midnight


Viennese Coffee Specialties

Schwarzer or Mokka

(Small) strong black coffee without milk

Kleiner/Grosser Brauner

Black coffee with cream, small or large cup

Verlängerter

kleiner Schwarzer or Brauner, ”lengthened“ with hot water

Melange

Mokka “lengthened” by a shot of hot water, with steamed milk and milk foam

Kapuziner

Small black coffee with a a couple of drops of cream

Franziskaner

(Light) Melange topped with whipped cream

Einspänner

Large Mokka in a glass with lots of whipped cream

Fiaker

Mokka in a glass with a shot of rum

Türkischer

Turkish-style, unfiltered mocha

Wiener Eiskaffee

Cold coffee with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream

 

A number of international varieties including Espresso, Cappuccino, Caffè Latte, Irish Coffee and Phariseer are now commonly found on traditional Vienna coffee house menus.

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