Throughout my student and work life I have spent quite a fair amount of time travelling and living abroad. But no matter where I went there was always one thing missing: a real Viennese café.
I never really gave it any thought because it just seemed so normal to me, but when I first moved abroad (my first stop was Manchester, don´t ask) I suddenly realized: a lot of other cities rarely have any cafés other than Starbucks/Costa/etc to just stop by during the day and have a coffee/drink/cake and read the newspaper or have a chat with a friend. I mean like a real, individual place which does not have the ever same chocolate coloured walls or baristas who write your name on coffee cups (why?) and where you can just sit for hours and hours without really consuming anything.
Well, say hello to the fabulous invention of the original Viennese Kaffeehaus. Back in the days writers, composers and intellectuals like Adolf Loos, Egon Schiele or Gustav Klimt used to be regulars at Viennese cafés such as the Café Central or Café Griensteidl to just hang out with like-minded people, engage in discussions, write, read and just be inspired. And the Viennese café still remains an institution close to the Viennese soul where locals and tourists alike can enjoy a laid-back atmosphere in sometimes rather lush interiors.
What to expect
If you have never been to a traditional Viennese café, there are a few things you might want to know beforehand:
- First and foremost: you must not be afraid of the grumpy waiters! It is basically in their job profile to be, well, moody. In fact, I find friendly waiters in Viennese cafés highly suspicious. It just doesn´t feel right. I know it might be irritating at first (especially for Americans who are used to oh-so-friendly tip-dependent waiters) to be welcomed with a grumpy nod (or not welcomed at all) and feeling like you don´t really deserve to order a coffee, but, hey, that´s just part of all the fun! Go with the flow.
- Don´t expect great coffee. It seems counter-intuitive, but Viennese coffee is more about celebrating all the different ways it can be served in (you´ll see for yourself, there´s a looooong list of different kinds of coffee) rather than its taste. It´s a sad truth.
- Do expect great cakes! Topfenstrudel, Apfelstrudel, Sachertorte, Guglhupf – the options are endless and, in most cases, delicious.
- Prices might seem rather high (3-5 Euro for a Melange), but bear in mind: you can basically stay as long as you want without ordering anything else. Viennese cafés are designed to have guests who spend large parts of their day at a coffee table nipping on just a cup of coffee and water. It´s ok (and your waiter will have a grumpy look on his face anyway).
- Which brings me to another important thing: in a real Viennese café you will always get served a glass of water along with your coffee or tea.
So don´t be afraid, a visit to one of our traditional cafés will be worth your while! Take your time and enjoy it. (oh and by the way, of course, I have some favourite cafés in Vienna and will work on a list of my top 5 cafés. Coming soon.)
Photocredit: Sandra Schartel