Vienna became obsessed with coffee as a result of the Ottoman siege in 1683. When they finally expelled the Turks, they left behind bags of green unroasted beans which at first the Austrians took for camel food. But eventually they developed the knowledge and a taste for coffee. Most of the list below are 19th century in style with elegant banquettes, reading material such as all the newspapers on sticks, marble tables and damn good coffee. There are 1100 coffee houses in Vienna and most Viennese visit in the morning.
If ever I get a commission for a novel, I will rent a place in Vienna for a few months and settle down in a coffee house to write.
1. Cafe Sperl Gumpendorferstrasse 11, A-1060 Vienna
This kaffeehaus, built 1884, is an elbow-shaped cafe with billiard tables on one side and around the corner, booths tucked next to arched windows and comfortable velvet-covered benches on the other. It’s probably my favourite coffee house. I recommend the Karlsbader brewing pot, a complicated porcelain coffee pot that delivers fantastic smooth tasting coffee. This cafe has international newspapers.
2. Cafe Demel Kohlmarkt 14 A-1010 Wien
This neo-baroque cafe, built in 1786, is extraordinary: you can take tea while watching the patisserie chefs at work, heads bent, in a room rather like a glass display box, creating incredible concoctions out of chocolate and sugar paste. They all wear immaculate whites and tall chef hats. All the Demel confectioners must pass through 12 ‘posts’ to become qualified, training in: icecream, cake, sacher, yeast dough, cheese, pastry, meringue, tea biscuits, desserts, bonbons, decorating and chocolaterie. Everything is hand-made. I was lucky enough to see a ‘strudel show’ while we were drinking coffee and eating cakes. They stretch out the thin pastry, hooking it over the corners of the work surface, dropping sultanas and pile of cooked sliced apples into the middle, rolling it out like pastry Christmas crackers. Below there is a coffee house and confectionary museum. The waitresses, wearing black and white, are famous for addressing people in the formal way, in the honorific 3rd person, an indirect form: “has the gentleman been served?” or “would the Herr Baron like more coffee?”.
3. Cafe Centrale , corner Strauchgasse / Herrengasse, 1010 Vienna
Opened in 1876 this cafe was where Hitler, Freud, Lenin, Tito, Trotsky hung out. A beautiful room and excellent pastries. They have 220 newspapers and periodicals in 22 languages!
4. Cafe Hawelka Dorotheergasse 6, A-1010 Vienna
Opened in 1939, this cafe is another favourite of mine. It has a vaguely shabby lived-in air about it that is very cosy; the staff are incredibly friendly. When I asked for the menu, the waiter pointed at himself and said “The menu is me!” meaning that he had it memorised. Great cheesecake.
5. Cafe Mozart Albertinaplatz 2 A-1010 Wien
This 1929 cafe, named after one of Vienna’s most famous residents, is also a location in Graham Greene’s screenplay and film The Third Man.
6. Cafe Grienstadel Michaelerplatz 2, A-1010 Vienna
This celebrated kaffeehaus is near the Spanish Riding School. It does light meals such as the classic Viennese dish ‘Wienerschnitzel’ as well as cakes and coffees. Why am I showing a picture of the half eaten salad I ordered? Because I discovered that Austrians like a very odd salad dressing…a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, vinegar and oil. This is very light and to my mind quite sweet and watery, but they prefer it to say a French vinaigrette.
This modernised coffee house, designed by Terence Conran, is right next to the Naschmarkt, the central food market in Vienna and also the location of a fantastic flea market on Saturday. It was so hot the day I went I had an iced coffee with cream. Very nice.
8. Cafe Sacher Kohlmarkt 14, A-1010 Wien
This is the hotel and café where the sachertorte, a chocolate glazed cake was born, a secret recipe created by a 16 year old patisserie chef, Franz Sacher. There was a legal battle with cafe Demel as to who sold the ‘original’ Sachertorte… torte wars! Cafe Sacher sell the cakes packaged to take home, they aren’t cheap, between 33 and 50 euros each, you can also buy them at Vienna airport.
9. Cafe Aida
This coffeehouse is part of a chain. The waitresses wear cute pink uniforms and the decor is 1950s to 1970s. This coffee shop is more a ‘konditorei’ which serves drinks and cakes rather than a ‘Kaffeehaus’ which also serves light meals.
10. Kleines Cafe Franziskanerplatz 3, A-1010 Vienna
A small, centrally located cafe which has the atmosphere of old style Vienna cafés. Service was a bit irritable and slow but perhaps I was there on a bad day. If the weather is good, there is plenty of outdoor seating.
I include one recently opened cafe which has an interesting set up: it was developed as a social project to encourage inter-generational mixing. Grandmothers with cookery and baking skills work a couple of days a week in the cafe, passing on their knowledge and making delicious cakes. The decoration and style of the cafe was like a grandparents living room with old fashioned makeup and scent in the toilets and doilies, armchairs, knickknacks, old radios. But of course it is modern too, with wifi and trendy hipsters hanging out.