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Waltzing thru the Cafes of Vienna

by John Moore | May 21, 2015

cafeworkTen months, nearly to the day, since I landed in this city. Over that time, I’ve had the pleasure to partake in one of Vienna’s true cultural gems -no not the incredible music you find everywhere – but the Viennese café. Sure, one can say why is a Vienna café so different from one in Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Rome or any other city in Europe. Having been to all those cities and quite a few others in Europe, I can unequivocally state that there is indeed a difference and a visit to a Viennese café is a unique treat.

Back in late December I wrote a piece about kaffee kultur in general and promising a follow-up post on specific cafes in Vienna and my critique of them. With tourist season and Spring upon us, the cafes have set-up their outside tables and I figured I better get this post up quick so folks can begin making plans should their summer travels include Vienna.

As an aside, I will not rate the konditoreis for they really are quite different from cafes. But as a tip to those of you that just love to ogle at pastries and eat them as well…

  • Oberlaa is my favorite konditorei with Heiner a close second.
  • Gerstner is also very good and always has wonderful window displays, though tends to be a little more expensive than the previous two.
  • Demel, which is probably written up in every guidebook known, is over-priced and packed with tourists – skip it.

Pastries

Ah the Cafes…

The cafes of Vienna are scattered about like little gemstones. Some, such as Café Central, are like big diamonds, demanding attention and receiving such from the flock of tourists who descend upon it. Others, such as Café Pruckel, Sperl and Diglas are a bit more common gems and frequented by locals. Then you have those offbeat, truly unique diamonds and emeralds in the rough – Hawelka, Radlager – which have a groove all their own and are more than worthy of seeking them out.

It would be exceedingly easy to write an entire book about the cafes of Vienna (there is a book dedicated to the Hawelka café alone!) but a post in not the best place to begin a book or thesis on cafes. Rather, I will provide an ever so brief synopses of the cafes I frequent here in Vienna and what makes them special.

CafeCentralCafé Central
Nearly always a line of people waiting to get in, but you can, as with most cafes on Vienna, make reservations in advance. Beautiful interior with vaulted ceilings, hanging chandeliers and someone playing a piano. The pastries are equally beautiful – everything here is a pleasure to the eye but the prices. You will not hear much German being spoken here but just about every other language is represented. It’s a nice place to take visitors, but it never quite feels genuine.

Diglas
DiglasThey have two locations in Vienna, both good, though I prefer the atmosphere of the one on Wollzeille, great interior with a nice cozy feel. Diglas serves up an excellent grosse brunner (double espresso with cream) and they make all their own pastries, which are equally delicious. Their menu of regular Viennese dishes is also very good. Prices are fair and the locals frequent Diglas. I spend quite a bit of time here when I need to go off the grid (they do not have wifi) and get some serious thinking done. It has become one of my top three café hang-outs.

Englander
Just off Wollzeille, this is a café that could be so much more, but unfortunately is not. Local told me that previous owners tried converting it to a drinking establishment but it didn’t work out and it is slowly returning to its café roots. Coffee is decent, pastries few, pricing fair. Only reason I mention it is that this is the café frequented by journalists and writers. If you are of that bent, this café is worth visiting.

Hawelka
As mentioned previously, a whole book has been written about this small café off a side street of the main shopping thoroughfare, Graben. When one walks in, you may be taken aback by its low ceilings, dark paneling and the bit of funk it exudes. Don’t be put off. Look closely, look beyond the paneling and hanging on those walls is a small treasure trove of art from well-known local artists from the 60’s-90’s.  Herr and Frau Hawelka who owned the café use to make deals with the artists wherein artists would pay off their tabs periodically with a piece of artwork. Over the years, the collection grew to be quite large. Their son, who is in his late 60’s I would guess, now runs the café. Coffee is good and they are known for their apple strudel (always get apple strudel “mit schlag” – whipped cream – you owe it to yourself). This is the second café I frequent.

Pruckel
PruckelAnother locals café that is the third café that I frequent as it is close to our apartment, has a decent selection of pastries, coffee is always good, and like Diglas, has a very good meal menu (try the kurbiscremesuppe – pumpkin crème soup – if you are here in fall/winter). This is where I end up if I want to head to a café for a good coffee, pastry and be on the grid (free wifi) to get some work done. The interior has a early 60’s feel to it that I find quite nice, with chandeliers from that period to go with the light colored paneled walls. This place is nearly always full with locals and finding a seat/table can be challenging if there are more than two of you. As with just about any café in Vienna though, you can make reservations in advance.

Radlager
RadlagerTheir motto: “Fast Bikes & good coffee”. I love both and I love Radlager. This is an interesting, dare I say, hipster café that attracts a younger crowd. Vintage bikes hang in the window and there is a small collection of restored vintage bikes (DeRosa, Moser, Masi, Cinelli, Colnago, Puch, etc.) in the back that are available for purchase. Coffee is some of the best I’ve had in a café and the background music matches the groove of the place and of course its clientele. This is another locals’ hang-out that I would frequent more if it was a tad closer to our apartment and had better selection of pastries.

Café Sperl
What a gem this one is. Not too easy to find as it is up the hill from Naschmarkt but it is worth seeking out. Café is very classy and classic at the same time with a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. Beautiful period (30’s?) chandeliers, dark wood booths, fireplace at one end and pool table at the other. But don’t come here for the pastries and coffee as they are only average. This place you visit for its warmth and welcoming aura. I would visit this café more frequently as well, but it is even a farther hike than the one to Radlager.

Sperl

Of course, Vienna has far, far more cafes than the ones I’ve profiled above and I’ve easily visited at least 18-20 in the ten months of my stay. But those profiled are the ones that for one reason or another, are worth the digital ink. Should your travels land you in Vienna, hope you will also be able to sample one of these gems that make Vienna unique.

 

 

2 responses to “Waltzing thru the Cafes of Vienna”

  1. Mike says:

    How is this relevant to:

    “Chilmark Research is the only industry analyst firm focusing solely on health IT”

    • John says:

      Mike, while we certainly do focus our research efforts on healthcare IT, we do reserve the right to take liberties with these public, and may I remind you free, posts to meander a bit for does not true health and well-being extend far beyond bits and bytes?

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