Viennese coffeehouses pay no attention to time, or the world outside. And their bohemian, romantic charm only grows as they get older – the wooden floorboards, the feeling like you’re sitting next to a poet or an artist, newspapers on wooden holders, hat racks, marble table tops and Thonet chairs. Incredibly, all these years on, coffeehouses are still a refuge for all kinds of people in the city, everybody having their neighbourhood favourite.
We’ve composed a list of 9 of Vienna’s best, yet lesser known coffeehouses where the locals drink their Melange (a Viennese version of the cappuccino). You won’t find most of these in your typical tourism guide, which rarely go past the coffeehouse celebrities like Café Central and Café Hawelka, so we like to call these Vienna’s forgotten coffeehouses.
Cafe Zartl – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Rasumofskygasse 7, 1030
Warm food served: 11am–10pm
The corner coffeehouse in Vienna’s 3rd district, Café Zartl, was first opened in 1883 and became a meeting point for many famous literary figures and artists before, and after, World War 2.
In 2016, it still has that typical bohemian Viennese coffeehouse atmosphere – red and gold velvet fabric seats, English-patterned wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and a cosiness that makes you want to drown in one of the booths while watching an old couple feed each other Gulasch. You’ll probably end up having a brief conversation with the couple later – it’s almost impossible to visit a Viennese coffeehouse without exchanging a few words with somebody.
We recommend… coming here for the all embracing calmness. Even though you can hear people chatting and laughing, it never loses its cool here.
Conversation with a waiter: While it often seems that the waiting staff in Viennese coffeehouses serve your coffee or Goulash with reluctance and disdain, they tend to be surprisingly loving with their regular guests. At Café Zartl, we even saw one of them stroking an old woman’s hair while talking to her.
“Und, hat alles g’schmeckt?” (was everything ok?)
“Ja, wunderbar. Nur wors mir fast a bissl z’wenig.” (yes, wonderful, just maybe not entirely enough)
“Noch ans?” (another one?)
“Na, lieber noch an Achtl rot, i brauch Flüssigkeit.” (no, better get me some red wine, i need liquids)
Café Wortner – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Wiedner Hauptstraße 55, 1040
SUN & public holidays: 9am–12am
Located on a wonderful square with a garden in Vienna’s 4rth district, good old Ferdinand Wortner opened Café Wortner in 1880, so around 166 years ago. Walking inside, you instantly get a feel for its lavish past: the walls of old Biedermeier panelling, the crystal chandeliers, antique mirrors with golden frames, paintings and decorative stucco on the ceiling. Everything connects you to a rich history. The staff is young and nice, though it always takes them a little while to serve you, which is commonplace in Vienna. Café Wortner is well-loved amongst the locals.
Coffeehouse Kellnerin (waiter/waitress) experience: I asked my waiter to explain the difference between a Wiener Mélange and a cappuccino. He looked at me with a smile and said: “It’s all a matter of taste, if you like more coffee, then you should have a Wiener Mélange, if you prefer a more creamy drink, well it’s better to go for a cappuccino”.
He also told me that despite them being the same size and appearance, they’re made differently: “A cappuccino is made with a concentrated espresso shot, while the Wiener Mélange is made with more water with the espresso shot”
Wiener Melange = 3.30€
Cafe Kafka – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Capistrangasse 8, 1060
We came in for a quick cup of coffee and ended up staying for hours on a very well-worn leather couch, filling our bellies with a pesto-tomato-mozzarella toast and soaking in the atmosphere that a room full of people’s chatter creates. Herein lies the magic of Café Kafka, a small café that, even though it’s located just off the busy Mariahilfer Straße, is still a secret spot amongst locals seeking peace and good coffee (or a fire place) during the day, or a lively, handsomely rugged night spot.
Café Kafka performs the role of being a traditional Viennese coffeehouse (opened in 1880) with a few modifications. Besides having blues, soul, or other fitting music genres floating around the place (it’s atypical for a coffeehouse to play music), the Goulash and Würstels are replaced by a vegan and vegetarian focused menu. There’s a bohemian art vibe here, which is added to by the black and white portraits decorating the yellow, nicotine-stained walIs. It’s usually filled with people leisurely reading their papers, working on their laptops, or meeting up for study groups.
Also good to know… an award-winning barista works here, along with several other skilled coffee makers.
Vegetarian and vegan dishes = 6.50–8.50€
Café Ritter – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Mariahilfer Straße 73, 1070
Entering Café Ritter is like taking a journey back to the 19th Century. It truly doesn’t get anymore traditional than this, when it comes to coffeehouses. The high walls with dark wood panelling, the wide curtain-framed windows, the chandeliers and the stucco on the ceiling will stir your senses as you stir your coffee. Nevertheless, Café Ritter still has that calm and comfortable feel that a good Viennese coffeehouse possesses, making it a great spot to spend several lazy hours.
Leaning back in one of the many red leather booths, we can’t help but wonder what kind of stories this café could tell: of secret kisses behind the red velvet curtain leading to the kitchen, of the nights filled with the music played on the old piano in the corner, and of the famous Austrian artists and authors that once frequented the so-called Ritter.
Even the waiters fit in perfectly with the interior. It is impressive to watch them work the room, and walk the line of the true Viennese brand of distant politeness. Whether it is a, “Grüß Gott die Damen. Bitte schön?” or a “Rauchen können’s im Raucherteil, aber ned hier,” directed at the fragile old lady next to us, the tone never changes.
Melange = 3.40€
A piece of cake = 2.80€
Café Goldegg – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Argentinierstraße 49, 1040
In Café Goldegg, this timeless refuge to worldly sorrow, it’s possible to linger all day, squeezed in super comfy cushioned booths, pondering on life’s great questions while sipping on one mediocre Melange. You would probably argue that’s pretty much the Viennese coffeehouse standard experience, and you’d be right.
However, what you can also do in Café Goldegg is order a really tasty veggie burger, or even an “Ayurvedic vegetable curry”. There’s also a variety of breakfasts that are available all day long. These menu items may be commonplace in the young gentrified and stylised establishments of the 7th district, but not of a cumbersome Viennese coffeehouses. However, the Goldegg has never played by the rules.
The Goldegg first opened in 1910 and it has aged with dignity. It doesn’t deny its advanced years – the walls are coated with patina, the cushions are worn – but it still feels oddly in touch with the reality of the 21st century. It’s like your cool grandma who snapchats pictures of her Apfelstrudel. Somehow, the owners of Café Goldegg succesfully managed the challenging task of adapting to the zeitgeist without selling off any of the place’s soul and former grandeur.
We recommend… challenging your friend to a game of pocketless pool called, Carambolage. Just ask the staff for the balls (it’s 7€ an hour).
We also recommend… checking out the the outlandishly beautiful smoker’s salon in the back, which is a testimony to Jugendstil grandeur.
They also have… a very tasty Tagesteller (set lunch menu).
Melange = 3.20€
Veggie Burger = 9.90€
Café Rüdigerhof – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Hamburgerstraße 20, 1050
It’s a coffeehouse with a smoky voice. At the nose of the Jugendstil apartment building it’s housed in, Café Rüdigerhof boasts as much character as the artists, writers, comedians (among them, Josef Hader) and intellectuals it has attracted and served coffee to over its long life (born in 1903). The décor is dressed up in a 50’s/60’s style, with photos of well-known faces on the walls, while it also possesses the typical worn wooden look belonging to Vienna’s beloved coffeehouses.
It’s shady Schanigarten (beer garden), with its view onto the Wien river, is popular in summer. Meanwhile, at night it takes on the transformation of café to bar, filling with a mixed crowd, from lone individuals reading books with cigarettes and coffee, to groups of old locals playing cards, to young people throwing back beer or wine.
Also good to know… there are games and plenty of newspapers at Café Rüdigerhof.
Café Raimann – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Schönbrunner Straße 285, 1120
This has to be the quietest coffeehouse we’ve ever been in. And this calm silence amplifies the creak of the wooden floorboards, and the beating on the keyboard from a (seemingly) angry writer at one of the nearby tables. There’s people here, but they’re almost whispering.
Somehow the pattern of the booth seat’s fabric sends us into a trance, while the neatly lined up hat racks by every booth adds a charming uniformity to the place like your grandmother’s neatly arranged sock drawer. While serving the coffeehouse favourite snacks, like the long, bent Sacherwürstel that we order, old Café Raimann is a modern thinker, serving up vegetarian options as well. The Kachelofen (stone oven) in the middle of the room keeps the high-ceilinged coffeehouse warm, while several of the guests have their faces hidden behind the many newspapers lying around. The people of Vienna’s Meidling neighbourhood hold this place as dear as they do their famous ‘Meidlinger L.’ Which if you’re lucky, you’ll experience first hand from your waiter or waitress.
We recommend… trying one of the cakes. They may look like they’ve been in the cake cabinet since 1925, but they’re sweetly delicious.
Hausbier (house beer) 0.5l = 3.50€
Sacherwürstel with mustard and horseradish = 4.40€
Café Jelinek – Forgotten Coffeehouses
Where: Otto-Bauer-Gasse 5, 1060
Café Jelinek is one of the reasons why we love living in Vienna – it’s dripping with true Viennese coffeehouse charm and is the perfect place to spend some lazy idle hours, or time with intense thoughts. From the patine-stained walls, covered with pictures of famous faces, the very well-worn wooden floor, to the comfortable scruffy velvet sofas, it feels as if nothing has changed since Jelinek became popular in the 80ies (It was actually opened by a Jewish couple back in 1910). We love the little marble coffeehouse tables, while a prime people watching position can be had at the much prized seats by the big windows in the booth seats.
We also love… the old fireplace oven in the center of the café.
They also have… a great range of quality breakfasts on the menu.
Melange = 2.90€
Toast with cheese and ham = 3.50€
Photos © Daniel Dutkowski (www.dutkowski.com)