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Vienna's pubs and restaurants

The Parisians may be the more experienced lovers, the Londoners better dressed, and the Romans famed for their dolce vita. Yet hardly any other city in the world boasts a day-to-day way of life where food and drink play such an important role as in Vienna.

Viennese social contacts have always been nurtured in culinary contexts, to greater or lesser extents. Even Viennese politics has been a springboard for gastronomical traditions. Just think of the many famous dishes that are now regarded as "Viennese cuisine", but actually originated in allied and enemy states of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The legendary Vienna Schnitzel is from Milan, the goulash from Hungary, the apple strudel from Turkey and the divine cakes and pastries from Bohemia. Indeed, it has to be said that even Emperor Franz Josef's favorite Tafelspitz - the tender epitome of boiled beef refinement in Vienna - has its roots in Italy.

There are typical Viennese dishes to suit every pocket and one can choose from an absolutely enormous spectrum of eateries. They start from street-side booths dishing up fast and inexpensive snacks, including the favorite hot sausage - be it the classic wiener, the coarser Burenwurst, the relatively progressive Käsekrainer, or Leberkäse, a kind of spam. Then there are the Viennese answers to international fast food chains, the schnitzel outlets, and finally the highly acclaimed gourmet establishments. Two luxury restaurants worthy of particular mention are the "Korso" and the "Steirereck" which have for years experimented with traditional recipes, raising what were formerly "pauper's dishes" to the higher echelons of world cookery.

Yet the nerve center of classical Viennese cuisine is currently the Gasthaus - the good, homely inn. These places have made a remarkable comeback in recent years, for instance the "Eckel" in the 19th district, the wonderful belle époque "Zum schwarzen Kameel", the "Zum schwarzen Adler", the somewhat secluded "Vickerl`s Lokal" and the original, pioneering "Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer" which is now reopened. Viennese hospitality and tradition are celebrated, accompanied by wide-ranging contemporary cuisine with seasonal ingredients, local products and sophisticated wine culture.

Nothing beats a good old pub

Yet Vienna's "staple" establishment is the Beisl, the small corner pub where you will typically be offered a "Seidl" (0.3l beer) or "Achterl" (0.125l wine) to drink, and goulash or Beuscherl (offal casserole) to eat.

The term Beisl originates from Yiddish and translates approximately as "small house". Although they are a kind of democratic institution and are universally loved, most of them have disappeared over the last 20 years. Those that have remained have taken on almost cult status, with the likes of the "Gustl Bauer", the "Gmoa-Keller", the "Herkner" and the "Scherer" now counting among the city's most frequented places. The Schnitzel-emporium of Vienna, the "Figlmüller" with the largest and thinnest Schnitzeln in town serves his guests at already three locations: You can never have enough Schnitzel, especially these ones. Celebrities and business executives delight in the no-frills traditional fare just like the regulars.

New Beisls have also emerged, taken over by young, ambitious chefs on the lookout for modern, sophisticated Viennese cuisine, who nevertheless remain loyal to their roots. Good examples include the tremendously popular "Grünauer", the classic "Schnattl" close to the Theater in der Josefstadt, the unmatched "Meixner" in the 10th district and "Weibel's Wirtshaus" where owner Hans Weibel also boasts a virtually inexhaustible wine list.

Strength in numbers: the Grätzels

Over the last 15 years, the bar and restaurant scene has witnessed a boom, and just like in other cities a phenomenon has evolved which the Viennese refer to as Grätzels - sub-districts or groupings of establishments. On account of their composition and flair, they have attracted patrons with individual tastes.
The legendary "Bermuda Triangle" - where trendy bars and pubs literally shot up in the historic district between the synagogue and the ancient St. Rupert's Church in the early 1980s - was a pioneer of this genre in Vienna, as were the uncountable pubs and cafés in the narrow Bäckerstrasse. The picturesque Biedermeier ensembles in Spittelberg (7th district) have also witnessed a new lease of life, the dynamism of which has spread to the neighbouring streets. The same has happened with the "Schlossquadrat" at Margaretenplatz, at establishments around the university and in particular at the Naschmarkt. This market located at Wienzeile, once regarded as conservative, has in the last years become the ultimate rendezvous for Vienna's young, hedonistic population of international taste- particularly on Saturdays.
Morning is the time to browse and taste - and the surrounding bars and restaurants are thriving also at night. The Naschmarkt and the neighbouring Freihausviertel are currently among Vienna's most lively districts, a development which is also gradually catching on in and around other beautiful Viennese markets such as the Brunnenmarkt, Karmelitermarkt and Rochusmarkt.

Ethno: the international flavor of Vienna

The unprecedented boom in ethnic cuisine also reflects international trends. Taste-buds from all over the globe are catered for, from Mongolian and African to Tibetan. What has really taken the Viennese by storm, however, is Mediterranean cuisine and Asian diversity.

The classy caterer and restaurateur Attila Dogudan has, for instance, united today's most successful Mediterranean ingredients in his brasserie "Aioli" - tapas from Spain, antipasti from Italy and bistro classics from France.
Yet another favorite in Vienna is the "Novelli" where the widely-traveled chef Irmgard Sitzwohl masterfully conjures up Mediterranean delicacies. The "Yohm" embraces the exciting gamut of Asian culinary tradition in a cool-design setting, while the "Daun Kinsky" also adds a bit of Italian to the blend.
Individual, modern approaches have also been taken by artistic innovators including Christian Voithofer with his highly contemporary "Chrinor", Oliver Hoffinger with his small "Kochwerkstatt" at Spittelberg and Alexander Mayer with the coolly designed "Theatercafé" by the Naschmarkt. And every week, they are joined by more and more. The scene is in a constant state of flux. The times of congenial tranquility are passé.

More than just a bite to eat: culture meets cuisine

Museums, theatres and other cultural venues, previously spared the city's hectic culinary dynamism, are now also places to go for something to eat or drink.
One of the city's trendiest restaurants, the "Vestibül", opened its doors in the former imperial entrance wing of the Burgtheater. Mussel dinners are the order of the day once a week (except in summer) at the old-established Museum of Natural History. And even the Gloriette in the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace has been transformed into a designer café. The cool "MAK Café" at the Museum of Applied Arts is also a central rendezvous for Vienna's cultural in-crowd, whereas up-and-coming creative artists prefer to meet up at the "Kunsthalle" café. A heterogeneous mix of both, that also attracts pensioners and tourists passing by, can be found in the century-old "Palmenhaus" (Palmery) of the Burggarten, where a spacious brasserie was accommodated beneath the steel and glass structure following extensive renovation work. And just now everybody who wants to be somebody meets in one of the designer-, ethno- or new-Viennes-cuisine-restaurants in the Museumsquartier.

Ringing the changes: wine taverns & coffee houses

The surge in innovation in Vienna's pubs and restaurants that now spoils you for culinary choice would maybe lead you to believe that at least the traditional oases of tranquility - the Heuriger (wine taverns) and coffee houses - were still the same as ever. To some extent this is the case. The taverns located in the picturesque vineyards and suburban cellar roads still seat guests on rustic benches, and serve up a good honest glass of wine from their own vines and something substantial to eat for little money. At coffee houses, guests are still politely addressed with academic titles and can delight in a vast selection of coffees whilst savoring their cakes and strudel in the timeless atmosphere of these unique places.

Yet time has not stood as still as it would seem. An increasing number of wine taverns not only set great store by top class vintages, but also pay attention to glass culture. This is accompanied by individual and, in some cases, lighter fare at the buffet. Fritz Wieninger, one of Vienna's best young winegrowers and boasting globally-prized vintages has even gone as far as to hire a top chef for his family's tavern. And Hans Peter Göbel has not only given his Heuriger a contemporary look, but also holds tasting events and specialty weeks.
At the coffee house, of course, such changes have to be approached with extreme caution. Preservation of tradition and association with the "good old days" are as vital as excellent coffee, immaculate service and divine cakes and pastries. However, at the Café Schottenring and the Café Restaurant Residenz at Schönbrunn, you can also get to grips with the art of making, filling and rolling wafer-thin flaky pastry in an apple strudel seminar, or learn all about the espresso at a coffee seminar. What's more, a Viennese coffee training institute even offers a "coffee sommelier" course.

Given all these treats old and new in Vienna, you could be forgiven for thinking there were nothing to grumble (or raunzen as the Viennese would say) about. Yet you would be mistaken. After all, sooner or later your stomach will be full, but still so many places left to try out: A true reason for grumbling!

The brochure "Shopping, Wining and Dining" featuring numerous restaurant addresses is available free of charge from the Vienna Tourist Board, detailed information at www.wien.info

Some of the guided walks in Vienna organized by the Vienna Tourist Guides follow in the footsteps of coffee house literary greats and take you on a culinary tour of traditional Viennese inns.
Addresses of pubs and restaurants featured in this article:

Bauer Gustl, 1., Drahtg. 2,
Café Gloriette, 13., Gloriette im Schönbrunner Schlosspark
Café Restaurant Residenz, 13., Schloß Schönbrunn
Café Schottenring, 1., Schottenring 19
Chrinor, 7., Kircheng. 21
Daun Kinsky, 1., Freyung 4
Eckel, 19., Sieveringer Str. 46
Göbel, 21., Hagenbrunner Str. 151
Grünauer, 7., Hermanng. 32
Kochwerkstatt, 7., Spittelbergg. 8
Korso, 1., Mahlerstr. 2
Kunsthallen-Café, 4., Treitlstr. 2
Mak-Café, 1., Stubenring 3-5
Meixner, 10., Bucheng. 64
Museumsquartier, 7., Museumsplatz 1
Novelli, 1., Bräunerstr. 11
Palmenhaus, 1., Burggarten
Schnattl, 8., Lange Gasse 40
Steirereck, 3., Rasumofskyg. 2/Weißgerberlände
Theatercafé, 6., Linke Wienzeile 6
Ubl, 4., Pressg. 26
Vestibül, Burgtheater, 1., Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 2
Vikerl`s Lokal, 15., Würffelg. 4
Weibels Wirtshaus, 1., Kumpfg. 2
Wieninger, 21., Stammersdorfer Str. 78
Yohm, 1., Peterspl. 3
Zum Figlmüller, 1., Wollzeile 5, Bäckerstr. 6 und 19., Grinzingerstr. 55
Zum Scherer, 1., Judenplatz 7
Zum Schwarzen Adler, 5., Schönbrunner Str. 40
Zum Schwarzen Kameel, 1., Bognerg. 5
Zum Weißen Rauchfangkehrer, 1., Weihburgg. 4

 

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