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A visit to Vienna is truly a visit to Vienna only if you spend some time in a Viennese coffee house. After all, the coffee houses in Vienna are nothing like the typical cafés we are used to today. Viennese coffee houses are contemporary eyewitnesses of the 19th and 20th centuries – of the days when authors and scholars gathered in coffee houses to read the newspaper, philosophize and even write.
After the very first step I took into Café Sperl, one of the quaint, traditional Viennese coffee houses, it happened: I felt like I was a time traveller – delighted and full of cosy, warm emotions. The lower walls of the large, comfortable room – which actually looks more like a living room – are panelled in dark wood. On the 5-meter-high ceilings, the attractive, decorative plaster meanders to the golden chandelier in the centre. Underneath, on velvet-lined benches, well dressed granddads are sitting behind their newspapers, much in the same way that the hip students are looking down at their laptops and typing. Here, old people sit next to young people and tourists next to Viennese locals, and nobody thinks anything of it. Although the interior is very pleasant, I get comfortable and get down to work, spreading my slips of paper out on the table. I plan to write here today, too.
In today’s cafés, we are no longer used to something that is typical in Viennese coffee houses: sitting at the table for hours on end, studying the newspaper or writing, and ordering only one cup of coffee. As a place for exchanging ideas, Viennese coffee houses are a piece of Viennese tradition. This is why Viennese coffee house culture has been part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list since 2011.
In addition to the precise differentiation of coffee types into “kleiner Brauner”, “großer Brauner”, “Verlängerter”, “Vienna Melange”, etc., Vienna’s coffee house culture features an aloof head waiter, who radiates anything but cordiality and friendliness. Even if their aloof head waiters are not as traditional as they used to be, the Viennese are still secretly proud of them.
Viennese coffee houses are diverse, ranging from cool and stylish (Café Landtmann) to cosy (Café Sperl) and authentically distressed (Café Westend next to West Station), but they all share an atmosphere of charm and the touch of yesteryear that accompanies every cup of coffee.
If nostalgia appeals to you, and you enjoy antiques or discoveries and history, you will enjoy spending time in the coffee houses of Vienna. For people with other tastes, Viennese coffee houses represent a bit of culture and history far away from museums or dusty books. They invite visitors to lean back and enjoy the moment. After all, you can still smoke in these coffee houses.
On a walk around the centre of Vienna you can hardly overlook the traditional coffee houses. But here is a list of special ones for inspiration: