Vienna’s Pet Friendly Coffee House Culture
Vienna did not pioneer “Coffee House Culture”; Mecca had several in the 12th century and Venice had the first in Europe in 1647. But the Austrian Capital has over the centuries, established the tradition like no other city in the world. Coffee houses are at their best in Vienna!
Legend has it that Georg Franz Kolschitzky (1640 – 1694) was the first to obtain a license to serve coffee in the city. The license was a reward following his heroic actions during the Siege of Vienna. He was also the one that established the “vibe” associated with the image of Viennese Coffee houses. You know what I am talking about right? The velour seats, the fine embossed and gold trimmed china, the ornate frescos, and the deep dark wood furniture. There are certain other musts: All waiters wear the crisp white long apron, a glass of water is always served with your coffee on a small silver tray, and much to our delight; the coffee house must have a proprietary cake.
Things like newspapers to read and games to play (cards and chess) as well as music were added later in the 17th century. A full menu didn’t really come into play until 1808 when Napoleon’s tiff with the Brits had a domino effect on the price of coffee and the café’s needed to find another way to make money – offering cacao with Schlag (whipped cream) and food options (sandwiches, soups etc.) was their solution!
The Viennese like most people living in large metropolitan cites in those days, lived in tiny crowded flats. Many took to thinking of the elegant coffee houses as their parlors or extensions of their own homes. This was where they would meet friends and business partners. There was a Viennese coffee house in every neighborhood of the city. Opera houses may have been the soul of the Capital – but the coffee houses were the beating heart. It’s where poets, and great literary minds would mingle. Composers like Mozart and Beethoven would spend days composing great works sipping a single coffee for hours to lay claim to their table. The first time Jazz was introduced to Vienna was in the coffee houses. Café Museum even hosted painters, with all their equipment and paints. When war hit and times were difficult, the coffee houses became places to meet and barter for black market goods in secret under the table.
With the advent of Italian style espresso bars after WWII, Viennese coffee houses fell out of favour up until the 80’s. Sadly many closed as a result. Lucky for all of us, the newer generation of humans have a strong desire to connect with their rich history and the coffee houses are back “in”. Some young entrepreneurs have even managed to ensure this type of “disfavor” of the coffee house culture will not happen again; and have approached city hall to ensure that big International conglomerates such as Starbucks will never have a strong hold in the old city Centre. To be honest we are glad to hear it.
It’s should come as no surprise to you then Dear Reader, that in 2011 the Viennese “coffee house culture” was included in the UNESCO inventory of intangible cultural heritage! With THAT kind of endorsement (and the fact that mom had lived in Vienna for 4 years and knew ALL about this) we just had to visit at least one famous coffee house each of the three days we were in the city. So it’s with great pleasure that I share with you our (yes…pet friendly!) findings!
Although more than a 100 years old, it was the « newest » of the coffee houses (1876) we visited – but it was also the most striking; inside and out. From the moment we saw it across the street on our walking tour I knew we had to find out if it was pet friendly. I mean … look at it!
And after waiting in line for a few minutes (expect this!) the inside blew us away as well. The frescoes were just superb and I think we all sort of fell in love with the arches in the ceiling.
Café Central was known mostly as a gathering place for intellectual debates. Some of the most famous names you may recognize would be Alfred Adler, Egon Friedell, Alfred Polgar, Adolf Hitler (yes THAT Hitler), Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz Tito, Sigmund Freud, and Joseph Stalin. All were patrons of the establishment. And many more too. But it wasn’t just about the intellectuals it was also about chess. So much so that the café was often referred to as the “Chess school” (Die Schachhochschule) because of the permanent presence of chess players on the first floor.
My presence was a non-issue. We got a fantastic seat right near the cake display and facing the big fancy entrance so we could people watch. The waiter brought me a small “short” glass of water. When the bipeds asked if it was ok for me to sit on the fancy sofa’s the waiters just waved their hands as if to say “of course what silly question” … so … I did!
The Café Central cake looked good but because it had chocolate on it I wasn’t allowed any. From what I could smell I would have to guess it was vanilla in the center with a thin layer of hazelnut and a topping of milk chocolate. Me? I power napped.
Sitting pretty just across the street from the Opera House you will find the most renowned of them all…. with the most famous of all cakes: The Sacher Torte! If you have money to burn you can stay at the beautiful hotel and if you are without a pet you can dine at the elegant and very posh restaurant. But the real gem is the coffee house. There are two sections and one is very pet friendly, but do avoid going at peak times such as lunch or 3:00 if you hate waiting in line.
Give yourself permission to linger and enjoy the rich history of not just a world famous cake designed for a prince (1832 ; get to know one of Vienna’s most famous family’s and it’s hotel. The hotel and Coffee house were built by the son of the original Chocolatier that came up with the Sacher Torte; but it’s really his wife who ran it and made it famous after her husband died.
You’ll be given lots to read while you sip your coffee. Including the history of the place; and snippets on all the famous people that made this place home – some quite literally taking up residence in the hotel! Among the famous guests over the decades were not only Emperor Franz Joseph but also King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly, President John F. Kennedy and many others. Being close to the opera, Hotel Sacher has also been popular among artists such as, Leonard Bernstein, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras. On 31 March 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave a press conference in Hotel Sacher.
After being allocated a most lovely banquet seat with the prerequisite red velour covering (complete with the famous Sacher “S”); we quickly ordered our drinks. Mom by now had switched to herbal tea after one too many coffees. But Dad got his espresso – black of course – and naturally two slices of Sacher Torte! The bipeds read, ate their dessert and I well … I people watched.
Going as far back as 1622 this one is “The Original”. In the previous days, we had seen the “most striking” and the “most famous”… but we were eager to sit inside the oldest of them all.
Café Frauenhuber is more down to earth, it’s interior hasn’t been puffed up or designed for the upper crust. It’s not really a place to “be seen” since it’s also on a modest side street rather than on a grand square. With a wonderful front terrace set up on the cobblestoned streets, it’s truly just a place for friends to meet. Old Vienna is very much alive here. The waiter’s even use old terms to address you with “gnädiger Herr or Frau” the equivalent of “My Lord and Lady”. This place has some real old fashioned Austrian comfort food on the menu too! I recommend you don’t just go for cake and coffee…. Go for dinner! But leave room for dessert! Because apple strudel!
It’s so amazing to sit in the spot where Mozart preformed his LAST public performance on March 4th 1791. Or where Beethoven performed in 1788. All this in a setting as intimate as your own living room.
I snoozed while across from me a large shepherd dog also dozed under the table. As much as we love fresco’s or fancy wall paper there is something to be said for the comfort of solid wood furniture, velvet seats and white washed walls with just the heavy weight of history to wow you as you enjoy good food.
And that Dear Reader, sums up our three. I really do hope to return one day and visit many more. It was wonderful to find that they were all pet friendly and it just made the Viennese Coffee House culture one we wanted to bring home. For now … I have my memories of those fine seats and coffee smells.