Much of my time in Vienna was devoted to doing some serious research of the local coffee houses. On average, I tried to visit three different ones a day. And I am not complaining.
Coffee houses are an important feature of the city. They are a place of relaxation, eating and drinking, having a chat and an opportunity to read all the newspapers for free.
Grumpy waiters are part of the charm. They are always middle aged men dressed in suits and bow ties. If they are younger, they still act middle aged. The style of the service is straight to the point, often seemingly impolite. Underneath that curt manner, they are usually really nice.
People of all ages take advantage of good-value breakfasts or lunches. The coffee is a tad on the expensive side in the inner city places but is always served with a glass of tap water, which I consider an extremely civilised practice. Coffeehouse food is not great for vegetarians, but excellent for people with a sweet tooth. I remember most fondly the wonderful, feather-light Topfenknoedel with Zwetschkenroester in Café Dommayer in Hietzing.
Each coffeehouse attracts a specific clientele and offers its own atmosphere. After all these hours of research, here come my favourites:
Cafe Sperl, not far from the Sezession building, with its shiny mirrors and fancy lights, also has three billiard tables in the corner. Below its long list of possible versions of coffee:
Cafe Braeunerhof in the inner city is old fashioned in a good way, slightly shabby, gemuetlich, and a favourite place for civil servants and politicians from the ministries nearby.
Café Ritter in Ottakring with its art deco interior had tables of card players even at 11 in the morning. They looked settled in for the day. They were playing Tarock, which to me sounded very much like a form of complex Bridge.
Since 2011 the Viennese coffee house culture is listed as an intangible cultural heritage in the Austrian inventory of UNESCO’s ‘National Agency for Intangible Cultural Heritage’. Someone described the Viennese coffee house as a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill”. I could not agree more.