The Viennese Coffee House

Ah Austria, the old country, the fatherland, the "Urheimat". A's family hails from here and though he never spoke German as a boy, he learned it as a teenager and even studied it as a principal subject at undergraduate level. As such, he has a real appreciation for the place and over the years, he's been back again and again; C now comes along for the ride and understands what all the fuss is about.

Offerings at Sperl, complete with phoney Sachertorte

One of the things that's as Austrian as, um, apple strudel (in fact, it's a place where you can source large quantities of the same), is the Kaffeehaus, or coffee house. Back in the day, these were a Viennese institution: places to meet friends, gossip, read the papers, talk politics, literature or science, relax and generally see and be seen.

Classig apple strudel at Landtmann

The famous coffee houses such as Landtmann, Central and Demel were so central to culture in the city they have even been declared intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. When you know who frequented these places, this isn't a surprise. Some were literary meccas: with Schnitzler, Zweig, Klimt and Kraus all frequenting certain coffee houses regularly. They were also haunts of scientists such as Zuckerkandl and politicians such as Herzl and Trotsky. Even Adolf Hitler is said to have been a regular of one particular coffee house. When you visit, it's hard not to imagine tables of luminaries sitting, knees under white tablecloths, talking, nibbling at pastries and sipping at coffee.

Classic frontage

Over the years, we've visited a fair few. Whilst Landtmann on the Ring has an imposing location just opposite the Rathaus (town hall), we would recommend a couple of others. Cafe Sperl, a little further out, feels as if nothing (except perhaps the staff) has changed since about 1911. It's all starched linen, dark wood, billiard tables and slabs of cake with unsweetened cream.

The original Sachertorte: accept no substitute

We also highly recommend the cafe at the Hotel Sacher. This is the home of the famous Sachertorte, which C believes, not without justification, is the finest expression of cake in the known world. The silky icing, tart apricot jam and coarse-grained sponge is truly one of a kind. Indeed, the cake has even been the subject of copyright disputes, so protective is the hotel of its signature dish: a must try if ever in the city.


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