For those who love the atmosphere of a great café, Vienna is the place fantasies are made of. For centuries, artists, writers, students and people of all description have been discussing their passions over coffee and pastries in the city’s cafés. They’re places that embody the classic style of old Europe, and the good news is — they’re still there to enjoy.
Of all the city’s cafes, the one that seems to typify old Vienna most is Café Central. Located in the middle of the old city, near the Hofburg Palace, it seems to radiate a warm feeling of comfort and enjoyment. Once inside, it’s obvious why: the cafe is a picture of Vienna’s golden age, with rows of stone-topped tables set amid a forest of pillars and Turkish-looking arches. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
In fact, Café Central has long been a gathering spot for the local intelligentsia. Opened in 1876, it was visited in its early days by everyone from Freud to Lenin and Trotsky. Austrian poet Peter Altenberg spent so much time in the café that he had his mail delivered there. In fact, he’s still there: the first thing you see when you enter is a model of him, sitting in a chair before the rows of mouth-watering pastries.
For me, Café Central in Vienna was a warm refuge on chilly days, an inviting place to sit, watch the busy scene and contemplate how far I’d come, and where I would go next. And my hunger cried out for more than pastries, even though they were hard to resist. On my first visit, I warmed my stomach with a bowl of meaty, slightly spicy Ungarische Gulaschsuppe (Hungarian goulash), one of the local specialties.
On the second, it was Alt Wiener Suppentopf (old Vienna soup), pictured here, rich with chicken, boiled beef, carrots, leek, semolina dumplings and noodles. And to be authentic, accompanied by a glass of Austria’s classic white wine, the Gruner Veltliner.
It’s not often that the restaurant is more of an experience than the meal, but I derived as much satisfaction from the ambience of Café Central as from the food. So much so that I didn’t have room for the marillenpalatschinken (pancakes with apricot jam) or the apfelstrudel mit vanillesauce (just what it sounds like). I could still admire the luscious-looking pastries by the front door as I left, though — and it’s good to have a reason to come back …
One more thing: Love classic cafés? Check out my video of Toronto’s most historic and stylish cafés here.