Saturday, February 10, 2007

Vienna Cafés

Vienna still retains many of the old cafés that it was famous for in the Imperial era. The most famous one of these is Café Central, on Herrengasse, which has been a meeting place for intellectuals and politicians since the early 19th century, being located a stone's throw from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It is an impressively plush café divided into two rooms, one of which has a large glass cupola above it that floods the room with natural light. The place is surprisingly comfortable and welcoming for a café of such vaunted reputation and, unlike Parisian cafés of similar renown, is not absurdly expensive. Leon Trotsky, during his pre-revolutionary exile, used to spend a lot of time on the café's red banquettes, chatting about art and literature (but, never, I imagine about politics) under the assumed name Bronstein. According to Claudio Magris, whose section on Vienna in Danube is a superb tour guide to the city, when a Habsburg cabinet minister was informed of the imminent revolution in Russia, he answered: 'And who is going to carry out this revolution? I suppose you're going to tell me that Bronstein, who sits all day in Café Central, is plotting it?'

Café Hawelka, on Dorotheegasse, right up the street from the Dorotheeum, a famous old upmarket pawn shop, is renowned for its intellectual millieu of the 1950s and 1960s. It appeared briefly in the video for Kraftwerk's 'Trans-Europe Express' but according to Martin, a Viennese photographer, whom my friend Ashley put me in touch with, it is overrun with tourists these days. I found this strange as I seemed to be the only non-German speaker there on the two occasions I popped in for a beer, but then I realised that they were German tourists. Apparently the place's cachet across the border is still presitigious. In any case I found it charming, down-at-heel yet fastidious - people in Dublin might think Mulligans crossed with Bewley's - with the waiters all dressed in red evening jackets and it had that most civilised feature of Central European cafés: the newspaper rack with about a dozen papers, in all the major Western European languages. Though Vienna is not the city it was, it still has a hearteningly cosmopolitan outlook.

Last and best of all is the beautiful smokey little Kleine Café, which Ashley, who lived here last year, tipped me off about. Located on Franziskanerplatz, opposite the Franciscan Church, the place is a grubby little comfortable den, with cheap beer and wine, a great place for a drink on a cold night.


Aquilifer said...

Uhh--*Leon Trotsky* was the guy's assumed name; originally he was _Lev Davidovich Bronstein_!

Unknown said...

Of course - careless editing there. A case of working one's way back from World History there. And assuming too much too. Thanks for the correction.