Vienna city guide
Words by Reinhard Pohorec
Sachertorte, Opera House, Habsburg and Gemischter Satz... A unique melange, served the Austrian way.
"Vienna is different“ - not just for the sake of being different, but rather due to its eclectic mixture of history, charm, beauty and the Viennese "Schmäh“.
"The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt", Karl Kraus, famous author, critic and essayist once recalled.
Based on an ancient roman settlement and shaped by the stream of time, Vienna today is a truly cosmopolitan city but never loses its coziness and individual pace, mellifluous like the Danube river, along whose banks this jewel proudly sits.
But there's more to see than the glamorous palais and palaces, more to hear than Mozart and Strauß, more to taste than Schnitzel and Kaiserschmarren.
Even though Vienna is famous for its "Kaffeehaus" (coffee house) and rustic "Heuriger" (wine tavern), the barflies will be delighted by an ever growing bar scene with top watering holes, standing up against any in London, Chicago, Paris or New York.
Nestled into the colourful cityscape, classic American Bars, restaurant bars and lounges serve craft cocktails, local ingredients and classic libations, always put in front of the guest with a heartwarming smile and engaging hospitality. Most of the places are independently operated, most hotel bars seem to be slightly neglected by the big chains, focusing on other aspects of their offerings. Only recently some of the five star luxury hotels tried to give their bar managers more room for manoeuvre.
Still, the skill and passion of Viennese bartending is higher than ever before, not least because of the Vienna Bar Community and the team spirit amongst the industry. "Better together" seems to be the guideline and finally it's the guest who can enjoy the fruits of the hard labour.
The capital boasts one of the world's great culinary traditions, influenced by the city's rich past, mixture of cultures and nationalities, deeply rooted in the heritage of K & K Monarchy or the Turkish siege.
Start the day early with a typical Viennese breakfast in one of the old coffee houses, listed as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage" by the UNESCO, each one an institution in its own right. With a wide selection of international newspapers and a huge variety of coffee drinks to choose from, you can spend hours inhaling the atmosphere, indulging on traditional pastries, small dishes like Gulasch, Würstel (sausages) or soups and think about the writers of the past. Schnitzler, Zweig, Kraus, Torberg, Trotsky as well as artists, scientists and politicians, they all frequently sought the liveliness, sometimes anonymity and inspiration of places like Cafe Prückel, Hawelka, Landtmann, Sperl or Central.
Being the only metropole worldwide with notable vineyard acreage inside the city boundaries, a visit to one of Vienna's wine producers or Heuriger is a must. Located in the outlying districts, these wine taverns serve local wines (Gemischter Satz is a peculiar speciality), hot and cold food in stunning, natural locations. In general, Vienna is one of the greenest cities and nowhere is this more appreciable than during a walking tour around the Wienerwald, one of the huge parks or with a fine glass of local wine.
When the sun slowly sets and the moon sheds a soft light on the roofs of the historical buildings, it's time to immerse in the pleasures the capital's bars have to offer. Many of them can be found in the city centre, all walking distance, so you can easily go on a little bar tour whilst being overwhelmed by the nightly beauty of the old and the new. Even if you want to visit one of the more widespread locations, the public transport system is an excellent companion through the night.
If you walk down the stairway in front of Vienna's world famous Opera House, you will discover a dinner club of international top standard, providing excellent food, a well-stocked bar with their own cocktail creations and a wide selection of spirits. The price level suits the eccentric and spacey surroundings with high class service. Most evenings there's even live music, all dressed in white.
Opernring / Operngasse, Vienna 1010, +43 1 532 42 41
Comida and Red Red Room is a tasty mixture of Caribbean lifestyle, flavours, aromas and lots of rum upstairs, the cocktail club downstairs is inspired by Stanley Kubrick's "A Space Odyssey" - the interior design immediately conveys that.. Red fabric, white cubes, a dancefloor beautifully lit up. In this melange of club and cocktail bar grown up party people enjoy the atmosphere, creative drink selection as well as the aforementioned sugar cane delights from around the world.
Stubenring 20, Vienna 1010, +43 1 512 40 24
With the unmistakable voice of Dean Martin and his fellows in mind, guests of Dino's American Bar can sip on rare Bourbons or drink their way through the encyclopedic menu. If you have troubles finding your favourite cocktail the bar team around owner Rene van de Graaf and acclaimed mixologist Heinz Kaiser kindly offer guidance and recommendation. Having worked together for more than 18 years, these gentlemen certainly know this bar and its guests inside out.
Salzgries 19, Vienna 1010, +43 1 535 72 30
Urban chic and cosmopolitan vibrancy make for an exciting buzz in the room, paired with classic drinks, contemporary twists and a warm service. If you're a gin lover, this is the place you want to end up. Right above the venue the First Austrian Bartender School takes care of tomorrows rising stars, offering a variety of training courses and education.
Gumpendorfer Straße 51, Vienna 1060, +43 1 586 54 65
Hidden underneath an archway of the U6 underground, this watering hole is up there with the best worldwide. The menu is a short list of classics trimmed to perfection, a mouth watering selection of spirits and a lovely couple serving as patrons will invite you to stay at this tiny bar for the whole night. Earning numerous accolades at Mixology Bar Awards, Halbestadt was also entitled Ardbeg Embassy in 2012.
Währinger Gürtel / Stadtbahnbogen 155, Vienna 1090, +43 1 319 47 35
Lascivious plush, decadent colours yet dimly lit and intimate - and the famous organ? Well, frankly there has never been one. But the pleasures served in this bar are of quite a different nature. The young team is known for its creativity and playful approach to drinks. "World Class" drinks, old and forgotten classics as well as "Around the World" drinks, paying tribute to international colleagues and friends, can be savoured under the watchful eyes of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities, discretely smiling down from their picture frames.
Taborstraße 33 / Große Pfarrgasse, Vienna 1020, +43 1 968 92 15
The eclectic crowd of artists, celebrities and beautiful people has to arrange itself on less than thirty square metres. Designed by architect legend Alfred Loos in 1908, the bar is a timeless place to see and be seen. Don't expect the most elaborate drink offerings and double frosted ice but simply embrace the unique atmosphere and ambience.
Kärntner Durchgang 10, Vienna 1010, +43 1 512 32 83
One of the oldest classic American Bars in Vienna. Barcaptain Farhat Ellouzi still reigns behind the stick, offering classic drinks, his own creations and a more than welcoming service to his guests, most of them regulars. If you fall in love with this place once, you'll keep coming back. There's no mixologist ego, no cuisine style or molecular shenanigans, simple delightful cocktails and spirits in an old fashioned, elegant atmosphere - a small gem, just as a good bar should be.
Annagasse 8, Vienna 1010, +43 1 513 86 51
Opened just a year ago, Roberto's instantly became a hotspot in Vienna's city center. The cosy bar with dimmed lights and a bright lustre above the bar top, is jam packed every single night. Roberto Pavlovic-Hariwijadi, former head bartender at Loos Bar, is a city institution and the kind of bartender who draws you into another world, anticipates every wish and leads you down the rabbit hole. During warm and sunny season you can make yourself comfortable outside, otherwise simply get lost in this little jewel of drinking culture, aperitivos and in-crowd.
Bauernmarkt 11-13, Vienna 1010
Craft cocktails, fancy and playful drink presentation, alongside a huge selection of homemade ingredients and creations, that's what The Sign is all about. Still, this is a place where people shall simply enjoy themselves in a very relaxed and laid back way. Service, fun and a very grown up childishness are priority with Kan Zuo, who evolved this place together with his guests, focussing on high quality and authenticity.
Liechtensteinstraße 104-106, Vienna 1090, +43 1 904 38 62
If dogs run free
The red, white and blue cubic ceiling makes for a rather astonishing impression at first glance. "If dogs run free" is a very contemporary bar concept, combining urban chic, architectural simplicity and finesse with an unpretentious attitude. The bustling crowd, an eclectic mix of artists, architects and hipsters, is drawn into a relaxed mood - the main focus is conviviality and a simple, classic drink offering. Be it the gray and black walls, asphalt floor and furniture, nothing is coming to the fore intrusively, nothing distracts from libations like Chrysanthemum, Boulevardier or a Turf Cocktail. Besides there's a selection of wine by the glass, carefully compiled beer offering and longdrinks, all very reasonably priced. Or to put it in the words of Mr Dylan himself: "it can cure the soul, it can make it whole. If dogs run free."
Gumpendorfer Straße 10, 1060 Vienna, +43 1 913 21 32
Vienna's Ritz Carlton was a welcome addition to the city's high class hotel industry. The restaurant has been relaunched with a new concept but the overall service is up the standards of the luxury group. During the summer months you have the choice between two separate bars: the Rooftop Bar & Lounge called "Atmosphere" provides a stunning view over Vienna and its world famous sights. From noon until nine o'clock you can enjoy a glass of Champagne, accompanied by a light meal or one of the cocktails on the small menu. Late at night or when heavy rain and winter begrudge you the bar experience on the 8th floor, you can relax in the cosy D-Bar downstairs, which can be entered through a separate entrance as well. As expected in a five star hotel, you have a wide variety of wines, beers and little snacks, as well as creative cocktails and an excellent rum selection. These gems can be paired with fine cigars, since the bar is also the smoking lounge.
Schubertring 5-7, Vienna 1010, +43 1 311 88
The new kid on the block - Park Hyatt was the latest luxury temple to be opened during what could easily be described as five star hotel boom in the capital. Freshly squeezed juices, prepared a la minute from more than fifteen different fruit and vegetable varieties, barrel aging and surprise delights like maple glazed smoky bacon, aubergine toast and home made jalapeno salsa offer diversification compared to the sometimes uninventive menu in hotel bars. The drinks are technically flawless and reasonably priced.
Via a flight of stairs, based on Coco Chanel's famous mirror staircase, hotel guests and locals are heading towards the restaurant "The Bank" and the "Living Room", where precious liquor and fine cigars can be savoured.
Am Hof 2, Vienna 1010, +43 1 22740 1183