In Vienna, I was grumpy at being fed cake I didn’t want.
Away, apfelstrudel! Stay your saccharine steps, sachertortes!
But how absolutely fascinating you are, large living-room atmosphere of Viennese coffeehouses.
At Café Prückel (Stubenring 24, 1010 Vienna), a fair number of Austrians were scattered about its mid-century interior,
chatting with friends in the autumn sunlight filtering through the tall windows, or reading the many newspapers clamped on bamboo-holders (that made me think of the common rooms at Walhampton):
Over at Café Leopold Hawelka (Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Wien), the legendary grimy living room had been welcoming blackmarket contraband trading, displaced princes, poor painters for decades. Posters and playbills lined part of a wall. From certain corners of the room, cigarette smoke curled and wafted up to the high wood-panelled ceiling.
Demel Kaffeehaus (Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien) was closing for the day when we arrived. It was an easy tourist visit on the way back from Hofburg Palace. We came away with a slice of sachertorte (dry) and one of gerollte mandletorte (a symphony of crunchy almond and smooth chocolate buttercream).
Cafe Central (Herrengasse 14, 1010 Wien) was also on the tourist radar (Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, etc had their bums on these chairs), but thankfully, turnover of tables was fast – there being very little chatting after the requisite selfies/wefies/Instagram-worthy photos had been taken.
Cakes were surprisingly reasonably priced! While their famous applestrudel was nothing to write home about, the coffee pastry pictured below was excellent. And though it’s not third wave coffee, I suspect I could get used to the Viennese melange.
Cafe Sacher Vienna (Philharmonikerstrasse 4, A-1010 Vienna). The original sacher torte was still the best we had on this vacation – proper balance of tangy raspberry(?) and chocolate cake, and moist.
Even upon the pain of too much cake, I’d very much like to import a Viennese kaffeehaus to the Little Red Dot. A spacious, relatively quiet, intellectual clearinghouse where truth can be mined from rigorous debate. There’s hardly been a bible study or serious discussion in a Singapore cafe that hasn’t devolved into shouting above the din of far-too-many-in-too-small-a-place just to be partially heard. This makes for truncated, superficial chatter.
Useful tips re: Viennese coffeehouses:
- don’t wait to be seated (unless there’s a sign that says so or if the place is tiny enough for you to wonder if tables have all been reserved). Find your own table, and the waiters will/should find you.
- the waitstaff expect orders to be given briskly, efficiently.
- don’t expect sudden-new-best-friend grovelling that’s known as “good service” in America.
- sometimes service charge is included in the bill. Otherwise, a 10% “tip” is expected. (See advice from The Guardian and Tripadvisor).
- bring cash; many cafes don’t accept credit cards.