Vienna Cafe Reviews – a personal collection of my favourite Viennese cafes from the Hawelka to the Korb via the Sperl and the Eiles. Choose your own favourites.
Viennese customer (standing up, exasperated, after 20 minutes of trying to get the bill, in German) ‘Excuse me, Mr Waiter; I’d like to pay, please.’
Head Waiter (chatting to other waiters on the other side of the room) ‘If you’re in such a hurry, you should have stayed at home.’
Vienna cafe reviews – a story from 1986
This is a true story from Vienna, 1986 – I was there. If my host that day (then working in the Town Hall with Mayor Zilk) is reading this, do get in touch. Can you guess in which of the cafes reviewed below the scene occurred? Clue: it was not the Hawelka.
The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Leigh Turner
How should you do Vienna cafe reviews? Is it even fair for me to assess them, as a foreigner who has lived only six years in the city, all but the last year back in the 1980s?
Vienna coffee types
Most Viennese cafes are excellent. I particularly like the fact that many of them (not all, sadly) use old-fashioned Viennese coffee-types such as kleine Schwarzer, kleine Brauner, Verlängerter or Franziskaner, instead of, or sometimes in addition to, the world-conquering Italian descriptors (Cappuccino, Macchiato & Co).
Viennese waiters – an acquired taste
Many Vienna cafes have a wonderful, unrenovated charm, often accompanied by service which varies from the friendly and efficient (more common in cafes outside the first district) to a kind of studied clockwork stop-motion effect where waiters emphasise by their every action both their superiority to the customers and the fact that they will not deviate from their intended, inexorable plan of action under any circumstance.
But then, what do you want? Would you rather, in Vienna, have a traditional-looking Austrian waiter, who maybe doesn’t speak English and isn’t conspicuously polite, or a fast-moving identikit youth who could be in Seattle or Siena and maybe doesn’t speak German? It’s a tricky question.
Traditional waiters can be brilliant, if they know what they are doing. But if they are less than brilliant, the combination can be suboptimal. I even mention the slow service of Viennese waiters in my satirical thriller Eternal Life. In fact, immortality might be handy if you’re waiting to be served in some Vienna cafes.
Cakes and comments
Viennese cafes also often serve terrific cakes; and other food and drink, from sausages to breakfast and beer. Check the menu; and choose your cakes at the counter if you’re not sure.
I’m keen to hear your views. I often review cafes suggested in the “Comments” boxes below – latest addition is the Cafe Museum.
Vienna Cafe Reviews: here they are
All of the cafes reviewed below are ones I would happily to return to. If a cafe does not appear in the list, that means either that I haven’t tried it yet; or that I’ve tried it and am not absolutely desperate to return. My findings so far:
Cafe Bräunerhof (Stallburggasse 2, 1st District). One of my favourites. Nestling in a back street near the tourist heart of Vienna, the Cafe Bräunerhof has nonetheless kept a wonderfully shabby and unrenovated traditional ambience, complete with uniformed waiters (don’t try and sit down until they’ve shown you to a table) and, when I visited once, a musical trio at no extra charge. Has a particularly enjoyable good “stepping back in time” feeling, with plenty of locals reading books and newspapers. Apparently the Bräunerhof has a reputation for grumpy waiters but on numerous visits mine have been unusually fast and perfectly civil.
The cavernous, welcoming interior of the Cafe Bräunerhof (all photos LT)
Cafe Central (Herrengasse 14, 1st District). Possibly the most famous of Vienna’s traditional cafes, the Central occupies an exquisite space in the Palais Ferstel, originally built in 1860 to house the Austrian National Bank and stock exchange. Although opened “only” in 1876, the cafe’s historical legacy is powerful: Wikipedia says that when Victor Adler objected to Count Berchtold, foreign minister of Austria-Hungary, that war would provoke revolution in Russia, he replied: “And who will lead this revolution? Perhaps Mr. Bronstein (Leon Trotsky) sitting over there at the Cafe Central?” Despite repeated renovations, the Central has masses of atmosphere and is worth a visit, so long as the queues are not too long. Service can be a bit slow.
The Cafe Central is spectacular
Dolce Pensiero (Salzgries 9b, 1st District) is not a traditional Viennese cafe: no waiters in waistcoats, no 19thC architecture or famous historic guests. But it distinguishes itself by a wonderful outdoor ambience, friendly, efficient staff, good coffee and a splendid array of cakes (see picture). I enjoyed a cappuccino and a home-made lemonade and left feeling as though I’d experienced a little piece of Italy. Nice name, too.
The counter at the Dolce Pensiero
Cafe Eiles (Josefstädter Straße 2, 8th District). A traditional grand old Viennese cafe a little outside the centre of town, near the Town Hall. Great if you want to go somewhere not overrun with tourists. I had a terrific, relaxed breakfast here. Opinions differ on the quality of the service – some like the classic waiters (“they leave you alone, this is priceless”). A full review is here.
Breakfast at the Cafe Eiles
The confusingly name Cafe Engländer (the name of a former proprietress Salomea Engländer, not a nationality) sits quietly in the Postgasse in the 1st District, somewhat off the beaten track. Unremarkable from the outside, the interior is a gem: cool, ’50s design backs up Engländer’s reputation as a creative, nonconformist hangout. The waiters are 100% traditional – uniforms, no smiles – but actually offered fine service on several recent visits including making a big effort to find me a table. The Cafe also has good food. A great blend of a traditional Vienna cafe and something a bit alternative. I’ll be back.
From outside, the subtle interior of the Engländer is not obvious
Cafe Hawelka (Dorotheergasse, 1st District). A city-centre cafe with a pleasing sense of history, including busts of former owners Josefine and Leopold Hawelka and apparently unrenovated since I lived in Vienna in the 1980s. Definitely one of the best Vienna cafes: top ambience with a pleasing sense of calm and refuge as soon as you walk in, although proximity to the Graben means it can get a bit full. Quite unique in Vienna and another of my favourites.
Jonas Reindl Coffee Roasters (Währingerstrasse 2-4, 9th District). A relative upstart on the Vienna Cafe scene, Jonas Reindl is a coffee-lover’s paradise nestled just outside the Ring near the Schottentor (whose tram station, according to the Cafe’s excellent website, is the inspiration for the name Jonas Reindl). I found the coffee notably good – the website goes into loving detail on its origins – and the atmosphere pleasingly student-oriented, with a friendly buzz and no waiters wearing waistcoats. I’ll be back!
A delicious cup of coffee at Jonas Reindl
Kleines Cafe (Franziskanerplatz 3, 1st District). Rarely was a cafe so aptly named as the Kleines Cafe (“Small Cafe”): it is microscopic. Located in one of the most ancient parts of Vienna, its unrestored facade conceals a pint-sized, unrestored interior. Despite its location close to peak tourist zones of the city the Kleines Cafe exhibits the so-laidback-as-to-be-nearly-horizontal style of the best old Viennese cafes, with locals taking their time to sit and read a newspaper over a leisurely cup of coffee, a beer or a sausage. A delightful, quirky place and cosy – earns top marks among Vienna cafe reviews. Take care in the summer: the seats in the square outside may not belong to the Kleines Cafe.
Kleines Cafe (bottom left) and Franziskanerplatz by night
Cafe Korb (Brandstätte 9, 1st District). You can tell the Korb is something special the moment you click on their website: a steaming cup of coffee invites you, Alice-like, to “Enter”. Stepping into the cafe itself is initially less intriguing: although the furniture is allegedly ancient (the cafe was founded in 1904; Sigmund Freud was a regular), the decor is the victim of a 1960s makeover and not yet quite kitsch enough to be chic. But the ubiquitous pictures of the owner, the legendary Susanne Widl, are a hint that the Korb is something special. A decorated cellar lounge offers a rich programme of cultural stimulation from music to poetry; and the manager, Franz Schubert, also plays the saxophone. Even the loo doors are interesting (big in Japan, according to some Vienna cafe reviews). A find; and my hot chocolate was excellent. Check out the quirky cellar decoration, even if no event is taking place.
The “Gents” (left) and “Ladies” signs at the Cafe Korb
Cafe Landtmann (Universitätsring, 1st District). The Landtmann is one of the most famous Vienna cafes and meeting places, sitting on the Ringstrasse close to the Burgtheater, the Town Hall, the University and a host of city centre attractions. From the outside it is unexceptional; but inside, a series of spectacular linked rooms offer a host of cosy seating options – once you can get a waiter to take you to a table. The atmosphere is bustling and cosmopolitan, with plenty of both Viennese and tourists, and the uniformed waiters rushing around holding trays stacked with coffee and cakes can be a bit intimidating on a first visit.
Cafe Malipop (Ungargasse 10, 3rd District, no website). An eccentric, alternative gem with eclectic, intriguing music; a unique hostess in Margit Wolf; and a true sense of something unique. The fact it is off the tourist beaten track has probably helped keep it one of the most characterful cafes in the city. It’s so remarkable I dedicated a whole blog post to it.
Cool people at the Malipop
Cafe Morgenstern (Sankt-Ulrichs-Platz 5, 7th District). Hidden off the street in the beautiful but curiously underpopulated St Ulrichs Platz, the Morgenstern is determinedly grungy and alternative. Everyone is cool and hanging out, both staff and waiters. The interior is fetchingly shabby and somewhat Gothic with a sense of numerous regulars and a hint of post-communist retro-chic in the illuminated red star. Best feature for me was the terrace outside, with an immense sense of place. We enjoyed a decent Schladminger BioZwickl and a “Baguette Morgenstern”. Worth a visit if you fancy something different off the beaten track.
The grunge decor in the Morgenstern
Cafe Museum (Operngasse, 1st District). Occupying a prominent position on the corner of the Karlsplatz opposite the “Third Man” tours, the Naschmarkt and the Secession, the Cafe Museum is the epitome of an traditional coffee house which has been restored to modern standards. It used to be my regular in the mid-’80s when I lived nearby in the Wiedner Hauptstrasse. As the pictures below show, the restoration has improved the external appearance of the cafe, which serves a comprehensive range of food and drink in a tastefully-restored interior and boasts a large terrace outside. The Cafe Museum also runs a respected series of literary readings and, like the best cafes, doesn’t rush you. Service on my latest visit was fine. But the restored cafe perhaps lacks the charm which makes cafes like the Sperl, Hawelka or Braunerhof stand out for me.
The Cafe Museum in 2017
The Cafe Museum in 1987 (pre-renovation)
Oberlaa Konditorei (Kurbadstrasse, 10th District). A Vienna cake institution which has spawned a chain of pleasant cafes, with a strong focus on patisserie (I had the Apfel Streusel Kuchen – apple crumb cake – and a kleiner Schwarzer). A bustling, lively place whose modern decor is offset, in the original near the Kurpark, by a certain grandeur and an impressively large range of top Vienna cakes. Got a sweet tooth? You know you deserve it.
The terrific cake selection at the Oberlaa Konditorei
Palmenhaus (Burggarten 1, 1st District). One of Vienna’s newer cafes, opened in 1998, in an airy greenhouse built in 1901. In winter, you can sit inside; in summer, the terrace is beautiful, with a view of the Burggarten. Good for people-watching or chilling; no pressure to move. The furniture on the terrace is functional; that inside is comfier. A friendly place with a lively ambience.
The Palmenhaus terrace has a lovely location
Cafe phil (Gumpendorferstrasse 10-12, 6th District). Almost opposite Cafe Sperl (below) the phil is a self-confident alternative antithesis to traditional Viennese cafes. Books, music, furniture and terrible puns on the menu (‘phil free to come back’; ‘bilbio-phil’; ‘audio-phil’; ‘retro-phil’; ‘phil-good’ and so on) earn plaudits in Vienna cafe reviews. The web-site (‘phil.info, as in viel’) is a conglomeration of cultural cool. Criticised by some as a hangout of ‘bobos’ (bourgeois bohemians’) the phil’s menu even includes a ‘bobotoast’. It’s scarily effective – as if Jeff Bezos, say, had taken over your favourite cafe, researched what you wanted, and delivered it with wit, panache and profitability. Next to all this, the actual food and drink feels almost incidental. Decent street terrace.
Suitably arty Phil-photo of the Phil-fare (with philburger)
Cafe Sperl (Gumpendorfer Straße 11, 6th District). Another favourite of mine, located in a backstreet close to, yet divorced from, tourist zones, the Sperl was recommended by a reader. I found it a treasure: spacious and atmospheric in a perfect 19thC way with faded plush seats, high ceilings, uniformed but efficient waiters, and a delightful, timeless air which it is hard to imagine persisting in any other European city. A brilliant space to spend time: I’ll be back (stop press: returned. Still lovely. Great clientele, too). 100% Viennese. Another place I’ve been impressed by good service.
The Cafe Sperl on a quiet Thursday night
Cafe Schwarzenberg (Kärntner Ring 17, 1st District). The Schwarzenberg calls itself the oldest cafe on Vienna’s mighty Ringstrasse and a sensitive late 1970s restoration has left it with one of the most pleasing interiors amongst the grand Viennese cafes. Service is in the stately Ringstrasse tradition where the customer is expected to know his or her place and waiters of immense experience know that when things get busy, thirsty clientele and uncleared tables will both have to wait a bit. Clientele is mostly international, but I warmed to the waiters seeing them joshing with elderly Viennese regulars. My Kleine Schwarzer (see pic) was delicious and hot. I liked the sugar dispensers instead of sachets.
I enjoyed a fine coffee & leisurely read at Cafe Schwarzenberg
Cafe 7*Stern (Siebensterngasse, 7th District). Not your typical Vienna cafe, the Siebenstern lies in the Seventh District amidst a profusion of alternative eateries, cafes, pubs and shops. In the summer, a street cafe blooms outside in an agreeably lively but not too noisy square. This is “shabby chic” territory, with customers vying with the waiters for who can look coolest and a hard core clientele of locals who love the place. I am a fan: my coffee was perfect, and accompanied by a litre bottle of water and a mug; the service was good; and the atmosphere, on a warm May Sunday afternoon, bohemian. Interestingly TripAdvisor clients seem to hate the place – but does that make you want to visit or to stay away?
The Cafe 7*Stern
Strandbar Herrmann (Herrmannpark, 3rd District) is not really a cafe. But it is a regular haunt of mine; is a unique spot in the centre of Vienna; and has charm. When Vienna is baking in summer heat, this is the place to come for an ice-cold beer or soft drink, to watch the Danube Canal flowing by a few paces away. For a full review, see my post 7 reasons to like the Strandbar Herrmann.
Strandbar Herrmann on an August evening
Cafe Tirolerhof (Führichgasse 8, 1st District). A traditional Vienna cafe in the heart of the tourist zone with plenty of space inside and a sunny terrace in good weather. The Tirolerhof has the kind of comfortable, spacious but unrenovated look I like best in Viennese cafes, and does not even have a website. The cafe polarises opinion: TripAdvisor has several reviews complaining about the service; but on my visits I found the service, despite the traditional feel of the place, quick and responsive; and enjoyed both clientele (mostly locals) and coffee to the extent that I’m thinking this might become one of my regular haunts.
The Tirolerhof on a bright October day: strictly traditional
Ungar Grill (Burggasse 97, 7th District). It is perhaps cheeky to review the Ungar Grill, which is off the tourist beaten track and not strictly a cafe. Rather, it a place where eating and drinking (notably of beer) play as important a role as coffee consumption; and cakes are not a speciality. But the Ungar Grill deserves a mention as an exceptional example of the no-problem type of Viennese inner-city establishment where the prices are modest; the food decent; the service good; and both staff and guests have flair, perhaps based around the proprietors’ fondness for modern Austrian music and musicians, many of whom seem to hang out here. I like the neon; and it’s an excuse for a stroll down the Burggasse, an example of the vibrancy of some city centre zones outside the 1st District. NB a reader tells me that since this review, the Ungar Grill has closed. Tragic if true. Can anyone confirm this?
The Ungar Grill by night
Cafe Zartl (Rasumofskygasse 7, 3rd District). A friend recommended Cafe Zartl after enjoying a fine family breakfast, and I checked it out on a sunny Sunday evening to find I was the only guest. Despite this, the service was not outstanding. Outside and in, the Zartl looks perfect for a faded, traditional Vienna cafe, and is close to the Hundertwasserhaus, guaranteeing some tourist visits. But it doesn’t quite have the rich (tho’ equally faded) decor of, say, the Sperl, or masses of atmosphere (hard, admittedly, when you are the only guest). Worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Cafe Zartl looks great in the evening sun
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Do you disagree – or have a favourite cafe I should check out? You can comment using the form at the foot of the page.
And where was that cafe whose head waiter told my host – someone who had been going there for years – that if he was in a hurry he should have stayed at home? Guesses welcome!
And if you want to read how I’d run a cafe, restaurant or Hotel, check out my Hotel Stories – entirely 100% fictional in every case.
Forthcoming Vienna cafe reviews:
Cafe Jelinek (Otto-Bauer-Gasse 5, 1060 Wien)
P.P.S. see my piece When dinner becomes the last supper for a tongue-in-cheek guide to “why German waiters are the best”.