‘Hey,’ your friend says in Vienna. ‘Let’s meet up for a coffee’.
‘How about a cup of tea? Or a beer? Or a glass of wine?’ you say.
‘All good. We could grab a bite to eat, too.’
‘Where shall we go?’
‘How about Cafe X?’ your friend replies.
A fine cup of coffee in Vienna
You have a nanosecond to decide how to respond.
Vienna is crammed with world class cafes. I review my favourites (so far) on my “Best Vienna cafes” page. You may think my judgement sucks; but I welcome comments and suggestions.
So I was intrigued to see the Austrian newspapers rejoicing last week that a list of the “50 greatest cafes on earth” featured three from Vienna. The list itself is in the British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph”: I thought it a good effort, particularly for attempting a genuinely global list, ranging from Swansea to Hanoi. I also like the fact that the writer, Chris Moss, says he has visited 40 of them himself and his own twitter feed admits the list is “arguably” the best in the world and “something to read in the queue at Pret”.
Of course strictly speaking, such a list cannot be meaningful unless someone has visited every cafe on earth and ranked them systematically.
Leaving aside such theological objections, what about the three Vienna cafes in the list?
I am impressed. First is the Cafe Bräunerhof – not only one of central Vienna’s most authentic and coolest cafes but also comparatively little known. When a visitor I know well comes to Vienna, this is often where I take them. Unpretentious, spacious, atmospheric, it is actually the first on my own list of “Best Vienna cafes“, coming early in the alphabet.
Second on the list is the Cafe Central. This is not surprising: the Central is spectacular and a famous institution. But I never go there. Because it is on countless “must see” list, you have to queue to enter; and it has lost the “relax and take all day drinking your coffee if you want” atmosphere of the best Vienna cafes. This is not the fault of the operators – what are they supposed do if they are overrun by an infinite number of foreign visitors? But it does make the Central both a beneficiary and a victim of globalisation.
Third on the list is the Hawelka. The timeless quality of this gem, which has somehow retained a sense of identity and bohemian atmosphere despite its city centre location, makes it one of my all-time favourites. I have been going there since the ’80s for a beer, a hot beverage or a sausage, or sometimes all three, at almost any time of day. It is less obscure than the Bräunerhof, or indeed most of my top favourites, but is brilliant nonetheless.
Which Vienna cafes would I include in my top 10? Well, I wouldn’t do a top 10, for the reasons described above. But amongst those I visit most often, in addition to the above, are the Cafe Engländer (several fine visits); Cafe Korb (perhaps my nearest to a regular); and Cafe Sperl (another great recent hot chocolate and sandwich).
Please keep sending me your all-time favourites, so I can try out further Vienna cafes and add them to the list. A “comments” section is below.
P.S. the best guide to the culture and history of Vienna cafes I have come across is the outstanding “Melange der Poesie” (in German) by Alain Barbero & Barbara Rieger. A gem.
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