Several Vienna cafes have famous “no kissing” stories.
My famous Vienna Cafe Reviews note the alleged “no kissing” rule in the Cafe Malipop; and promise a story from 1986.
Here it is. It concerns the Gmoa Keller, right here in Vienna.
Back in 1986 I looked something like this
In the 1980s, the Gmoa Keller was a tenebrous place, damp with history and rich with atmosphere. It was run by two elderly sisters from the Burgenland, Grete Novak and Hedi Vécsei. Grete had been in charge since taking over from her uncle, Andreas Herzog, in the ’60s. He in turn had run the place since 1936.
Late one night, my girlfriend Nicky and I took refuge there from a bitterly cold, wet evening. We ordered beers. We were the only guests.
The beer, and the safe haven of the Gmoakeller, warmed us up. A hint of kissing arose. Nothing ostentatious: a nuzzle, perhaps, a cheek to a neck.
Grete shuffled across to where we were sitting. She leaned down to my ear almost as though she were about to kiss me herself.
‘Das is nicht erlaubt,’ she said. That’s not allowed. Her voice was deep with authority and croaky with a lifetime of smoky cellars.
We stopped all amorous activity double-quick; and finished our beers.
The phrase “das ist nicht erlaubt” has remained with me, ever since.
Many years later I was reminded of the episode by a charming obituary of Grete Novak in the Financial Times. The writer noted her strictness with guests, “often throwing out people because she simply didn’t know them”.
With hindsight, I believe she treated us well, that night in 1986. At least she let us finish our beers.
These days, the Gmoa Keller is a lively Vienna restaurant famed for its reliable Austrian food and authentic atmosphere. I often go there. In a way, it encapsulates Vienna’s transition since the 1980s – from a charming but somewhat down-at-heel city hemmed in by the Iron Curtain to a prosperous twenty-first century metropolis at the heart of Europe which has managed to hold onto much of its charisma.
Long may it continues to do so. And meanwhile, to quote the always-reliable FT: Goodbye Gretl.