Writing by Peter Hilton

Out in Vienna - Saturday, 13 March 1999

Daily research on Viennese nightlife.

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Steffl, Kärntnerstrasse

I have popped into the big department store in Kärntnerstrasse, the one with the glass lift on the outside, to check out its cafes and the view from the top. It's a beautiful sunny day, so I am expecting great things.

The Media Cafe on the fifth floor is a bad start. It is a reasonable attempt at a cybercafe that will attract intellectual, classy and influential net-artists such as myself, with stylish furniture and touch-screen terminals. As it is, it is merely packed with the Hotmail crowd.

Without stopping I continue upstairs to the 'literature cafe', which sounds more promising. I'm hoping for an arty cafe in the corner of the book department, with a bookish crowd of students and young professionals. I am disappointed to find only elderly shoppers having a rest during their Saturday shop. Worse yet, it's a gorgeous day but the cafe is in the middle of the shop, as far away from the windows as it could possibly be. So I keep going.

The (American) Sky Bar on the seventh floor has turned out to be a non-starter as well. The view doesn't quite make it above the city-centre rooftops and the customers look very much as if they are only there to be seen.

It is too early in the day for all that pretention, so I'm going back outside for a wander in the sunshine: coffee can wait.


After the end of Kärntnerstrasse I have wandered into the Naschmarkt. The unseasonably warm sun makes it tempting to stop at one of the many cafe-bars and site outside with at weisse gespritzter.

the front of Cafe Sperl, Vienna Instead I have spent an hour exploring the large flea market, and the large and excellent food market. The food market has a lot of variety - Asian, Oriental and Turkish food, with sushi bars mixed in with the odd würstelstand. I'm not hungry so I'll settle for a glass of lime juice from a stall that has a dozen or so different fruit juices on offer. That hit the spot.

Cafe Sperl, Gumpendorferstrasse/Lehargasse

the dark, welcoming interior of Cafe Sperl, Vienna Up a side street, on my way to Mariahilferstrasse, I have come across this big old corner cafe. Cafe Sperl is far more every-day than the other traditional Viennese cafes. There is a good selection of cafes, newspapers, and comfy seats in corners and window alcoves, and it is delightfully dingy without being at all grim. There are even three tables for some kind of billiards where you don't pot the balls (because there aren't any pockets).

A place like this could easily be full of deaf old ladies, but the crowd is suitably varied for my taste. Just right for a lazy afternoon.

Cafe Stein, Kolingasse 1

With its fairly trendy crowd and modern decor, Cafe Stein would be very cool if it didn't have such horrid pink table cloths. There are lots of tables, upstairs and down, which are mostly full. Instead I have decided to catch the last of the afternoon sun on the terrace outside.

Having now moved inside for a coffee, because the sun went in and I got cold, I have decided that I like this place a lot, partly because it's busy and animated enough not to need any music upstairs, and partly because it's not so pretentious that scruffy students don't show up.

Cafe Mak, Stubenring

Cafe MAK, with adjoining museum, Vienna Very much the museum or gallery restaurant, with that ballroom look and scale, Cafe Mak is a very pleasant place to be. The two-dozen diners here are very spread out but the accoustics carry the quiet chatter all around the room, which makes it sound just like a big museum, or cathedral perhaps.

Having had lots of help from the waiter with the impenetrable handwriting on the menu I have finally ordered something that sounds interesting. I can only read about half of the German at the best of times, so such a bizarre scrawl really isn't fair.

My food is a plate of fresh ravioli, stuffed with potato, on olive oil and herbs, with soft cheese on top and salad on the side. That's a new one on me, but it goes down very well, as does the gorgeous Rioja. Alexandra doesn't know what she's missing. (Actually she does - she recommended the place to me.)

Out In Vienna contents | back to 12 March | forwards to 14 March