All you need to know about Café Hawelka is that I wasn’t two steps inside before the elderly owner had shaken my hand furiously and wished me a fine morning with a broad and entirely genuine smile.
The Hawelka is as comforting as a pair of well-worn slippers (with the emphasis on well-worn).
- Barely changed since it opened in 1939
- Long-time reputation as home to young artists and intellectuals
- “Living room” decor a contrast to the more elegant alternatives
- Located right in the city centre
- See also:
Coffee and Buchteln
(The front entrance)
Café Hawelka reeks of authenticity. It seeps out of the worn upholstered seats on the corner sofas, the chipped wooden chairs cluttered around marble tables, and the threads of fraying velvet curtains.
Authentic…and old, the insides barely changed in the 80 or so years since the legendary Leopold und Josefine Hawelka first began serving coffee there (it was their son who greeted me at the door).
The hospitality shown by the Hawelkas eventually led to their coffee house establishing a reputation as the post-war haunt of young artists, writers and intellectuals. Arthur Miller visited. And Andy Warhol. And Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Allegedly, the art critic Alfred Schmeller (1920-1990) once said:
If I’m not at home, then I’m in the Hawelka. And if I’m not in the Hawelka, then I’m on my way to the Hawelka.
Echoes of this boiling pot of creativity remain on the walls. Posters advertising local art exhibitions cover one side of the cafe. Original artwork dots other walls, some presumably accepted in payment for debts run up by impecunious artists.
On my visit, the menu was a mounted blackboard, items and prices written in faded chalk. A tuxedoed waiter slipped between the tables with ease, bringing coffee in porcelain cups bearing Leopold’s signature.
The occasional apple strudel made an appearance, as well as a pair of frankfurter sausages with a roll and mustard, a slice of house cake and the famous Buchteln, a kind of (delicious) sweet roll made to Josefine’s own recipe.
But at Hawelka it’s mostly all about the coffee, or a glass of wine later in the day.
(The Buchteln, filled with a kind of plum jam and rather tasty it has to be said)
You enter and time seems frozen. Outside is modern Vienna. Inside is Vienna as it once was. The Vienna of fierce discussion and youthful bravado, intellects blossoming improbably in the “living room” of the hardworking Hawelkas.
In warmer months, you can sit outdoors and enjoy the (relative) quiet of a side street, despite the incredibly central location; this part remains closed to vehicles.
I visited early on a cold January weekday morning. We found plenty of space within, but my friends warned me that the Hawelka’s reputation and history means it fills fast, especially during the high seasons for tourists.
Go early…and wind your watches back a few years when you do.
How to get to Café Hawelka
You’ll find the coffee house on the same Dorotheergasse street that houses the main location of the Jewish Museum, whose special exhibitions are always a treat.
Another gastronomic icon lives almost opposite at No.1: the famously unpronounceable Trzesniewski produces hugely-popular miniature open sandwiches.
The road leads from Vienna’s pedestrianised Graben and Stephansdom cathedral across to the Albertina Museum and Josefsplatz square with the gorgeous state hall of the National Library.
Incidentally, the Casanova club next door to the Hawelka appeared in the movie, The Third Man. And the store directly opposite is an outlet for Hawelka’s own coffee roasting house. So you can drink the coffee and then take it home with you.
Stephansplatz station (on the U1 and U3 subway lines) is but a short walk away. The old town buses also stop nearby. For example, take the 1A or 2A lines to Graben/Petersplatz, Habsburgergasse, Plankengasse (2A only), or Stephansplatz (also a stop for the 3A).
Address: Dorotheergasse 6, 1010 Vienna | Website