When the staff of Café Schwarzenberg open up in the early morning, they’re conducting a ritual that began on the premises over 150 years ago.
- First opened in 1861 and once the haunt of architect and designer, Josef Hoffmann
- Ticks all the right traditional boxes for a Viennese coffee house
- Lovely views of late 19th century architecture out the windows
- See also: Vienna coffee houses
A local review
Back in 1861, Abraham Lincoln took up the office of President in the USA and civil war broke out a couple of weeks later.
Meanwhile, across the ocean in Vienna, Johanna and Raimund Hochleitner opened a coffee house in a newly-constructed town palais. The location? On the Kärnter Ring, part of the impressive and prestigious Ringstrassen boulevard created at the time.
And so Café Schwarzenberg was born.
To be fair, the coffee house didn’t get its current name until the start of the next century. The change was almost inevitable, given the close proximity of Schwarzenbergstraße, Schwarzenbergplatz and the Schwarzenberg monument…all named after Karl Philipp, Prince of (surprise!) Schwarzenberg. The Prince earned all these city tributes through his military exploits against Napoleon back in the day.
Given its age, the coffee house is a living monument to the Ringstrassen cafés that originally catered to the cream of 19th-century Viennese society.
The decor inside has changed since then, of course, not least because the Russians used the insides for target practice during the post-WWII allied occupation of Vienna.
Dark hardwood panelling lines today’s Café Schwarzenberg, topped with a tiled ceiling and glass chandeliers, giving it a particularly warm resonance for the colder months (there’s an outdoor section for sunnier seasons). The worn wood and cracked leather of the seats are spotless and pristine in their coffee house integrity.
Look closely and you’ll find patterned wall coverings, too, that echo those you see in places like the Albertina museum.
The overall impression is very much in the honourable tradition of the Viennese coffee house, right down to the upturned spoon on the glass of water that comes with your coffee. That particular tradition stems from the days of silver spoons, when hosts wanted their guests to see the hallmark on their cutlery.
Pick the right seat inside, and you enjoy a view up Schwarzenbergplatz to the giant Russian memorial. Or look across to the Erzherzog-Ludwig-Viktor-Palais (built a year or two after the Hochleitners started serving coffee and now housing a theater and, rather incongruously, a TGI Fridays).
If you use the time to make a few sketches on a pad, you’re following in the footsteps of a frequent visitor to Café Schwarzenberg: the great architect and designer, Josef Hoffmann (1870 – 1956). I used my hour or so to edit a novel, inspired by a fine Wiener Melange and a slice of Sachertorte from the extensive collection of cakes.
The café’s not a particularly literary location, mind, or a home to great philosophers, but it is a time-honoured representative of what it means to be a coffee house in traditional Vienna. A place to ponder the scars and memories left over the past 150 years of city history, admire the surrounding architecture, and gird your loins with a Fairtrade organic cappuccino or traditional Viennese meal.
How to get to Café Schwarzenberg
Subway: the coffee house sits roughly half way between the Karlsplatz (U1, U2 and U4) and Stadtpark (U4) subway stations
Tram/bus: As the photo above shows, there’s a bus stop right outside: the 2A line. Trams 2, D and 71 all stop close by, too (Schwarzenbergplatz)
Address: Kärntner Ring 17, 1010 Vienna | Website
At the time of visiting (November 5th, 2019), open daily from 7.30am (8.30am on weekends) to midnight.