I walked through the door and fell in love. Not with a stranger seated within Café Sperl, but with the coffee house itself…with the decor and atmosphere, but mostly with the second hand of the clock.
- First opened in 1880
- Elegant historical interior with an authentic atmosphere
- Features in Before Sunrise and Vienna Blood
- See also:
Billiards and period drama
(Don’t you love coffee house fonts?)
It’s kind of hard to come up with new things to say on a fresh visit to another coffee house. They do coffee. And cake. It’s great. Next.
The words come easier with Café Sperl, though.
An early Saturday morning meant few guests. Just a bespectacled gentleman in the corner with a newspaper: one of several regulars that appeared during my stay.
And me, of course, instantly enamoured of the gorgeous setting. The entrance way alone felt like a Wellsian portal to another world; all wood, glass, and polished mirrors.
The patterned red upholstery fading gracefully with age. The huge brass lamp fittings with a hint of Art Nouveau about them. The tall ceiling decorated in white stucco. The marbled tabletops on decorated metal plinths. Marvellous.
And at one end of the café, a piano ringed by carved wooden panels and an old clock, whose second hand circled like a runner forever trapped on the last lap of the 10,000m: tired but determined.
I may be out by fifty years, but it all felt quite Edwardian. The sort of place you might enter with a cane, top hat and the very best of moustaches. As if the 20th century stopped around 1910.
Look out the window, and opposite is a 130-year-old house in the late historicism style. Instead of cars, you half expect to hear the rattle of carriage wheels and rushed clop of horses.
One side of the Sperl features three billiard tables, an array of newspapers and a little corner for kids. I even spotted two high chairs in the same dark bentwood design of the traditional coffee house chairs, which was rather sweet.
The coffee house make more than one appearance in the Vienna Blood period detective series set around 1900, which tells you something about the authenticity of the interior decor. And the famous “phone” scene between Jesse and Céline in Before Sunrise takes place inside here, too.
(“Im Cafee Sperl”: sketches by Johann Victor Krämer of artist patrons of the coffee house from 1888, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 133672, excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
Turns out Café Sperl actually dates back to 1880. One of Vienna’s big theatre and opera houses is 200m away (Theater an der Wien), so the coffee house became a haunt of creative spirits. Franz Lehár was a regular, apparently. As were, curiously, various military gentlemen.
This no doubt led to some robust discussions around the piano on late Sunday evenings. Artists versus Archdukes, books versus bombs.
An immaculately-dressed waitress brought me a house breakfast with quiet, studied efficiency. This included a selection of rolls, jam, butter (7/10 on the spreadability index), and a pot of coffee good for over two cups.
Café Sperl actually has quite a broad menu, almost restaurant-like in its size: everything from a croissant to baked camembert. Coffee prices sit in the upper middle segment, I’d say.
I loved it. This may be where I go to write my next historical novel.
How to get to Café Sperl
The Sperl is closer to the centre that you might think at first glance of a map.
Subway: Just a short walk from Karlsplatz station (on the U1, U2 and U4 lines). Look for the Secession exit. Museumsquartier (U2 line) is close, too
Tram/bus: Take the 57A bus to Laimgrubengasse
Address: Gumpendorfer Straße 11, 1060 Vienna | Website