I said so: Vienna has more than a thousand coffeehouses. But this one is like no other. The Café Central is a living museum, a swarming institution that makes us familiar with an old way of life.
« To understand this, we must understand that the Viennese coffeehouses are an institution with no equivalent anywhere else in the world. It is actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours after making this little offering, in order to talk, write, play cards, receive mail, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals. In the best coffeehouses one could find all of the Viennese papers and not just the Viennese ones, but also those from the entire German empire and the French, English, Italian and American ones as well, in addition to each and every one of the important literary and artistic magazines in the world […]. So we knew everything that was going on in the world first hand, we heard about every book that came out, every theatrical performance wherever it took place, and we compared the reviews in all the newspapers. Nothing perhaps contributed to the intellectual mobility and international orientation of the Austrians as the opportunity the coffeehouse provided of informing oneself so comprehensively about all the events in the world and at the same time discussing them within a friendly and familiar circle ».
Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday, 1941.
And the Café Central is one of the « best coffeehouses » where you will be treated as welcomingly if you order a complete diner as if you spend hours with a sole cup of coffee. One comes here solo, as a couple, with family, with friends or colleagues, whatever. One tries to get some information about one’s neighbor’s nationality, one looks for traces of the former literary life which used to liven up this place, one covets the amazing stalls of traditional Viennese pastries and looks at the little girls who dance in front of the pianist. His music warms up the grand vaults.
The Café Central kept its cosmopolite soul since it opened in 1876 when the imperial Vienna was still brilliant. In the Herrengasse – The Lord street –, the Café Central very quickly became one of the places where the rich Viennese intellectual life could express itself.
Peter Altenberg received mail here, politics as Trotsky or Lenin plotted here, Hitler complained here about his failed artistic career, here the elders bumped into the young Turks, Freud and the shooting star of the Viennese poetry, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and all the Young Vienna in his wake. People even say that one-day, Victor Adler, famous social democrat, disagreed here with the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Earl Berchtold. Adler thought that the First World War could bring a revolution in Russia. Berchtold, mocking, answered to him: « And who will lead this revolution? Perhaps Mr. Bronstein sitting over there at the Cafe Central? »… M. Bronstein is also known as Leon Trotsky…
Politics are not the only interest of the Café Central; one also consumes time, schnitzels and chocolate cakes. That’s what I chose to do.
We are in 2014 and the Café Central does not rest on its laurels. The food is really good and that’s not the case everywhere in that kind of institution. Its rank on TripAdvisor confirms that the Café Central still holds to its 2.0 position.
My Alt-Wiener Schokoladentorte, part soufflé, part dark chocolate fondant, was simply the best chocolate cake of my life. And I hope my life will be quite long. No foodie can leave the Café Central with a disappointed stomach. You can find everything at the Café Central.
The original one was settled in a former bank, today the Ferstel Palace – named after the architect, who gave it its neo-Roman style. There’s a bit of Oriental spirit that coils up here between the crimson seats, — the whole soul of the Central Europe. The Café Central closed after the Second World War, a time during which Austria had to come round and find its identity back. It opened again in 1975, in another part of the building, entirely restored in 1986. A great book was published by Verlag and recounts the story of this historical place; it’s on sale on the spot or online (in German or in English).
One comes here today to slow down the course of the second hands and take the time to bump into the ghosts who made this long twentieth century.
Make a virtual tour of the place thanks to the great panoramas of Café Central website!