Vienna – Fact Check

Vienna's cafés are not all cake and whipped cream

Kaffee Alt Wien is a more relaxed, modern version of the classic Viennese café. It offers more than 20 different kinds of coffee, including decaf, Fairtrade and organic beans. Popular with alternative artists and musicians, it transforms into an atmospheric drinking den in the evenings, famous for its goulash.

Photo by Catherine Karnow / Alamy

Vienna – Fact Check

Vienna's cafés are not all cake and whipped cream

Everybody knows Vienna’s café stereotypes: Habsburg-style dowagers nibbling at teaspoons piled high with whipped cream, old men in flat caps reading newspapers, classical sonatas on the piano. But they’ve never been to Café Phil.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

On the now hip and happening Gumpendorfer Strasse, across from Cafe Sperl – one of the most staid and traditional of Vienna’s coffee houses – stands its polar opposite: Cafe Phil.

Sperl has live pianists playing Liszt. Phil has indie rock on the stereo. Sperl serves Wiener Brauner and imitation Sachertorte; Phil serves lattes and the Philgood Früstuck: a gargantuan platter of sesame crackers, hummus, pickled vegetables, yogurt, and granola (it runs roughly the same price as Sperl’s slice of cake). Sperl closes in the evening; Phil turns into a disco. Sperl’s wait staff is largely composed of gruff, geriatric women; Phil’s is made of affably bearded, hipster men. And, of course, only Phil has wifi.

All over Vienna, “alt cafes” like Phil and Alt Wien (pictured above) are reimagining what a Viennese coffee house looks like in the 21st century. The young Viennese at these cafés are interested in lingering all afternoon – but with a Macbook Air, not a copy of Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity.

As evening passes into night at Phil, people stop ordering coffee; they start ordering Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, gin. Neon lights flicker across the ceiling. The waiters turn the music up. The beat goes on.

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