Art is alive and kicking in Vienna, Austria, my hometown. While Viennese museums are renowned for their historic art treasures, and local galleries draw in a select group of art connoisseurs, you can find a great mix of art in many places of everyday life.
1) Vienna Coffeehouses
The UNESCO-recognised traditional Vienna coffeehouse culture and its modern descendants have helped cultivate places across a wide art spectrum. From the Historistic columns, vaulted ceilings and Imperial paintings of Café Central, the classic Thonet chairs and newspaper holders of Café Griensteidl to 1930ies Bohemian spot Café Korb and 1950ies style lounge Café Prückel with its iconic Oswald Härdtl chandeliers. From March 2013, Café Museum and Café am Heumarkt will revive the traditional Vienna coffeehouse culture through connecting travelers and locals at the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations (in English).
2) Historic Street Market: Naschmarkt
Most of the green cast iron stands of Vienna’s most famous street market, Naschmarkt, date back from the early 20th century. The market itself has been there since 1780. If you like vintage art, visit the vast flea market on Saturdays, just behind the main market area. It is a good place to find local glass and silverware, vintage porcelain, and second hand bags and clothes.
3) Shops and Shopping Arcades
If Habsburg princess Marie Antoinette was still alive, she would have loved to roam the luxury shops around Kohlmarkt, Graben and Tuchlauben in the baroque city centre. The area boasts a few beautifully designed traditional shops that were once suppliers to the Imperial Court, such as porcelain and glassware dealer Albert Denk, book shop Braumüller, and patisserie Demel. In the past years, the area has been booming with international luxury brand shops, from Gucci and Louis Vuitton to Vivienne Westwood.
The elegant shopping arcade that connects Freyung square with Herrengasse is loaded with exquisite boutiques and chocolate shops. Most locals use it to get a break from bad weather and do some window shopping, with the occasional gaze at the historic glass roof and glass dome, the fountain featuring a Danube mermaid, and the cast iron lanterns lining the middle of the roof.
The Dorotheum was the first shop where I bought fine jewellery. It is the largest antiques shop in Vienna and one of the biggest auction houses in Europe. Its shopping outlet on the ground floor, the Glashof, has great vintage glass and silverware, posters, porcelain, small furniture, and jewellery.
Three tips for quirky shops: Kaufhaus Schiepek, pop art heaven for accessories and gifts (Teinfaltstrasse 3, 1010 Vienna),
Frauenzimmer und Maennersachen, vintage fashion gem (Zollergasse 16, 1070 Vienna), Liebenswert, sex shop with taste for ladies (Eszterhazygasse 26, 1060 Vienna).
Whenever I feel my Wiener Schnitzel needs an aesthetic background, I go to either the Vestibül at Burgtheater or the Österreicher im MAK. I love how the Vestibül manages to create a warm feeling amidst all the sumptuous stucco and marble columns which are delightfully interrupted by modern art objects. Some of the fine Viennese cuisine offered has its surprising elements, too: The Austro-Hungarian cabbage stew has lobster in it, and the apple strudel is mixed with goose liver to make for an unusual starter.
The Österreicher im MAK perfectly blends the elements of a Viennese tavern with ultramodern design. Slick minimalistic furniture in warm colours goes with a large chalk board announcing the day’s specials; the bar area in the middle is topped by a huge chandelier made of dozens of wine bottles. Besides, the Austrian cuisine of top chef Helmut Österreicher follows the restaurant’s design concept: Tradition served fresh.
5) Clubs and Bars
My favourite winter club is the Rote Bar at the 19th century building of Volkstheater, a very burlesque place with its red plush seats and sparkly chandeliers. While the bar is open every evening, there is a cool clubbing night every Saturday.
Come April, nothing beats a glass of wine or Almdudler (our classic herbal fizzy drink, similar to ginger ale) at Volksgarten Pavilion. The 1950s style interiors and exteriors haven’t changed much since my mother was swinging her petticoats there. The Pavilion’s Techno Café on Tuesdays includes a lovely barbecue under the chestnut trees, with a view to none other than the Imperial Palace just opposite.
6) Postal Savings Bank
Locals squirreling away their money can do this in style at Otto Wagner’s Austrian Postal Savings Bank (Österreichische Postsparkasse).
The father of Viennese Modernism designed a functional environment that gets its aesthetics through meticulously designed interiors. Even the radiators and safes carry Wagner’s signature. Don’t miss out on the small museum at the back, including photos, sketches and models of the savings bank.
This is a guest post from Barbara Cacao of Vienna-Unwrapped.