The history of Viennese coffee house culture
The history of Viennese coffee house culture goes back to the year 1683, when Turkish spoils of war in the form of bags of green beans came into the possession of a spy and coffee became the favourite drink of the Viennese. Gradually, establishments under the name of Viennese coffee house were opened up and became a popular meeting place.
But not many people visited the coffee houses for the coffee. Rather, they were places of inspiration, communication and recreation. The coffee house became a second home for many people, where they compared newspaper reports, held business meetings, got their thoughts in order or played a round of billiards or chess with friends and acquaintances to bring the evening to a close.
During the summer months, fewer people visited the coffee houses. In order to continue to make a profit, some of the coffee houses set up so-called lemonade tents where they offered refreshing beverages. In 1750 one of the cafetiers at the Graben was given a license to set up a few tables and chairs outside the coffee house. This was the birth of the pavement café, the Schanigarten. In 1825 the first classic Schanigarten was created, with tables, chairs and tub plants as a border.
As soon as the temperatures rise, people said: "Schani, trag’n Garten aussi!" (Schani, set up the garden). Schani was a generic name for an assistant, in the coffee house he was usually the apprentice, who ranked lowest among the staff. And as soon as the Schani heard the call, he placed the planted wooden boxes and the tables and armchairs on the pavement outside the coffee shop.
The Schanigarten also allowed women, who were previously not tolerated in the coffee houses, to participate in the hustle and bustle of the coffee houses, albeit outside.
Women were not allowed to enter a coffee house until 1840. At first, only women were served who came accompanied by their husbands. The occasions were usually soirées or balls, where you could bring the evening to a pleasant close. At that time, when a woman was seen alone in a coffee house and was still served she was officially tolerated as someone looking to meet men. Only gradually did it become common practice for women to meet up to play cards and gossip.
Although every so often a Viennese coffee house closes down, this tradition continues to this day.
The history of Café Schwarzenberg
In 1861, the most beautiful boulevard in Europe was being built. This was also the time when a tenement building of Albrecht Zeppezauer (silk manufacturer and K&K purveyor to the court) was constructed, in which Mr and Mrs Hochleitner opened a café.
Café Schwarzenberg has had the same name since it was taken over by Josef Menschl in 1902. Before that, it was called Café Hochleitner and Café Sperrer, among other names. From 1939 until the end of the war, the name was briefly changed. During this time it was run as Café Deutschland.
After 1945 Soviet Army officers occupied the premises for their events; during one of them they destroyed the furnishings with bullets.
One relic of this time was kept until the renovations in 1979 - a mirror whose cracks and bullet holes were decorated with vines and floral designs, making a virtue out of necessity.
In 1978 the owner of Café Schwarzenberg (Kom. Rat. Waltersam) was planning to close it down and sell the premises to a car dealership. The former councilor of culture and then mayor Dr Zilk managed to spare Café Schwarzenberg from this fate. In 1979, Café Schwarzenberg was thoroughly renovated and modernised, and in 1980 it was ceremoniously reopened by the new leaseholder.
Although Café Schwarzenberg was never a coffee house of artists and literary figures, it did have a famous regular customer who stayed loyal for years: the architect Josef Hoffmann, founder of Wiener Werkstätte, would be dropped off at lunchtime by his chauffeur and came here to eat, read the daily papers or put his ideas to squared paper (Quatratel Hoffmann). Many of his extraordinary designs were created at the Schwarzenberg.
Other famous people, such as the painter Hermann Nitsch or the Burg theatre actress Adrienne Gessner and important individuals from politics and industry, also visited the coffee house.
Today Café Schwarzenberg is one of the last Ringstraße cafés, of which there were once more than 30, that continues the typical atmosphere and tradition of a Viennese Café.
According to the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, Café Schwarzenberg still features some major design elements that can be traced back to the refurbishment of the café during the inter-war period. This particularly applies to the corner room to the left of the entrance and the ladies' toilet.
The walls of the almost square corner room have the original marble cladding; two different types of marble were used. Light and strongly modified surfaces are bordered by dark almost homogeneous black stone. The ceiling is decorated with a delicate mosaic-like panelling with coloured frosted glass plates and gold plating. The square tables with tops made from hammered brass are also part of the original inventory.
In walls of the ladies' toilet are panelled with black marble and have integrated mirrors with white stone frames. Both ceiling and floors still have the coverings from the twenties.
The decoration of both rooms is based on the effect produced by the fine materials such as marble, mirrored glass and brass. The interior design is typical for the period between the wars.
In Vienna, such interior design can ultimately be traced back to Adolf Loos, whose Café Capua at Johannesgasse 3, which he designed in 1913, is probably the most prominent such example.
The above described interior design of Café Schwarzenberg is thus one of the last examples of architectural design influenced by the work of Adolf Loos, featuring top quality craftsmanship.