Vintage Travel Kat
Katrina Holden explores the architecture of Vienna, Austria.

Sweet treat: visiting Viennese coffee houses

The Viennese Coffee house is so much more than a ‘café’. On a visit through Europe in 2019, I took the opportunity to visit some of Vienna’s cafes.

In Vienna, the coffee house is an institution – and since 2011, Viennese Coffee House Culture has even been listed as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ in Austria’s National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage, a part of UNESCO.

The coffee house has long been a place where people could meet or linger solo, reading newspapers and spending hours in the café writing or pondering. Records indicate that the first coffee house dates back to 1685.

Katrina Holden, Vintage Travel Kat in Vienna, Austria
Soaking up the beautiful old architecture in Vienna.

The first concert café was opened in 1788 in Vienna, and both Mozart and Beethoven enjoyed making music at these types of cafes. Women were not permitted in the cafes until 1856, when Café Français became the first coffee house to allow female patrons.

The turn of the 19th Century represented the halcyon days of the Viennese coffee house. Writers, poets, musicians, scientists, politicians and artists, including Gustav Klimt, would congregate at the coffee houses for both work and pleasure.

Cafe Griensteidel Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden

By the 1950s with the rise of the television and modern espresso bars, the coffee house popularity declined but in recent times, they have resurged and are recognised as being key in the traditional storytelling of the city.

In 2019, I was fortunate to stop in Vienna for a couple of days when I was sailing onboard a Crystal river cruise of the Danube. I was on a freelance writing assignment and I was fortunate to have my son with me. Together, we let our sweet tooths lead us to the following two Viennese coffee houses.

Coffee house Sluka, near the Vienna Town Hall on the Rathausplatz, has been operating since 1891. The Conditorei Sluka has been a Purveyor to the Royal Austrian Household and continues to serve its famous sweets, pastries and coffee to visitors from all over the world.

Husband and wife pair, Wilhelm Josef Sluka and Josefine, opened a Conditorei (café and patisserie) in the building formerly numbered Reichratsstrasse 13, now known as Rathausplatz 8. The Sluka couple were hounoured by the imperial family for their craftsmanship and were designed Purveyors to the Imperial & Royal Court, officially becoming Vienna’s imperial coffee house.

Sluka interiors in Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden

The building where you’ll find Sluka was designed between 1877 and 1878 by the arhitects who had designed Vienna’s City Hall. The building was one of the first arcade houses in the Old German style in the City Hall district.

We were as impressed with the architecture and long, row of traditional seating as we were by the colourful sweet cakes on display. There’s also an incredible gingerbread replica display of the gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.  In a central location, a stop at Sluka in the middle of your day, to take a break from sightseeing, is highly recommended.

Sluka also now has a second location, at Kärntner Straße 13-15, next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The confiserie, Demel, was established in 1786, across from the now former Royal & Imperial Hofburgtheatre by confectioner Ludwig Dehne. In 1887, the business relocated premises to the fashionable Palais on Kohlmarkt. The rooms were decorated by renowned architects of the day, Portois & Fix, in a predominantly Rococo style, with Regency style furnishings.

Demel exterior, Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden
Demel exterior, Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden

Demel became known for their fascinating and theatrical window displays. When we visit, it is April and just before Easter – so there are a number of beautifully made and delicate Easter eggs on display throughout the artistic shop floor. As guests head upstairs to the dining salons, you can pass the rooms with a glass viewing window and watch the chocolatiers busy at work. For those who want to delve even further into Demel’s history, the vaults of the building play host to the Demel Museum, with more stories and historical objects on display (the museum is only open on Fridays and there is a small entrance fee).

Demel window display in Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden
Demel window display in Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden

I could have lingered all day on the red velvet couches and ogling the ornate chandeliers, as well as sipping creamy Viennese coffee and eating decadent cakes. On the stairwell back down to the street however, I glanced down and beneath my gold sneakers was the beautiful floor tiling in chocolate and caramel coloured mosaic tiles – naturally.

Demel corridor tiling and gold shoes in Vienna. Image: Katrina Holden