Stubenviertel: Time-Honoured Temptation
In the middle ages, the hilly streets of the northeast quarter of Vienna’s 1st District – the neighbourhood now encompassed by Rotenturmstrasse, Stubenring and Singerstrasse – were where the gentry would go to the Badestube to bathe. This had nothing to do with Viennese cleanliness.
Not only would men and women "bathe" together in the wooden tubs, the bath maids, also called Reiberinnen (literally "Rubbing Women") were not there just to scrub.
Travel books and even many locals often make the mistake of lumping Vienna’s Inner City neighbourhoods into one category. But on closer examination, the stately courtyards of the Hofburg alongside the Burggarten and Imperial Palmenhaus bear little resemblance to the tucked away streets behind the old Stock Exchange by Schottenring, or the casual feel of Rudolfspark. And our current neighbourhood, the Stubenviertel, is discretly dedicated to debauchery.
Climbing the mountain
Starting at Schwedenplatz, though, you wouldn’t know it. Climbing Laurenzerberg toward Fleischmarkt you pass a police station, snack and curiosity shops, and a butcher. Reaching the "Meat Market", turn left onto Postgasse, where immoderation lies ahead at every turn.
To the right, you’ll find the authentic Italian restaurant you’ve been pining for. With Italy so close, it’s surprising that Vienna has so many poor excuses for pizza. But rossini’s puts them all to shame. The effortlessness of the family-style service and dishes oozing with impromptu inspiration are the real thing.
Not far off you’ll find what some call the ultimate culinary indulgence. With the unassuming name harry’s time, this eatery lies further down Postgasse and through the underpass onto Dr. Karl Lueger Platz. Serving prime fare, its unique draw is what it calls the Abendmahl: for €100 you get as many starters, Zwischengerichte, main courses and desserts as you can fit. No joke. It’s a challenge, but try to save room for the delectable chocolate cake; it’s worth every calorie.
Another favourite watering hole is tucked behind the Bäckerstrasse arcade: café engländer has long hosted Vienna’s theatre and comedy crowd. With the legendary kabarett simpl (celebrating its 100th birthday in 2013) just around the corner, any visit there is bound to include a run in with resident funny men, or more "serious" stage names in town for a show. But the staff is well-versed in dealing with jokers, and you’d be wise not to rub the barman the wrong way.
But the culinary choices are many. So let’s move on. Nearby is an award-winning hair studio propaganda, in a little storefront on Stubenring, claiming it can find an individual style to suit each client, in the firm belief that the self defines the trend. Since the men with the shears are busy with international shows, last-minute appointments are rare. Judging from the coifs that exit the sleek doorframe, results are worth the wait.
Walk the line
Heading back into town are two streets that deserve their own Grätzl: the Wollzeile and Bäckerstrasse. A Zeile is literally a line, and this street has been lined with shops for centuries. Here, indulgence may be linked to tradition, as Viennese shoppers have been known to take their time.
On the Zeile itself are delicatessens, book and gift shops, ella’s ouzeri with great Greek take-away, and praised family-run Cosmetics shop, naturparfümerie staudigl. Daughter Christina Wolff-Staudigl makes sure every brand has been certified all natural.
Owned by the experimental sushi restaurant DOTS, yoshi’s corner is a contemporary art space, with a gift shop selling mod accessories, art and fashion-related paperbacks and coffee table books. The gallery space doubles as an event venue, often hosting fashion related soirées for Vienna’s design crowd.
More favourite haunts are on and near the Wollzeile: cafe alt wien on Bäckerstrasse is a pleasingly crowded and casual meeting place. Established by Leopold Hawelka and his wife Josephine a day after their wedding in 1936, it preceded the Dorotheergasse Cafe Hawelka by a few years. Gottfried Helnwein staged a notable happening there in the ‘70s giving the dingy nightspot a reputation for the bizarre.
Further towards Lugeck you’ll pass kix bar, a suitably run-down but colourful cocktail joint that takes its mixology seriously. Also the weinorgel is a true hole-in-the-wall, with standing room only and peanut shells on the stone floor.
Passing Gutenberg on Lugeck, you reach Rotenturmstrasse with its cacophony of retail stores and restaurants. Some indie shops like shoetation, around the corner from Tricaffee, provide exclusive choices more interesting than the chains down the street.
And in the Passage between Wollzeile and Bäckerstrasse, figlmüller serves the biggest (and thinnest) Schnitzel in town. Back on Wollzeile and not-so-hidden is plachutta, renowned for serving the best, though pricey, Tafelspitz.
On Schönlaterngasse, tucked right into a corner – invisible unless you’re right in front of it – is elysium, a gargantuan event and clubbing space, vault after enormous vault of arched passageways and halls, visually spectacular and acoustically throbbing.
The debautchery continues on the edges of the Grätzl, in places like the strip joint Beverly Hills and brothel Babylon, where angels fear to tread. But even residents or guests at the elegant palais coburg don’t complain. Stubenviertel tradition prescribes discretion in these matters, and who’s to argue with tradition.
Postgasse 2, www.cafe-englaender.com
Cafe Alt Wien
Wollzeile 4, www.staudigl.at/
Rotenturmstraße 27, www.shoetation.com
Stubenring 20, www.propaganda-haare.com