Inside, outside, and underground, Nicole Kanz’s new urban oasis on the Freyung
According to legend, it was in saving a stranded princess from a pack of hungry wolves that the commoner Kinsky was knighted by the King’s hand. Thus was founded the thousand year old House of Kinsky, one of the oldest and most illustrious dynasties of Bohemia.
The name will sound familiar to any knowing Viennese crowd – throughout the Habsburg Monarchy, their wealth remained intact and the family earned an enduring reputation as patrons of the arts they still enjoy today. In the early 18th century, they hired architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt to build their Viennese residence on Freyung 4, a gracious city palais bathed in the soft glow of glories past, hosting art exhibitions, performances, auctions and many more events worthy of silk evening dresses and long strolls in leisurely conversation.
But while glory wouldn’t be glory if it hadn’t a past, it is neither legend nor fable that keep the magic alive today. In recent years, Palais Kinsky has become the home of a prestigious restaurant, a pleasingly notorious underground club, and now finally, a chic corner lounge to bring them together. The playground of Vienna’s elite, some would argue, but allow me to beg to differ.
Entering Im Kinsky just after 18:00, among a harmony of green against grey stone, a pleasingly laid-back venue unfolds in the softening light, temperate and discrete, like a splash of fresh thoughts after a restless night. Along the interior court, broad white umbrellas shelter groupings of brown wicker chairs with white cushions, most already alive with animated conversation. We continue toward the back, going straight for a drink at the bar to minimise attention; but we are intercepted by a much too attractive waiter – and blushingly agree to his offer of drinks and a couple of comfy spots under a broad umbrella.
We settled back on the broad sofas as the Iced Lattes arrived – ordered just seconds before – and wondered at our good fortune. When was the last time you were invited to a careless afternoon spent on body-friendly cushions, sipping delightfully dubious liquids at a fast pace, gazing aimlessly at the most intriguing mixture of suit-ups and skirt-ups Vienna has to offer? Exactly.
Still it’s all very civilised; there’s something dignified, even refined to this place. There are no loud voices or altercations here, as if there were a pact among the customers to preserve the secret, keep it all away from the public eye. Conspiratorial smiles are shared across the tables and at the bar. A perfectly understandable desire, I concluded; such an oasis is rare in the fata morgana of Austria‘s online catalogue of "secret spots."
A young woman at the next table seemed to understand this completely, settling back, feet tucked up under her, absorbed in a book. I leaned over to try to make out the title…. But something else caught my eye – yes, it is in fact (and no, I don’t have a problem) her drink. It’s purple, with a flower inside.
Who could possibly resist that? It’s a Hornveilchen Spritzer, a seductive combination of white wine, violet infused eau de vie and petals. And by violet I actually mean the flower, not the colour; although I’m quite sure they call it mauve here. Coordinated perfectly with the decor of urban green and well hidden under the cover of white-light umbrellas against the pale coral of the baroque facades, it served as proof that spring was finally here.
Inside, the lounge has been redecorated, in a style somewhat reminiscent of a cocktail party in a private home, traditional décor dressed up with white linen and dramatic sprays of exotic blooms. The space is limited, volatile, precious. White curtains, mirrors and a glass fireplace add to the feeling of transparency, a looking glass to get lost in. The lighting is adjusted for each mood of the day, from stark cold blue to cool a summer night to feverish amber to set you off early in the morning.
Because yes, they are open from 09:00 24:00, serving everything one might need during this time: from coffee and breakfast (until 16:00) to Aperol Spritzers, blueberry Caipirinhas and cigarettes. The selected bar food is reasonably priced, particularly considering the variety of cuisines combined, and, like most things Im Kinsky, has traveled the world by word of mouth. Apparently the Chili Chicken Burger with Pineapple Salsa and Lobster Crisps (€9) is big in Tel Aviv just now and everyone who is anyone should have it on the menu. Or giant Arab shishas, that I hear are making a grand comeback this season.
Central to the scene that evening, Nicole, the manager, was sliding in and around from table to table carrying chairs as if they were wisps, amid greetings and goodbyes, all in an easy flow of conversation. Somehow hip and elegant at the same time, Nicole is a good listener and actually took the time to hear out her customers’ suggestions - she clearly made involvement her goal.
In the six years she’s been at Kinsky, she has learned the importance of staying alert to changing trends; such a socially demanding environment relies on nothing but its dynamics. As long as people continue to travel, bring back their ideas and share them with others, Nicole will listen and learn, and Im Kinsky will evolve.
Not long ago, there was a clear safety line between the target groups that came to Kinsky: the haute bourgeoisie, families and business types went to the Wirtshaus, while prosperous thirty-somethings headed to the club at the end of day. Now, it’s all a blur.
"It’s just a hangout," Nicole says, "a secret get-together local for anyone who wants to relax, meet with their friends or work on their computers."
"Political delegates will just come out of the restaurant and mingle with the rest of the groups: They’re curious, intrigued, even fascinated." Kinsky gives them a glimpse of a world they perhaps rarely see.
Top that with a couple of supermodels, the near-by Schotten Gymnasium, an emerging international tourist flood and a classy gay scene and you have what is possibly the most boundary-bending, wonderfully shady public emporium in the Innenstadt. Oh, the scent of possibilities! And terrain well worth exploring. And to spice things up even further, each day hosts a different kind of event: Mondays are dedicated to young DJs, Tuesdays to BeachSounds, and so on. "It’s techno with style," Nicole says, "in a space where people can actually move."
People are encouraged to get to know each other here, and merging seems to be the word of the day. So if you wanted, you could order food from the restaurant and still sit outside without worrying too much about disrupting the natural order of the world. As is only logical, menus between the three venues are interchangeable; and so because of a sudden storm, we emigrated inside to the Wirtshaus.
The Wirtshaus has been awarded the AMA label of Agramarkt Austria confirming the use of all domestic products, and this shows. The starters, the Beef in Aspic (€10) and a Lentil Soup (€6) – a mere tease for what will follow.
Quivering in anticipation, we are recommended a playful Grüner Veltliner from Neumayer, in Stein in the Wachau, and that certainly helps with the passing of time. Our mains dishes arrive in the end: the fish cannelloni with pea cream sauce and truffle foam (€19) reccommended by the chef, the homemade vegetarian papadelle with black Perigord truffle (€13), the pork tenderloin (€22) and the sea bass filet on baby chard with saffron potatoes (€18).
Let’s just put it this way: if we were in Ancient Greece, this would be ambrosia. It’s a culinary spectacle that offers a slightly different interpretation to the phrase "put your money where your mouth is." Shortly after desert, a not too overpowering cherry bread pudding and the traditional apricot Palatschinken, for which we’re too full to begin with, we resume our places in the bar outside, which is where the action is happening.
Word was there was no official opening party for the lounge, as the underlying belief was that such exclusive events are outdated. Even the door policy for the club has become looser over time. Shorts and sneakers of the freewheeling type are fun, and after all, who’s to say what a fashion statement is these days and what not?
Handbags, man-bags, doggie-bags, everything works as long as there are no flip-flops involved, which (one must agree) is really in everyone’s best interest.
At one point we even spotted a girl in excruciating high heels teetering in painful, extended steps in slow-motion across the courtyard cobblestones… Hmmmm, I thought, wouldn’t want to walk a mile in her shoes… But hey, to each his own. Just be warned: This ground calls for professionals only.
Although I have to say, the non-exclusive clause does have some fine print. With a palais come strings attached, most recently, the finale of the "Style up your Life" competition for Austria’s Face of 2011 – a flashy fashion show that served as a display for superstar guests and an abundance of champagne. Here Austria’s ostentatious elite came to parade an outfit, the latest spouse or a new nose.
Fortunately, the party moved to the club shortly afterwards, where I saw dancing, and drinking, and dolled up bachelor-ettes. Personally, I don’t think there’s a big difference anymore between how people party, opulent or otherwise. A cocktail will be a cocktail, and after downing a few it doesn’t even matter anyway. One thing that I found odd was that here I heard hardly any of the usual mating ritual calls – the clumsy come-ons and lame jokes – that usually belong to a dance floor. Refreshing.
A lot has been said about Kinsky. They have been accused of snobbery, exclusivity, and even of copying Sky Kitchen, the former it-local. But competition is not the issue here.
What is more relevant is that this particular Viennese locale has understood how to interact with a broad public, embracing the constant state of flux of fast-pace living in times when social classes are dissolving. Just as in the Kinsky family legend.
So why cling to an old empire when you can build a new one? And if they opened their doors to me, you’ll probably be welcome too.