Schanigärten: The Sidewalk Takeover
Patio tables come earlier this year and despite a late spring, Viennese are braving the cold
Impatient for outdoor socialising, Vienna tempts the spring season starting on 1 March – the day the city’s 1,800 Schanigärten are officially allowed to open. Whether or not winter has given up, the fresh-air freaks begin basking in the Saturday afternoon sun at outside tables on the Naschmarkt.
"Oh look, they have blankets," an American tourist exclaims gleefully, on discovering the woolly accessories arranged on the chairs outside Tewa, a popular bobo hangout. There are also very effective overhead heaters, making outdoor seating comfy and thus decently filled, despite a rather chill 12 degrees Celsius. While the busy waiter serves refreshing Kaiserspritzer to the next table, my companion and I decide to order steaming hot tea in self-defence.
While garden restaurants exist the world over, the Schanigarten is a Vienna specialty, and myths about its origins abound. Is it a dialect reduction of "Johnny, take the garden out", as some say? The most probable answer goes back to an Italian café owner, Johann Jakob Tarone, eingedeutscht from Gianni Taronni, the first to get the permission to set up chairs and tables outside of his Graben café in 1750. Given the Viennese difficulty pronouncing the Italian’s name, "Gianni’s garden" quickly became "Schanigarten".
Schanigarten street cred
The excitement of the Viennese for the outdoor season can only be understood in keeping with the strict opening hours. Formerly the strict Schanigarten law only gave out annual licenses, but small establishments had little trouble getting permission. Now, every locale goes through the same procedure, but can also acquire monthly permits.
This makes the season more flexible, but means plenty of paperwork for all. Some restaurant owners wanted the right to keep terraces open all year long, with heaters and blankets for patrons to catch the occasional slanting rays of midwinter sun.
Not this year. As we take off from the Naschmarkt to check out other much-loved Schanigärten, we face repeated disappointment.
"Why would people need to sit outside when it is -10 degrees?" a waiter at the Silberwirt asks. In a hidden courtyard, the place shares a beautiful Schanigarten with three other restaurants in the Schlossquadrat in the 5th district. The waiter explains they go with the flow: "We’ll wait for the next cold spell to pass before we start the Schanigarten season."
The same is true for our next stop, the Griechenbeisl: a beautiful and rambling inn that has been around since 1447 and is located close to Schwedenplatz. A waiter tells us that since their Schanigarten is not equipped with heaters, they wait for the first warm days before they start setting up chairs and tables outside.
While most Wiener probably agree with the restaurant owners and choose to sit inside until sweaters suffice, those ready to brave the cold have the best chance of finding outdoor seating on markets like the Naschmarkt or Yppenplatz.
By the time we leave the Griechenbeisl, the temperature has dropped even further. We decide to head back to Naschmarkt to have at least one Quittenspritzer to celebrate the onset of spring. Fortunately, we manage to secure one of the pole-position tables right by a heater. As I sip on my Spritzer, I close my eyes and with a little effort, the warmth on my back from the heater feels almost like the sun through my winter coat.
4., Naschmarkt Stand 672,
5., Schloßgasse 21, www.silberwirt.at
1., Fleischmarkt 11, www.griechenbeisl.at