Cases laden with cakes greet all who enter Café Landtmann, an epicentre of coffeehouse culture since 1873. “Freud used to come here,” says Alexa Brauner, a Viennese history expert and city guide, pausing at the café entrance just off the Ringstrasse. “So we’re going to have some therapy with our morning coffee.” Stroll past the modern atrium seating, steeped in natural light, to find a formal sitting room with elegant interiors from the 1920s.
Kaffeehauskultur, German for coffee house culture, is a term symbolic of Austria’s capitol throughout the 18th and 19th centuries when hundreds of coffee houses opened around the city. Viennese coffee houses played a role similar to that of clubs in the Anglo-Saxon tradition—they served as meeting points for thinkers and thespians, politicians and poets alike. Yet these cauldrons of communication were fuelled mainly by caffeine and cakes.
Freud was among the great minds that frequented Café Landtmann—the psychoanalyst once lived nearby, visiting the café for languorous games of chess—as did Gustav Mahler, Marlene Dietrich, and Burt Lancaster. Artist Gustav Klimt was partial to Landtmann’s Guglhupf, a half-white and half-chocolate ring cake (they make the best in town), which Emperor Franz Joseph, also a patron, used to have every day as part of his breakfast. Recent history has seen Hillary Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney step inside for cup of kaffee but, esteemed patronage aside, the place is not pretentious. Today waiters skirt tables, balancing full trays, with wide smiles upon their faces.
With forks firmly poised for the next decadent bite, a well-heeled crowd drops by Café Landtmann for hearty breakfasts as often as they do coffee. “When you graduate from the nearby University [of Vienna], it’s a tradition to come here with family to celebrate,” notes Brauner. The menus are miles long, but first-timers should start with the café’s classic soft-boiled eggs, which are served de-shelled for ease of eating (essentially the savoury equivalent of eating peeled grapes), then migrate to the famous apple strudel with rich custard sauce, the aforementioned Guglhupf, or a many-layered hazelnut buttercream confection called Esterhazy torte. With over 20 specialty coffees on the menu, it’s easy to while away the afternoon.
In fact, you should—it’s tradition.