Structures are remembered either for their ephemeral architecture or an extraordinary history attached to them. Café Central checks both these boxes and how! Opened in 1876 as a traditional Viennese café, the café invites its guests to delve into an assortment of Viennese dishes, indigenous coffee specialties, and mouth-watering desserts from the world-renowned in-house patisserie. In 2011, this 180-seater ancient coffee house in Vienna was included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. A place to soak up royal architecture, bundle up in a corner reading a book, or enjoy an evening of laughter with a favored company, it serves one too many functions, all at once. Beyond a beloved coffee-house, it is a piece of remarkable Venetian Architecture, a symbol of societal reform, an urban icon, and a contemporary hangout spot.  

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Palais Ferstel with cafe central in Ground Floor ©www.cafecentral.wienen

Café Central: History

One of the oldest coffeehouses of Vienna, Café Central was established by the Pach brothers on the ground floor of the intended stock exchange building after it moved out. The café introduced Viennese coffee culture to the world. A structure of historic cultural reminiscence in the heart of Vienna. Before the Second World War, it was frequented by some of the greatest minds in histories such as revolutionaries Adolf Hitler, Trotsky, and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Sipping over traditional Viennese coffee with a slice of freshly baked cake and customary cigar, world-changing intellectual discussions occurred within the walls of this striking coffeehouse. Artists like Polgar, Zweig, Altenburg, and Loss were also among the regular customers of this popular café.

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Square looking onto Café Central ©UNA BESEVIC
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Cafe Central during late nineteenth-century ©www.cafecentral.wien

Café Central: Architecture

Vienna has been a melting pot of various architectural styles from elaborate Baroque to Revival Renaissance. The majestic palatial mansion, Palais Ferstel, the structure that houses Café was designed by Architect Heinrich Von Ferstel. The café with a Mediterranean flair follows the same Venetian-Trecento architecture as the rest of the mansion. The coffee house offers spectacular architecture that derives inspiration from eighteenth-century Italian Palazzo with a web of high ceiling arches, intertwined vaults, and Gothic revival columns. Warm interiors with an imperial finesse, the café design tastefully blends formal and informal ambiance, perfect for a quiet evening date as well as a multi-dollar business meeting. The interior features stucco lustro, ornate paintwork, leather wall coverings, and fine wood paneling. In winter, the snow-laden streets lead up to the cozy lit up with twinkling lights against the rustic exteriors.

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Entrance to Cafe Central ©www.cafecentral.wien
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Venetian Architecture of the cafe interiors ©www.cafecentral.wien
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Vienna’s coffee culture ©www.cafecentral.wien

Café Central – a symbol of women rights:

Architecture often holds the power to bring about changes in the course of societal history. The thoughtful architecture of Café Central also proved one such turning point in the path of women’s rights in nineteenth-century Vienna. Before its current location in the Säulensaa, Café Central was originally placed in the Arkadenhof. Here, a grand steel and glass canopy was designed over the space intended to be used as an outdoor café. Interestingly, apart from being a symbol of architectural modernity in Vienna, the glass roof also brought about a revolutionary change in the way women experienced outdoor socializing. It was expected of the women to be accompanied by the company of men whenever moving outdoors and mandatorily remove their headgear in an enclosed indoor environment. However, the open-air ambiance of Café Central while still being indoors ensured that women could freely enjoy their coffee in the chosen company while still donning their headgear with dignity. This was considered a breakthrough in the lives of women in an oppressed society.

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The Glass Roof of the Arkadenhof ©www.cafecentral.wien
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Semi-Outdoor Seating of Cafe Central ©www.cafecentral.wien

Café Central as An Urban Icon:

Over the years, Café Central has grown from a mere coffee house to an urban symbol of Vienna’s cultural heritage. The place oscillates between a city landmark and a heritage masterpiece. From cultural enthusiasts, coffee-lovers to architectural lovers, the café has attracted thousands of travelers to Vienna in search of historical stories over a cup of steaming coffee. The location of café Central is indeed central to Vienna’s urban set up falling right into the tourist circuit of the city as well as frequented by the locals. Standing opulent at Herrengasse 14 in Innere Stadt, one of Vienna’s oldest districts, Café Central is surrounded by the rich architecture and eventful locations all around. Thus, the Café serves as a popular pit stop while exploring the beautiful city of Vienna.

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Cafe Central as an urban node icon © www.cafecentral.wien
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The cafe is a heritage symbolism © www.cafecentral.wien
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The cafe invites culinary enthusiasts from around the world ©www.cafecentral.wien

Contemporary Relevance of Café Central:

In a city becoming less and less enthusiastic about its rich history and culinary culture, Café Central has been a strong reminder to modern residents of Viennese pride while also being a contemporary sensation. A range of national and international newspapers are stacked within the cafe inviting people to be a part of global happenings keeping with its historical character of bringing worldly discussions within the walls of this attractive coffee house. In present-day urbanism, Café Central can be looked upon as an ideal “third place” unfolding as a neutral ground, serving the locals and tourists alike. The ambiance encourages conversations as an activity and a playful mood while harboring regulars that make the café what it is.

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Global Newspapers displayed at the café © www.cafecentral.wien
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Cafe Central’s patisserie is world-renowned © www.cafecentral.wien
Jagriti Jhunjhunwala
Author

Jagriti Jhunjhunwala, is an Architect and an Urban Designer, suffering from an obsessive need to bring forth stories of people and places through the lens of humanity. Keeping quiet is not one of her many skills, so do ping her on Instagram (@thatshillonggirl) for a stranger's perspective on absolutely anything. Although, you should know, she is rumoured to be a feminist.

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