Last week’s post on where to find delicious food in Austria was getting a bit long, so I decided to do a separate post on the wonderful drinking establishments we discovered.
At Christmastime, drinking in Austria, especially Vienna, could not be easier. All you have to do is find a Christmas market. Even the smaller towns have at least one market, and Vienna has nearly a dozen. After visiting one or two, we quickly realized that the primary appeal of the markets to the locals is the drinking. Especially after sundown (which is around 4:30 p.m. during the winter), the markets are jammed with people standing with friends, hot beverage in hand, talking and (unfortunately) smoking.
The Europeans seem to have not yet grasped the deathly implications of smoking. Their cancer sticks are everywhere. The markets are outdoors, which helps the smoke dissipate, but it’s still a nightmare environment for non-smokers. The smokers mostly stand still though, so if you keep moving, you’re better off.
The markets are made up of vendor stalls selling food, drinks, and trinkets. Hot beverages are the order of the day, and you can find alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. Gluhwein is one of the most popular. It’s essentially mulled wine, usually red (rot) but sometimes white (weiss) as well. Also very popular is punsch, which is a sweet, fruity liqueur served hot. It comes in a variety of flavors, mostly citrus. Gluhwein and punsch are served in festive mugs (some in the shape of boots). You pay a €2.50 deposit for the mug, on top of the €4 for the beverage. The locals almost certainly return all their mugs; we brought home several as souvenirs.
Because I am not a fan of hot or sweet alcoholic beverages, I enjoyed copious amounts of hot chocolate (heisse schokolade)—sometimes with whipped cream on top (mit schlagsahne or mit sahne). It was a decadent 10 days! FYI, mit schuss means “with a shot.” You’ll see that on a lot of menu boards. Sadly, the hot chocolate is served in regular paper cups. Not nearly as festive as the little boots.
If you prefer to do your drinking indoors, there are plenty of opportunities for that as well, but again, be prepared to deal with smoke. Bars and restaurants are hit or miss on banning smoking. Some still have “smoking sections,” despite the obvious flaws in that plan. Some allow smoking only on the patio, so you’re safe inside. But smoking is still decidedly allowed inside places that are more “bar” than “restaurant.” I had to leave one biergarten in Salzburg because the smoke was making me physically ill.
My favorite find in Vienna was a Champagne bar called Le Cru. They have a rotating selection of Champagne by the glass, but the real attraction is the ability to buy a bottle or half-bottle at retail (not the 200-300% restaurant markup) and consume it onsite. Le Cru’s variety and selection is stunning, and if it hadn’t been our last night in town when we discovered it, we definitely would have made a return visit or two. The staff were extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and it was a quiet, classy environment. I also loved the crispy breadsticks they provide for munching while drinking.
If you’re a fan of Moët & Chandon, check out Le Moët Champagne Bar, which is part of Le Meridien‘s Vienna location. We visited after attending the Vienna Opera, when we were feeling fancy in our formalwear. The selection is limited due to their only featuring Moët & Chandon Champagnes (and one that’s not—Krug Grand Cuvée—thanks to Krug and Moët & Chandon both being owned by the LVMH conglomerate). The by-the-glass pricing is reasonable as far as these things go (by-the-glass pricing is never objectively “reasonable”), but the bottle pricing reflects a 120-200% markup over retail. I would call their food expensive, so don’t go hungry unless you’re prepared to spend a lot.
Our experience at Julius Meinl Wine Bar was a bit of a mixed bag. They get an A for selection and ambiance but a D for service. Our waiter was basically incompetent and never brought the appetizer we ordered. Never apologized either; just plain forgot. Much like Le Cru, at Julius Meinl you can purchase a bottle from the shelf at retail prices and consume it on the premises. They also have a by-the-glass menu. If you stick with Austrian wines, the prices are actually quite good. The wine bar is located at cellar-level, below the Julius Meinl gourmet market.
Last week I mentioned Gulasch & Champagne, which I recommend for a hearty beef-based meal and a festive glass of Champagne.
And Salm Bräu in Vienna is a great place for beer (and sausage and pretzels), as is the Augustiner Brewery in Salzburg. Austria is a beer-loving country, so there’s really no shortage of places to go for a brewski.
Stay tuned until next time, when I’ll review the wines of Austria…