Not a cloud in the sky and the streets are starting to radiate the heat of the late afternoon. So much to see in Vienna. But I could use a cool drink right about now. Perfect time to head to a beer garden.
“A beer garden?” some of my Viennese friends ask, usually with slightly raised eyebrow. In writing this series on beer gardens, I’ve come to learn that many in Vienna don’t refer to beer gardens as beer gardens. The preferred term is “Gastgarten” (guest garden), while “Biergarten” has a distinctively southern German ring to it. I’ll revisit this fascinating semantic world of Gasthäuser, Wirtshäuser, Beiseln, and Gastgärten at a later date. For now, though, it’s probably a safe bet for us English speakers to just call the drinking establishments in this series “beer gardens.”
Now you have a topic for your next beer garden conversation in Austria –– guaranteed to touch off a lively discussion about these aspects of Austrian culinary and cultural history.
Where were we?
In Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens, we headed out to Vienna’s iconic Prater for some Czech Budweiser and roasted pork knuckle. After that, we hiked through the Vienna woods and capped it with an Augustiner beer fresh from Salzburg at the Bamkraxler (A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country). Time for another one of those epic tram rides –– this time to the western corner of the city.
Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz”
Tucked away amid the largest expanse of urban gardens (Schrebergärten) in Europe, the Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is one of those true gems that should be on the itinerary of every beer garden aficionado. Founded in 1920, today’s Schutzhaus may not have the largest selection of beers –– Czech Budweiser, a Zwickl from Ottakringer, a Paulaner Hefeweizen, and a few others –– but beer’s not the only reason you should visit. Peter Eickhoff, author of 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss, writes that the person who doesn’t know of the Schmelz “doesn’t know Vienna” (Eickhoff, 2015, 180). Even so, when you wander past the tidy urban gardens and enter the Schutzhaus beer garden, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret that not every Viennese has heard.
Sipping your beer surrounded by so much soothing greenery, it may take a moment to conjure up the rich history of the area. Auf der Schmelz has seen many incarnations, but its name still recalls its origin as an iron-smelting works that stood here up until the time of the second Ottoman siege in 1683. The Friedhof der Schmelz (cemetery) replaced the smelting works and held the remains of the victims of the 1848 Revolution until everyone was up and moved to the Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery) some years later. From 1857 this strip of land was used as an exercise ground for the imperial cavalry, and was the staging ground for the magnificent military parade held annually for Kaiser Franz Joseph.
After the turn of the twentieth century the area was slated for an ambitious redevelopment that would have shifted the artistic and cultural focus of Vienna considerably westward. This “blank slate” devoid of established buildings appealed to the architects of the day, including Otto Wagner, who submitted intriguing plans for the Kaiser Franz Josef Stadtmuseum (currently the Wien Museum on Karlsplatz).
The Schutzhaus “Zukunft auf der Schmelz” is, to paraphrase Peter Eickhoff, not only the heart but also the belly of the Schmelz –– and the portions are, indeed, ample. It was “Spargelzeit” when I first went, that glorious time of year in Central Europe when menus feature all things white asparagus. I tucked into an “asparagus cordon bleu” (white asparagus spears wrapped in cheese and ham, then breaded and fried like a schnitzel), but you wouldn’t go wrong with one of their classics such as Schweinsbraten (roast pork) or goulash. If you arrive between June and August, you’ll be in for a treat: a weekly menu that features different menu variations using chanterelle mushrooms. (Look for any menu item with “Eierschwammerl.”)
- Address: Auf der Schmelz, 1150 Wien
- Getting there: Take the U3 in the direction of Ottakring as far as Johnstrasse, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Heiligenstadt, and get off at the “Auf der Schmelz” stop. You can also do the trip entirely above ground by taking the Tram 46 toward Joachimsthalerplatz as far as Schumeierplatz, transfer to Bus 10A in the direction of Niederhofstrasse, and get of at “Auf der Schmelz.”
You’ve been out to the Prater in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district, you’ve sipped beer in the shadow of Nußdorf’s vineyards, and you’ve ventured out to the leafy Auf der Schmelz garden district in western Vienna. What’s left in terms of beer gardens and shaded courtyards attached to lively taverns? Plenty. But we’ll leave off with one spot in the center of town should you be pressed for time during your visit.
As far as pub interiors go, the Zattl certainly wouldn’t make any “top ten” lists of Europe’s best taverns. I’ve heard the place described as “rustic modern,” but it’s a polished rusticity with much of the historical character sanded out. We’re here for something different, though. On the opposite side of Zattl’s Herrengasse storefront, you’ll find a bustling beer garden hidden just off the Freyung market square and right in the courtyard of the Schottenstift (Scottish Abbey). On any given evening when the weather’s warm, you’ll find the beer garden abuzz with a mix of students, people on their way home from work, and fashionably dressed older folks taking a break from the city around them.
Considering its location, the food and drinks are reasonably priced, with a 500 mL mug of beer running at 4.30 euros. Classic Austrian tavern fare such as Wiener Schnitzel, Fiaker Goulasch, and Zwiebelrostbraten (a delicious roast beef dish served in an onion sauce with crisped onions) begins around 12 euros. The Zattl receives its beer tanked in fresh from the Pilsener Urquell brewery a few hundred kilometers away in Bohemia. The 2000-liter refrigerated delivery (subsequently divided into 500-liter tanks in Zattl’s cellar) is unpasteurized and naturally carbonated, making for a softer, rounder Pils Urquell than you’d get in the bottle. In addition to Pilsener Urquell, Zattl serves a variety of Stiegl beers, along with wine offerings from the Wachau, Kremstal, and Neusiedlersee regions.
Even if the Zattl’s sleek interior design runs short on Viennese charm, I share the oft-expressed sentiment among food and beverage writers in Vienna that the Zattl beer garden is among the prettiest inner-city beer gardens in Austria.
Or maybe it’s not a Biergarten after all, but a Gastgarten …
Peter Eickhoff, 111 Orte in Wien, die man gesehen haben muss (Emons Verlag, 2015).
August Sarnitz, Otto Wagner: Wegbereiter der modernen Architektur (Köln: Taschen, 2005).
“Schmelz,” Wien Geschichte Wiki.
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All images by F.D. Hofer.
© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.