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Vienna, City of Beer Gardens

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.IMG_4050 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.

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, or some guy named Franz?

A Gasthaus, a Beisl, a Wirtshaus, or some guy named Franz? Maybe they have a Gastgarten out back …

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.IMG_7669

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).

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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.”)IMG_7676

  • 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.”

Wirtshaus Zattl

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.IMG_9098 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.IMG_9101 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 …

Drink up!IMG_9111

Sources

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.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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A Beer Garden in Vienna’s Wine Country

Last time we met I was drinking a Czech Budweiser under the chestnut canopy in the Alsergrund section of the Schweizerhaus. Today we’re going to head to the village-like atmosphere in the north of the city where the Vienna Woods begin. In Part III we’ll swing west to one of the city’s garden districts before capping the evening in a beer garden hidden right in the middle of the historic old town.IMG_7776

Excursus: Vienna’s public transportation system

Spend even a few hours in Vienna and you’ll realize that its public transportation system is second to none. When you went to the Schweizerhaus after reading Part I, you probably arrived via tram, train, or subway at the Praterstern station. Maybe you hopped the Tram 1 from somewhere along the Ringstrasse, disembarked at the terminus nestled in the woods of the Prater, and then strolled along the tree-lined Hauptallee on your way to the Schweizerhaus.

Trams pass within half a kilometer of every beer garden in this spotlight series, and some of the rides can be truly epic. IMG_5620

Take, for example Tram D, which will get you to the Bamkraxler (see below). Tram D begins its journey in the new glass and steel development to the east of Vienna’s recently-completed Hauptbahnhof before trundling past the Belvedere (home of Klimt’s Kiss) en route to the city center. From the monumental Schwarzenberg Platz (named for the general who led Austrian and Bohemian troops in the Battle of Leipzig during the Napleonic Wars), the tram banks left along the Ringstrasse showcase of nineteenth century historicism. The tram’s arc takes in the Opera and the Hofburg palace facing the twin structures housing the Kunsthistorisches Museum (art) and the Naturhistorisches Museum (natural history). From there, the tram passes the Parliament, the Rathaus (city hall), the University of Vienna, and the Votivskirche before entering the haute-bourgeois Porzellangasse. As Tram D traverses the Ninth District, elegant facades abruptly give way to a grittier neighbourhood, a contact point between two worlds described at length in Heimito von Doederer’s Die Strudelhofstiege.

A few major intersections beyond Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s colourful Fernwärme (incinerator), Tram D begins its glide along the entirety of the Karl-Marx-Hof. Over a kilometer in length, the Karl-Marx-Hof is not only the longest residential building in the world. It also stands as testament to the social democratic housing initiatives of the “Red Vienna” period immediately following the Great War.

And then, as if by some sort of magic, Tram D leaves the bustling twentieth-century boulevard to enter Nußdorf, one of those slices of Vienna that still retains the village-like charm that appealed to one-time resident, Ludwig van Beethoven.

Bamkraxler

Nußdorf is one of those rare places that offers the best of both worlds: world-class wine grown within the city limits, and cask-conditioned Salzburger Augustiner beer served up in a century-old chestnut grove. The forests and hills around Nußdorf also make for pleasant hiking –– a perfect way to build up a thirst.

Not far beyond Tram D’s terminus, the hiking trail rises gently at first, and then more steeply through woods and terraced vineyards. Atop the Kahnlenberg is a church with a plaque dedicated to John III Sobieski, Polish king and grand duke of Lithuania. Sobieski’s timely arrival and strategic sweep down from the mountains decisively turned the tide against the Ottomans at the gates in 1683.IMG_7761With the most strenuous part of the hike behind you and a view of the city unfolding at your feet, it’s time for a few Grüner Veltliner and Gemischter Satz wines at the various Heuriger dotting the hillside. Refreshing as these wines are, you’ll likely be thirsty again by the time you reach the village below. A few twists and turns through the alleys and cobble-stoned streets of Nußdorf and voilà! The tell-tale signs of a beer garden.

Open since 1997, the Bamkraxler is a relative newcomer on the beer garden scene. When the owners set eyes on this erstwhile Heuriger, they knew what to do, turning the hundred-year-old stand of chestnuts and maples into a cozy 250-seat island in this sea of wine.IMG_7783 A small gazebo-like structure provides shelter for the occasional downpour that breaches the defenses of the leafy canopy, and the former wine tavern with its yellow walls and brown trim provides warmth during cooler evenings.

If the name evokes a beloved Viennese toy figure, the Augustiner beer hails from further afield. For those who have had their fill of this refreshing cask-conditioned Märzen brewed up by the good monks at Salzburg-Mülln’s Augustine Monastery, Bamkraxler also taps the crisp Grieskirchner Pils, Ottakringer’s Zwickl Rot (one of Ottakringer’s better offerings), and Kozel’s dark lager. Bottled offerings include beers from Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Hirter, and Murauer.

As far as I know, Bamkraxler is the only place outside of Salzburg that serves the infinitely quaffable Augustiner, the beer that I had during my first-ever visit to a beer garden.IMG_4483 Happily, the Bamkraxler is no mere knock-off of this Salzburger classic, but a beer garden worth seeking out in its own right. If you have friends who prefer wine, split the difference. Spend half the day at a Heuriger, and the other half at Bamkraxler.

Address: Kahlenberger Str. 17, 1190 Vienna

Getting there: Take Tram D in the direction of Nußdorf to its terminus from anywhere along its route. Tram 37 to Hohe Warte is another option.

Check back in a few days for Part III!

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Related Tempest Articles

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Exploring Vienna’s Beer Gardens

Vienna, city of music. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Mahler. Vienna, a showcase of architectural styles from the soaring Gothic-era Stephansdom to the Baroque opulence of the Karlskirche, and from elegant Ringstrasse historicism to the fin-de-siècle modernism of Otto Wagner. Vienna’s pastries rival those of Paris, as does its coffeehouse culture. Chocolate? Plenty of that, too.IMG_5580

But Vienna, city of beer? Not since the nineteenth century, nascent interest in craft beer notwithstanding.

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Nothing says summer more than the crunch of gravel underfoot and the shade overhead as I carry my stein of beer back to my spot under the leafy canopy of the chestnut grove. I’ve repeated the ritual for years now.IMG_8563 The cool breeze, the buzz of conversation, the heavy clink of beer mugs, the solid and slightly awkward metal chairs or benches bedecked with wooden slats, the chestnut blossoms covering the tables in late spring and early summer, the plates of sausage, pork knuckle, and sauerkraut –– it’s a scene that never loses its charm.

Even if the glory days of Vienna lager are a thing of the past, Vienna can still lay claim to a rich but understated beer garden tradition. Here’s the first of four shaded oases sure to inspire visitors and locals alike out to check out different parts of the city.

Schweizerhaus

A few steps from the iconic Riesenrad (giant Ferris wheel), and tucked between the lively commotion of the Würstel Prater amusement park and the stately tree-lined Hauptallee, the Schweizerhaus serves up its beer with a shot of Viennese history on the side.IMG_6754 If you visit before the Schweizerhaus closes for the season on 31 October, you’ll be able to raise a stein to Joseph II, the reform-minded Habsburg monarch who opened up the imperial hunting grounds to the general public. Since his proclamation 250 years ago, the broad natural expanse on the edge of the city has become tightly woven into the cultural fabric of the city.

The Prater has been many things to many people over the ages –– meadows, woodlands, amusement park, den of iniquity. Some commentators have even gone so far as to claim that the Prater is an “anarchic space” in which different levels of society could mix and mingle more or less unconstrained by the social norms operative in the city. Countless Austrian literary figures have written fondly of the Prater, and even Goethe, who never visited Vienna, was aware of its reputation. The Prater has also appeared in motion pictures, perhaps most indelibly in the 1949 classic, The Third Man, featuring a diabolical Orson Welles on the run from Joseph Cotten and a Vienna laid low by the war.

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Food and drink has long been a highlight of a visit to the Prater. Early on, lemonade stands, snack booths, guest houses, and coffee houses emerged as fixtures along the Hauptallee. Taverns soon followed, including the storied Schweizerhaus.

The Schweizerhaus opened in 1868, and is one of the few great Prater drinking establishments to have survived both world wars. Nowadays the Schweizerhaus exudes tradition, but at one time it stood at the forefront of innovation.IMG_4531 Following the example of tavern owners in Munich and the United States, the proprietors had a giant ice cellar installed. “Thanks to this,” wrote one contemporary enthusiast, “patrons can now […] enjoy every glass of Pils or Schwechater beer fresh from the ice cellar while they must be content with lukewarm refreshment at best in many Prater restaurants, especially at the height of summer” (Hachleitner, 2014, 132). When the owner passed away unexpectedly in 1920, Johann Kolarik, a butcher and Prater regular, stepped in. Kolarik switched to Czech Budweiser and introduced a meat dish that soon became synonymous with the Schweizerhaus: the Schweizerhaus Stelze, or roasted pork knuckle.

The establishment remains in the Kolarik family to this day, and now has space for 1700 lucky imbibers in the shaded garden. Keep an eye out for the signs on the lampposts that divide the beer garden into Vienna’s twenty-three districts. You’ll find me in the 9th District enjoying my Budweiser.

Prost!IMG_4533

Check back soon for the second installment covering the remaining beer gardens.

Sources

Bernhard Hachleitner, The Prater Book (Vienna: Bohmann Verlag, 2014).

For a brief history of how the beer garden came into being, see Tempest’s In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden.

Also related:Plakat_In_den_Prater

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

*If you’re visiting Vienna this summer and want to learn more about the cultural history of the Prater, don’t miss the Wien Museum’s informative and entertaining exhibition, Meet Me at the Prater! Viennese Pleasures since 1766.

With the exception of the placard for the Wien Museum’s Prater exhibition, all images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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