A Late Night at Schwarzenbergplatz

How wandering in Vienna at night might bring more than expected; after-hours in the backroom of a little-known café

The Viennese, including those born and bred, are known for their reclusive night life, especially when it comes to the final night of the weekend. Walking the streets of Vienna, you won’t see large groups of them out and about. You won’t even see lights on in buildings as you pass, if you happen to be out on a stroll or at the theater, as I was recently.

So what we discovered was more or less a surprise to everybody present, including the one Austrian we had triumphantly pried loose from the house on a Sunday night. This was a hidden treasure in terms of social occurrences in Vienna. Or so we thought.

Leaving the Akademie Theatre only a few minutes before – after the end of the Needscompany’s superb production The Lobster Shop (performed in French, English and Flemish) our group of four decided to go for a quick drink and possible bite to eat. It couldn’t have been any earlier than 10pm.

Entering Bierreither Gastwirtshaft, on the corner of Schwarzenbergplatz and Lothringerstraße, two young local men eyed our group and settled back into their beer. Apart from them and one other table of late-diners, the place was dead. This of course, was what we expected. Marching gallantly over to the most-ideal-table, we found a reserved sign attached. We were dumbfounded.

Moving to the second, and then a third and so-on most-ideal-tables, we encountered the same. Quickly, we were shuffled toward a far doorway, through a small, back room (which, with only four small tables, was fully occupied), past the toilets, through a second corridor and into a back, back room.

This room, like the rest of the place, was panneled top to bottom in dark wood. It was spacious, with high ceilings and long wooden benches, yet with the yellow lights dimmed, and the windows thick and beveled, the whole thing had a sort of distorted Alice-in-Wonderland feel.

The bartender, a short, dyed-blonde Austrian woman, smiled as we entered through the grotesque mosaic-studded door. Yet again, we found reserved tables throughout – again, all but a few, empty. It was then that we felt the waitress’ misread smile as having said, “Welcome, but you can’t stay here…”

We looked at one-another, and shrugged. About to leave, the waitress pointed out one table in the center of the room that was free for our use. Eager, and perhaps a bit confused by the situation, we took our seats and ordered two beers, a Sturm, and a green tea. We slouched to drink most comfortably.

Slam! Suddenly, the heavy, mosaic door swung open! Wham! A previously unnoticed door behind us also swung open! As if a tour bus full of musicians had parked outside and emptied its contents into the Gasthaus, we were in no time surrounded by loud, jolly back-slapping Austrians on a Sunday night.

Where did they come from? Was the whole thing about Austrians being in bed by 9pm a myth? Well, yes and no.

We were seated in the after-party locale for the Wiener Konzerthaus, that lets out just about the time that most of the stage pieces wrap up next door at the Akademietheater… even on Sundays. This is where the musicians and actors all end up when their shows come to an end. Which is great to be around, as long as you don’t really need to hear yourself think!

So while it’s still the rule that nothing much happens in late night Vienna – especially on a Sunday – we all know that rules are made to be broken.

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