My street... Clemens Steinmueller shows Vienna's Burggasse
When Clemens Steinmueller, co-founder of INDIE Magazine, MATERIAL GIRL Magazine, the PR agency Heroes & Heroines and the store Uppers & Downers, wants to show you around in Vienna's 7th district, you better be sure to have an empty stomach, a healthy liver and prepared to indulge in a lot of fun.
You could say that the Burggasse is the main artery of Vienna's currently booming 7th district. This historic one-way street goes right across the middle of the hipster quarter, linking the busy Neubaugürtel with the posh 1st district. Named after the eventual destination on downhill its trajectory, the Imperial residence Hofburg, the Burggasse is one of Vienna's oldest streets. Back in the 18th and 19th century it formed the joint between an affluent western side, built on the rich pickings of that era's roaring trade in silk and velvet, and a down-market grubby red-light district on its eastern side.
Today, of course, you will find neither silk and velvet nor grubbiness in the area outside of a few surviving dim-lit, dodgy bars. Gentrification has wiped the slate clean, and nowadays the street life is dominated by hip boutiques, cafés, galleries and delicatessens. So let's go on a jaunt down Vienna's Burggasse.
Having extracted themselves from the claws of the grim 8-lane monster of urban traffic that is Neubaugürtel by taking a sharp right turn, tourists may find themselves confused at first. Faced with the sad sight of cut-price phone and internet shops, a peep show, a bizarre (very) special interest shop trading in minerals (“Your perfect stone experience!”) and a few empty premises, all those looking for Neubau's typical mix of trendy bars, vegan restaurants and vintage shops may be tempted to execute a quick U-turn. If only Googlemaps wasn't so sure of itself...
Granted, there may be other things to do in life than indulging in the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Chinese restaurant Lei Lei or making honourable friends among the local shadow economy in the gloomy Café Burg. But even in this part of Burggasse you will find wonderful places that are well worth a look-in.
Places such as the unassuming Admiral Kino at the corner of Wimbergergasse, one of Vienna's oldest cinemas, entertaining the public since 1913. Its auditorium is pleasantly free of knick-knack, the original interior is still mainly intact, the 1950s foyer a nostalgic treat in itself, and while the cinema had to overcome some financial trouble in the past, to this day the old Admiral remains undefeated.
If you like it rough-and-ready you could do worse than dive into the smoke-filled world of Café Laternderl, the archetype of a Viennese "Tschocherl": True to the characteristic style of this particular sort of establishment, the Laternderl still proudly boasts old-style wood-panelled walls and a practically tiled floor. The windows are draped with nicotine-saturated net curtains, and wine is served from dubious two-litre bottles. You won't have much luck ordering a Chai Latte here, and asking for a Coke will earn you funny looks at best. From the very early hours to the very late closing time, you can enjoy watching a familiar cast of regulars engaging in discussions, arguments and sing-songs, staggering about, staring at the bar or into their beers and, of course, drinking, drinking, and then drinking another one.
A few houses further down the street you will find Ungar Grill, an essential fixture of the 1070 postcode area for more than half a century, not just because of the top-grade cuisine that is served there, but equally so for its peculiar mixture of live gipsy music, open-hearted hospitality and down-to-earth vibes. A couple of years ago this legendary establishment with characteristic sweeping neon logo above the door was taken over by a new landlady, a young, hip and, most of all, highly likeable novice to the restaurant trade who perfectly understands how to mix the old with the new, retaining the old charm of the huge place at the same time as subtly creating a cool kind of ambience. The new/old Ungar Grill may well be the most comfortable and relaxed restaurant along the Burggasse. It still combines live music and food, albeit, in its current incarnation, leaning more towards jazz and a refined take on traditional Viennese fare.
Right next door the Gasthaus Schilling is also something of a Viennese institution, a traditional inn and “secret spot” listed in many a city guide (therefore really no longer a secret at all). Recommended especially for the kind of visitors who want to experience the atmosphere of an authentic folksy Viennese “Beisl” but still expect decent high quality cuisine.
Having passed a decent no-nonsense Irish Pub called Backbone at the corner of Schottenfeldgasse, you will stumble upon a shop called The Low-Down On Denim, a favourite haunt of raw denim connoisseurs from all around the world causing much joyful hyperventilation among its special interest clientele. The shop's denim-based stock is nicely complimented by its own range of shirts, T-shirts, shoes and leather accessories. Its location is slightly removed from the main shopping area, so the store seems a little lost in its surroundings, but true denim enthusiasts and brand aficionados are unlikely to give a damn.
Next we recommend crossing over to the other side of the street, not just in order to make a wide berth around every arachnophobic's nightmare come true that is Terra Reptilia, a specialist retailer for creepy crawlies and all manner of slithery creatures, but also to have a good look at the facade of Burggasse 98. In 2014 this building was given a makeover by local street artists. It is one of Vienna's rare examples of bespoke public street art. In keeping with the facade, artist Niklar Worisch, the initiator of the project, has also opened a gallery, a street art work shop and the somogyi color store in the same building, with more to come soon.
At numbers 79 and 81 there are two small but unmissable special food outlets. In the tiny Salumeria Principe passionate delicatessen nerd Sandro Luglio offers, among other delicious things, an exceptional selection of Italian cheese, sausages and pasta, all of it made from organic farming produce and not exactly cheap, but so good you'll drop to your knees in awe. Next door Pantelion sells delicacies imported directly from farmers in various different regions of Greece. According to those in the know about Greek food, the shop's wares live up to its name, which could be freely translated as “ultimate perfection”.
By now we have almost reached the epicentre of Neubau. The coolness and hipster quotient of the bars and cafés around here has become almost unbearable. At any time of day or night, bars such as Wirr with its attached club venue Dual or the fifties interior heaven that is Espresso (definitely the crown jewel among all the fashionable Burggasse bars) attract anyone on a retro bike, carrying a Macbook or wearing a full beard. This is the Neubau scene at peak level.
And yet in the midst of it all, surrounded by the coolness mafia, you will also find the least pretentious, most honest and gloriously dirty dive bar in the whole district. The dark, smoky caverns of the Zipp exude the sort of mysterious magical powers that will keep you glued to your barstool. This is one of those rough watering holes where beer and schnapps will simply taste that little bit better, and where closing time approaches at higher velocity than anywhere else. The barman and the famous regulars have seen everything. Absolutely everything. Which is also why in the Zipp there is no reason to be misguided by the false clarity of reason itself. It's just LOVE. Cheers.
A few yards further down the road, we cross the alternative shopping street Neubaugasse, and suddenly our Burggasse gets fashion-centric too. The concept store uppers & downers is the undisputed home of all those far-out international labels from various different corners of the fashion world. Be it the currently much-hyped 2D illusion bags by JumpFromPaper, accessories by Skinnydip London, or perfumes by Library of Fragrance that smell of Gin Tonic, Rain or Whiskey Tobacco. All of the international brands that form part of this harmonious mix are sold exclusively to the shop in Austria. A carefully curated choice of vintage clothes, far removed from the smelly world of the thrift store, completes the range. It's not so unreasonable then that the shop's name suggests psychoactive powers.
At Ben Bento the combination of available products could hardly be more obvious: "Shoes & Sardines." But of course. Here you can buy welt-sewn Portuguese quality footwear as well as some of that country's culinary specialties, such as the finest sardines in retro tins. No further questions, your honour.
The bookshop Zum Gläsernen Dachl is one of those islands of independence that have become such a rarity in these times of Amazon and massive chains. A refuge for people who want to experience the feel and the smell of a book, and who see the value in being able to browse in the special atmosphere of such a small, personal shop.
At Burggasse 24 we find the eponymous vintage store selling a rather pricey range, while the adjacent Peng Shop is a garish and joyful little place, mainly stocking original pieces from the personal vaults of the owner who happens to be one of the top stylists in this city.
We have now reached the entrance to St. Ulrichs Platz possibly one of the most beautiful places in the whole of Neubau, not least because of its historic Baroque church. In the summer this is a fabulous place to sit at an outside table, e.g. in front of the rather studenty Morgenstern, or the Restaurant Ulrich, a beautiful establishment with excellent food and an ever-so-chic clientele discussing the challenges of being stylish.
At Die Burgermacher you can enjoy all the meticulously sourced ingredients that add up to this restaurant's famous burger creations, whereas Das Möbel, a combination of designer furniture showroom and café, allows you to place your drink and your behind on young designers' creations. And if you want, you can buy them too.
We're down to the last few yards of the Burggasse which are populated by all sorts of Austrian, Italian and Indian restaurants of the "you could but you don't really have to” variety. There's a noticeably higher density of tourists here, owing to the proximity of the 1st district with all its Imperial sights. But the adjacent Spittelberg quarter with its narrow cobbled lanes is definitely worth a little excursion. In this formerly poor area, once plagued by dirt, sickness and prostitution, misery still rules supreme. But nowadays the plague takes the form of the bourgeois bug and exorbitant rents.
The end of Burggasse is finally marked by the famous Volkstheater, preceded by the recently converted luxury hotel San Souci, which is the source of much involuntary hilarity among passers-by, thanks to its tasteless corporate design colour, a fascinatingly obscene shade of mauve. Most ostentatiously, the hotel announces its presence with its theatrically lit-up facade, ornamental flowerbeds and ringmaster-style bell boys' uniforms.
Best of Burggasse
uppers & downers, Burggasse 46
The Lowdown On Denim, Burggasse 100
Burggasse 24/Peng Shop, Burggasse 24
Ungar Grill, Burggasse 97
Zipp, Burggasse 66
Espresso, Burggasse 57
Gastwirtschaft Schilling, Burggasse 103
China Bar, Burggasse 76
Ulrich, Sankt Ulrichs Platz 1
Cafe Laternderl, Burggasse 103
Terra Reptilia, Burggasse 100
Lollipop Bonbon Süßwaren, Burggasse 57