Towering governmental monuments, theaters, and universities wrought in stone; seas of horse-drawn carriages, wheels clanging on cobbled streets; mustachioed noblemen feverishly debating politics on the way to work, home, and the halls of government: this is Vienna in the 19th century. And woven through it all are grandiose coffeehouses with dangling chandeliers, soaring ceilings, and the unmistakable aroma of earthy-sweet coffee.
There’s no question that Austria’s capital — once the cultural epicenter of the Western world — was known for many things, including music, socialism, and intellectual exploration. But the roots of all of it were arguably planted in Viennese coffeehouses, where milked demitasses of stiff brew accompanied fiery conversation about this, that, and the other worldly thing. Some of the best minds in the world thought, wrote, and debated in these hallowed locales, including Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, and Gustav Klimt.
Fortunately, several of these landmarks survived the world wars of the 20th century and surges of political upheaval, though there is one in particular that stands out as a cornerstone of modern thought, style, luxury, and indulgence: Café Sacher.
The roots of Vienna coffeehouse culture
Vienna’s introduction to coffee occurred in the late 17th century, following the successful repelling of a Turkish siege. The liberation from the Turkish assault was largely thanks to the intervening Poles, who later discovered some sacks of beans the persnickety Turks left behind. The Polish emperor was keen to burn them, but one of his officers, Jerzy Kulczycki, asked to keep them. With several sacks secured, he started Vienna’s first coffeehouse. Historians don’t entirely agree on Kulczycki’s motivations — some believe he knew the sacks were filled with coffee beans, while others opine he simply thought the sacks were filled with something valuable.
In any case, brewed coffee was soon paired with milk and the drink received wide acclaim. Coffeehouses popped up quickly thereafter, gaining particular prominence in the 1800s when Vienna became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Among many now-famous cafés conceived during the century — including Café Central, Café Landtmann, and Café Demel — was Café Sacher.
Café Sacher finds fame — along with its namesake cake
The famous Sachertorte — a luscious combination of chocolate, apricot jam, and Schlag (whipped cream) — was conceived in 1832 by the baker apprentice Franz Sacher at the behest of Prince von Metternich. The cake was lauded as a masterpiece, and fed the notoriety of the hotel launched some 40 years later by Franz’s son, Eduard Sacher. Part of the hotel was allotted for a café designed to the coffeehouse culture of Vienna at the time. Like other cafés of its kind, it exuded opulence, high style, and discerning taste. Not surprisingly, it became one of the most beloved leisure destinations of Vienna’s highest class.
Café Sacher, updated for the 21st century
Hotel Sacher, which was the primary focus of the Sacher family originally, built a reputation as a hotel of unsurpassed luxury since its inception in 1876. It is still family-owned, and still serves guests at its onsite coffeeshop — although the names has changed from Café Sacher to Sacher Eck Vienna. Spread across two floors and designed in a mix of Art Deco and Victorian styles, the coffeehouse continues to be a must-visit for tourists who want to sample the original Sachertorte, experience longstanding coffeehouse tradition, and soak in one-and-a-half centuries of Viennese history.
An afternoon spent in Sacher Eck Vienna still manages to transport you back to the heyday of Vienna. Plush, royal red banquettes consume the space, while portraits of 19th century greats line the walls and three-tiered chandeliers dangle ostentatiously from the ceiling. It’s not hard to imagine Freud or Franz Schubert pausing their busy lives to take in a Kaffee or Strüdel here, while the traditional Viennese breakfast makes you feel like a peer: poached eggs, truffled ham, a pastry, and a classic Sacher Mélange (espresso with steamed milk and whipped cream) seem the perfect indulgence over which to discuss affairs of the day.
More to eat and drink
Any time spent at Sacher Eck Vienna is worthwhile, but the menu is actually quite extensive, so it’s important you experience a representative cross-section of what the café offers.
If you come for breakfast, as mentioned above, you can simply opt for a pastry and a cup of coffee, but our recommendation is to go for the full-on Sacher Genussfrühstück (Sacher Culinary Delight Breakfast). It’s a touch pricey, but offers enough treats to keep you sated until dinner. Expect two kinds of ham, pickled goat cheese, smoked fish, eggs Benedict, Bundt cake, and various spreads. This will set you back about 35 Euros ($40).
Don’t think Sacher Eck Vienna is just a breakfast spot, either; like many cafés throughout Vienna, it’s open throughout the day. If you come for lunch or dinner, you can get Beef Tartare, Cheese and Onion Dumplings, Beef Goulash, and Mini Sacher Sausages.
Celebrating? Sacher Eck Vienna also has a healthy share of bubbly, from more affordable Cuvée Brut (about $12/glass) to bottles of Dom Pérignon, which run 220 Euros (about $250) each.
If you’re still hungry and want to make lunch or dinner more of an affair, there are two other restaurants within Hotel Sacher: Restaurant Rote Bar, which offers “elevated Viennese specialties,” and Restaurant Grüne Bar, which showcases more international flavors. For after-dinner or late-night libations, head to Blaue Bar where you can experience everything from bubbly wine cocktails (yep, that’s a thing) to decidedly American Kahlúa shots.
Sacher to go
If you want to experience an authentic Sachertorte but don’t have time to enjoy it at the hotel — or if you simply want to gift it to someone else — you can order a cake to go from Salon Sacher. You can order it online, too, and no refrigeration is needed. For this and other sweet treats, including chocolates, Bundt cakes, cookbooks, and coffee, visit the hotel’s shop online or drop by Salon yourself.
Oh, and we should mention the Sacher family has expanded the brand with cafés in Innsbruck and Salzburg. Learn more at the hotel’s website.
(For more musical adventures in Austria, we suggest heading from coffee to one of these “Sound of Music” hotspots.)