This place suffers from being famous, but without fame, and a lot of it, there’s no way it could afford to exist in Vienna’s crazy toney First District, just a few footsteps away from the grand space that is Stephansplatz, sharing addresses with huge, disgusting multinationals like Nestle, Armani, et al.
Cafe Hawelka keeps alive and well the feeling of the old coffeehouse, its worn and smelly interior, its marbletop tables, its atrociously uncomfortable chairs, its fully attired waiters, and its casual flaunting, shoulders shrugged, of the thing that money can’t buy, which is history.
The clientele change throughout the day, some are regulars with tables reserved, the great many are tourists, and a handful are locals who were in the neighborhood and wanted to grab a cup and a cake. The cake at Cafe Hawelka is dreadful, hard, particle-board construction, designed to show you the middle finger for having ordered cake in a coffeehouse. The coffee is nondescript, which is as it should be, definitely good enough to drink, certainly not good enough to write a poem about.
Yesterday evening I closed Cafe Hawelka down, sliding into my chair at about six and leaving at midnight. During that time I had four coffees and a cake, and I tipped the Ober handsomely for letting me hog his table, though in truth that was my guilt, not his disapproval at my presence. In fact, the wholesale tourism business of Cafe Hawelka makes them, it seems, rather appreciate the literary posers who show up with nothing but a book and a bunch of time.
As you scan through the crowd of people checking their phones, talking about the opera or the symphony, gabbing about the beauty of the city, it is calming and even a bit respectable to see one or two somewhat rundown people with their noses buried in a book. It’s the bit of authenticity that reminds everyone else of the place’s noble origins, never mind that the literati are tourists, too.
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