Vienna's Got Balls
BY Matthew Breen
January 11 2012 5:00 AM ET
Motto (Motto.at) is a chic, gay-owned restaurant, with decor drenched in purple and black, with pops of orange and teal. As a fashion student, Helmut Lang once served patrons there. The floor-to-ceiling-mirrored bathroom is a somewhat pleasantly overwhelming sight to behold. The menu offers elegant presentations of classic Austrian dishes like tafelspitz (simmered tri-tip with root vegetables) and schinkenfleckerl (noodle casserole). Meals here often start with an Aperol spritz, a champagne cocktail spiked with an Italian aperitif that turns the drink a vivid orange. The restaurant's sister location, Motto am Fluss (Motto.at/MottoAmFluss) has a restaurant and café right over the Danube Canal and draws an urbane young crowd for beer, cocktails, and dinner.
Ein Wiener Salon (EinWienerSalon.com) is an intimate and upscale restaurant, dominated by a portrait of Empress Maria Theresa — though her face has cheekily been replaced by the gay owner's, taking any remnants of fuss out of the decorous atmosphere. The tasting menu is seasonal, and a meal often ends with regional schnapps.
Schon-Schön (Schon-Schoen.at) is a hybrid of a most unusual kind: a restaurant, fashion boutique, and hair salon. The menu is limited to two or three daily specials, and the fresh fare is served at a large stark-white communal table. While the food is good, the draw for the hipper-than-thou crowd is undoubtedly the atmosphere.
The Palmenhaus (Palmenhaus.at) was the ideal setting for a pre-Rosenball dinner, and the night I was there the dining hall was filled with men in tuxedos and women in glittering cocktail dresses and wraps. While architecture lovers are drawn to the 1901 art nouveau greenhouse, it's the osso buco that brings in the foodies.
My new Austrian friend with the killer smile took me to a Saturday brunch at Deli (Naschmarkt-Deli.at) in the Naschmarkt, the large outdoor market along the Vienna River. Dotted with fishmongers, cheese and produce stands, bakeries, and restaurants of every stripe, Naschmarkt is a must-see, a prime people-watching spot on the very busy Saturdays. It's frustratingly closed on Sundays. Deli is crowded but friendly, and my brunch of lamb chops and mélange was accompanied by a DJ's breakbeats.
Near the Naschmarkt you'll find a gay institution, the Goldener Spiegel (GoldenerSpiegel.com) restaurant and bar. The place, whose name means "the golden mirror," is slyly designed with vintage clocks, doilies, and painted portraits that look as if they were yanked from an old country grandmother's parlor, yet it's also wallpapered with images of gay porn stars. Inside to the right, the restaurant offers the best Wiener schnitzel in the whole city, according to numerous accounts; I agreed. To the left, the bar is packed with hustlers from the Balkans, ready to offer an off-menu dessert. The clunky Google translation of the website offers a hilariously euphemistic invitation to "suppliers and investors."
Much of Viennese social life takes place in cafés. Coffee isn't unique to Vienna, of course, but nowhere have I seen such attention paid to a cup, in classic 19th-century and art nouveau settings. Cafés come in a few varieties, and it pays to know the difference. A Café-Konditorei also serves pastries and sweets; a Café-Restaurant serves food, sometimes remarkably good food — not just something to soak up the caffeine; a Nacht-Café is a bar. I find the experience of coming in from the cold, peeling off layers of jackets and sweaters, sitting down on a red velvet banquette to a cup of einspänner (espresso with whipped cream) and a slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam filling) served on a silver tray to be a lush experience. And it's the perfect remedy for a sightseer's aching feet.