I travelled to Café Central on four separate occasions, staggering them throughout the week and at different times during the day to grasp the most accurate account of the establishment’s feel as possible. A newspaper rack holds various Austrian, European and global dailies, but the papers are barely touched. An Asian couple sits next to the newspapers and a row of pretty pastries, looking not at each other but at their smartphones. Enormous portraits of revered Emperor Franz Josef and beloved Empress Sisi look down upon the elegant dining room, as a nearby piano rumbles into life.
In the evenings, however, the tourist crowd dies down a bit and Central returns to a gathering place for Viennese locals after work. I order a Wiener Melange (essentially a large cloud of foamy milk sitting atop traditional cappuccino). The murmur of local talk over espressos replaces noisy tourists posing for awkward photos. An older financier advises a junior partner over an espresso while discussing moments from work earlier that day. The older man in a suit cracks a joke about a rival bank to his co-worker, before they both get up to head home for the night. Next to me, a well dressed yet laid-back Austrian man meets his wife for coffee at the end of the day. For these local Viennese, Café Central’s rich history may be a nice afterthought, but the primary purpose of the space is simply for a nice coffee and a relaxed chat.