Vienna is a city we will never tire of. If we were to make a list of big-city "bests" in our three countries, Vienna would probably come out on top in the categories of architecture, music, urban walking, old-world charm, street musicians, and moderately-priced, cozy little hotels and restaurants.
We were there recently to track down some new places of that ilk as well as to revisit a couple of old favorites.
Here, in a kind of mixed-bag fashion, is our report.
Mid-priced accommodations are never easy to find in Vienna.
On a side street, just outside the Ring near the fascinating Naschmarkt, is the 52-room Carlton Opera Hotel.
Mostly patronized by business travelers, this air-conditioned hotel is recommended for its comfortable rooms and Art Nouveau style. The ancient lift is right out of The Third Man.
Our room, Number 202, had that Old-Vienna feel - high ceilings, wood floors, a bank of big double windows - leaving no doubt you're in Europe and not at a Ramada or Holiday Inn in Omaha or San Diego.
The furniture was new, the bed comfortable and the bathroom adequate. As is S.O.P these days, TV was cable-fed and offered a couple of English channels.
We hauled our own luggage up to the room but the lone person at reception was always helpful and friendly. Breakfasts, though not lavish, were adequate.
The Carlton has no restaurant but the Restaurant Beograd is half a block away.
Only a short walk from the Staatsoper, this is a far better value than comparable hotels inside the Ring.
We've mentioned this hotel frequently since first reviewing it and making it our "Hotel of the Year" in 1994, so we'll only mention that many of the interesting, Art Nouveau-style rooms have been recently refurbished including one of the biggest and best, the "Green" room (2180 AS/$176).
Many of you have written and phoned to praise the attentive, personal service. Though officially classified as a pension, the Altstadt offers many extras such as theater, opera and concert tickets, various business services, in-room video machines with a selection of films, even a hotel limo to the airport.
With doubles running from about $100 to $150, this is still our top mid-priced recommendation in Vienna.
For a non-touristy evening of old-world music, food and atmosphere, we know of no better spot in Vienna than the Balkan restaurant Beograd. Starting at 8pm, a violin and piano, joined occasionally by an accordionist, play mournful Gypsy tunes and schmaltzy old-Vienna melodies, mixed with western show tunes and other standards.
The walls are crowded with old photos, tapestries, maps, and other rustic knickknacks. Swarthy, costumed waiters speak just enough English to get by and the food is amazingly good for the price.
A plate of Balkan appetizers—dolma, roasted red peppers, smoked meats, potato salad and hard boiled egg—cost 70 AS ($5.60) and was delicious. Ingredients for the mixed salads (probably purchased at the nearby Naschmarkt) included tomatoes, cucumber, green onions and butter lettuce and were the freshest.
A sprawling, grease-less Wiener Schnitzel (130 AS/$10.40) got a star in our meal notes while a mixed grill (Banaterteller) of pork kebab, lamb, beef, veal, bacon and ground meat on a skewer was a wonderful bargain at 95 AS ($7.60).
A Balkan Palatschinken (40 AS/$3.20) consisted of two large crêpes filled with chopped nuts and fruit and covered with chocolate sauce.
We asked our waiter for a wine suggestion and were pleased with Vranac, a Serbian red for which we paid 210 AS ($17).
The meal for two persons cost 350 AS ($28), not including beverages, of which we had too many.
When making a reservation early in the day we asked to be near the music and our table was the closest of any in the restaurant.
After dinner we drank Barack-Palinka a Balkan apricot schnapps (25 AS/$2) and stayed on listening to the music.
Restaurant Beograd, Schikaneder-gasse 7, tel. +43/01/587 7444
Rating: Quality 13/98, Value 17/98
Tips from a Viennese
Otto Wiesenthal, owner of the aforementioned Altstadt, is a connoisseur of the good life. As such, he is an expert witness on Vienna's restaurants, from the simplest Beisl to the fanciest Michelin-starred establishment. For his guests, he has published a tiny booklet that lists his favorites. Over the next several months we'll share with you some of his Vienna choices. Here are a few which he lists in the category "Viennese:"
Plachutta - achieved its fame with the best beef cuisine Vienna can offer, the world famous Tafelspitz. Twelve different kinds of boiled beef with traditional garnishes are the forte of the Plachutta family. Outdoor garden. A-1010, Wollzeile 38; Daily 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm, tel. +43/01/512 15 77, fax 15 77 20. Dinner for two to 900 AS ($72).
Karrer - A small restaurant with a very personal touch which recently was taken over by a new and very young team. Creative Viennese cuisine. In immediate vicinity to the Volkstheater. A-1070, Neustiftgasse 5, Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-3pm, 6pm-11:30pm, tel. +43/01/526 94 48. Dinner for two to 700 AS ($56).
Eckel - Located in the green area of the Vienna villa district. Classical restaurant with most charming service and plain cuisine on the highest level. Wonderful garden. Great Austrian wines. A-1190, Sieveringer Strasse 46; Tue.-Sat.,11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm, tel. +43/01/320/32 18, fax 66 60. Dinner for two to 900 AS ($72).
Schnattl - Located close to the Theater in der Josefstadt, it is a meeting point for all friends of sophisticated Vienna Beisl culture with a creative touch. Classical Viennese cuisine, outdoor seating in the summer. Inexpensive lunch menu. A-1080, Lange Gasse 40; Mon.-Sat. 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-11pm, tel. +43/01/405 34 00. Dinner for two to 900 AS ($72).
Weinkellerei Artner - The Lower Austrian vintner family Artner has taken over an old inn and completely remodeled it. The inexpensive lunch menu has quickly attracted employees from offices close by. Outdoor seating in summer. A-1040, Floragasse 6; Mon.-Fri., 11am-1am, Sat. & Sun. 5pm-1am, tel. +43/01/503 50 33. Dinner for two to 600 AS ($48).
Zur Ebener Erde Und Im 1 Stock - One of the smallest Viennese houses is home to this cozy restaurant named after a stage play by Nestroy. Seating is as intimate as in a Parisian bistro. The ground floor offers plain and rustic atmosphere, sophisticated ambiance can be enjoyed on the first floor. A-1070, Burggasse 13; Tue.-Fri., 12noon-2pm, 6pm-12midnight, Sat. 6pm-12midnight, tel. +43/01/ 523 62 54. Dinner for two to 800 AS ($64).
Boheme - A wine tavern and restaurant with an excellent selection of Austrian vintages. Located in the romantic Spittelberg quarter it offers constantly good cuisine and classical background music. Outdoor seating in the summer months. A-1070, Spittelberggasse 19; Mon.-Sat., 6pm-12 midnight, tel. +43/01/523 31 73. Dinner for two to 700 AS ($56)
Meixners Gastwirtschaft - Best reached by subway U1, this inn in the 10th district is a genuine refuge for connoisseurs. Viennese cuisine at its best accompanied by a large selection of Austrian wines and for true experts a variety of top choices of fine brandies and liquors. A-1100, Buchengasse 64, Ecke Herndlgasse, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-11pm, tel. +43/01/604 27 10, 606 34 00, fax 606 34 00. Dinner for two to 700 AS ($56).