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From Strauss to Freud, from the last days of the Habsburgs to the dark days of war, OutUK's Adrian Gillan waltzes around the grand gay decadence only found in Vienna.

Sitting in a Viennese coffeehouse, you can drink in the history and autumnal fading aura of a once great empire, torn apart by The Great War and left savaged by the next.

Amidst what is still, in many ways, backward-looking and conservative, you can still spy a society living on the edge - nowhere more so than on the resurging gay scene.


Coffee and Sachertorte at The Demel Cafe. Courtesy ANTO.
When you've walked off your neuroses at the Sigmund Freud Museum down the street, take tea at Café Berg, one of Vienna's few gay window bars, just north of the city's mighty inner Ringstrasse. Its simple, bright and modern design caters to an arty crowd, many of who leaf through purchases from the superb Lowenherz gay bookstore next door.

But the main queer quarter is in the 6th District, a short distance west of centre. Its gay political and social heart is undoubtedly the friendly Rosa Lila Villa on the Linke Wienzeile, a pinkish purple building where groups meet and friends booze and chat late into the night, sustained by a range of snacks and fuller fodder.

Perhaps the most quintessentially queer Viennese experience, and hence not to be missed, is the magical Cafe Savoy, a classic old wood, brass and leather corner café with a camp interior of chandeliers, gilt statues and feathers, multiplied by the largest single-piece mirrors in this part of Eastern Europe. Best by night, it's a unique antidote to your standard gay scene: mainly frequented by older guys, but you'd have to be young and dumb not to pop in.

If you want something to make you feel more at home, try new American-style cocktail bar Chamäleon, just around the corner and crowded at weekends amidst its greens and reds.

Or check out orange-hued Mango round the corner. A mere year old, it pulls in all the young babes too green for the cruisier, harder fare in town.


A night out at Mango.
Talking of which: close-at-hand Eagle is one of Vienna's most popular bars. It's mainly Levi and leather but the door policy's not too strict and the darkroom highly active. Nearby Nightshift, just round the corner at the bottom of some steps at an unmarked black door, then takes up the story on the more uniformed nocturnal bar-crawl circuit saga. With dark room and cabins, you'll find much the same leather people as in the Eagle - including the desperate.

If you like it really hard, best try Stiefelknecht, Vienna's main leather bar - with slings, swings and things. You have to be buzzed in but it is friendly and widely lauded - especially the darkroom. It's a little too far from the other bars to walk, but - in that garb and get up - you might need a taxi anyway! Same goes for Lo:sch, the other serious and strictly dress-coded leather bar in town.

Vienna isn't Europe's best served capital when it comes to clubbing. Why Not in the central district has a stylish upper bar and packed basement dance space, churning out cheese on Fridays and chart on Saturdays. The more seriously tranced go to Heaven which is gay and busy on Thursdays with its two large rooms.

You can't beat a good steam as the nights grow long and cold. Sport Sauna on Langasse (beneath Pension Wild) markets to a younger crowd with its maze of themed and highly individual cabins, and its dark rooms and porn areas. And like Café Savoy the Kaiserbrundel sauna (aka Central Bathhouse Vienna) offers a uniquely Viennese experience. Built in the 1870s at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and with Moorish influence, it's a steamy cathedral of exotic arches, tiled pools and marble slabs.

As said, Lowenherz (next to Berg Café) is the largest and best gay bookstore in town. The staff are friendly and helpful - a recurring theme on Vienna's gay scene - and there is a large selection of English language books, magazines and DVDs. Or try Man for Man on Hamburgerstrasse for all your rubbers, mags and vids.

If you fancy a breath of fresh air, the outdoor cruising scene is well developed here. The Rathaus Park as you face the magnificent Dutch Gothic town hall façade, is probably the most brimming meeting place, especially in the small wee hours when bars close and spew forth into the cold night air.

In summer, try the Donau Insel on the Danube with its nude beaches at either end - especially the northern one at weekends.


The Riesenrad, the giant ferris wheel immortalised in the classic film The Third Man. You'll find it in the Prater Park. Courtesy ANTO.
And we can fully recommend the Pension Wild on Langegasse, with its indisputably gay-friendly management team. Rooms are modern and spacious, breakfasts hale and hearty. It's a pleasant ten minute walk to most of the gay bars and clubs and sits smack on top of that sauna! If you'd prefer a choice of mainstream hotels in all price ranges you can get unbeatable offers from our hotel partners Booking.com.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Cafe Berg (Bergasse 8; T: 0043 1 319 5720)
Rosa Lila Villa (Linke Wienzeile 102; T: 0043 1 587 1789)
Cafe Savoy (Linke Weinzeile 36; T: 0043 1 586 7348)
Chamäleon (Steigengasse 8; T: 0043 1 585 1180)
Mango (Laimgrubengasse 3; T: 0043 1 587 4448)
Eagle (Blumengasse 1; T: 0043 1 587 2661)
Nightshift (Corneliusgasse 8; T: 0043 1 586 2337)
Stiefelknecht (Wimmergasse 20; T: 0043 1 545 2301)
Lo:sch (Funfhausgasse 1; T: 0043 1 895 9979)
Why Not (Tiefer Graben 22; T: 0043 1 535 1158)
Heaven (Schonbrunnerstrasse 222; T 0043 1 815 8307)
Sport Sauna (Langasse 10; T: 0043 1 406 7156)
Kaiserbrundel (aka Central Bathhouse Vienna, Weihburgasse 18-20; T: 0043 1 513 3293)
Lowenherz (Bergasse at Wasagasse next to Berg Café; T: 0043 1 317 2982)
Man for Man (Hamburgerstrasse 8; T: 0043 1 585 2064)
Pension Wild (Langegasse 10; T: 0043 1 0 406 5174) Website

Revised April 2016.

 

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