Opinion | What’s to Come of the Neighborhood Beisl?

The closing of the beloved Café Industrie on the Margaretengürtel in May made headlines in Vienna

A family Lokal handed down from mother to daughter into the 3rd generation, the café ran headlong into a group of stuffy neighbors complaining of noise – which was strange. After all the Gürtel was far noisier.

But this was just one of a long and growing list of small taverns and cafés in Vienna that have been closing their doors – a trend that so alarmed journalist Clemens Marschall of the Wiener Zeitung that he set off on a foray across town to see what was up.

What he found was fascinating, while not altogether surprising – a collision of social, generational and economic shifts that are hitting the branch like a small earthquake. The power of corporate chain stores and franchise restaurants; the lavatory and anti-smoking laws; electronic surveillance and the invasions of digitalized accounting that tie the hands of even the most well-intentioned regulators; the young who head for the clubs and the unthinking betrayal of cultural change.

Does any of this matter? Yes, more than we often take the time to understand. A true neighborhood Beisl takes years to establish and is nearly impossible to replace.

“It is by eating and drinking that people come together,” Marschall wrote, wondering if politicians were even aware of what was lost when each of these social ecosystems dried up.

Tavern keepers lose their livelihoods, their patrons their second homes. Their gathering places, support systems, networks of exchange. Places where they are known and where they belong.

Dardis McNamee
Dardis McNamee is the Editor in Chief of Metropole. She has written for The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler (NYC), the Wall Street Journal Europe and Die Zeit in Vienna, as well as having been a speechwriter to two U.S. ambassadors to Austria. She was awarded the 2007 Kemper Award for Excellence in Teaching (Media & Communications).

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