Or how a culinary melting pot became the city’s favorite Bobo Bazaar

Even in staunchly nostalgic Vienna, neighborhoods change. The Naschmarkt is a prime example: Wedged between the left and right Wienzeiles between Kettenbrückengasse and Getreidemarkt, it is officially the city’s largest open-air market, but has been transformed since the early 2000s as about half of the stalls have given way to trendy cafés. This may be poetic justice: The name, a corruption of Aschenmarkt (ash market), after its former life as a landfill, is also a reference to naschen, Viennese for “snacking”. With its central location, its iconic Jugendstil architecture and vibrant flair, the evolution was perhaps inevitable. The demographic shifts came with changing tastes and new expectations.

Today the Naschmarkt is one of the most heavily gentrified areas of the city. If anything, though, the transition came late: similar central markets like London’s Covent Garden or Paris’ Les Halles made way for boutiques and eateries in the 1970s. Indeed, the Naschmarkt’s wholesale operations had already moved to Inzersdorf by 1972; the resulting space around the U4 station Kettenbrückengasse was converted into a parking lot, which becomes Vienna’s largest flea market every Saturday.

Urban Renewal

The Naschmarkt was originally intended to be interim: Otto Wagner, Vienna’s favorite art nouveau architect, had envisioned a grand boulevard built over the Vienna river, reaching all the way from the opera to Schönbrunn palace. The market was temporarily moved from its initial location on nearby Wiedner Hauptstraße and Karlsplatz while they completed that stage of covering the river. When the boulevard project was discontinued due to high costs, the location was made permanent, with the Marktamt (market authority) and the iconic stands completed by 1916.

Wagner himself designed two Jugendstil buildings on the Linke Wienzeile, now among the most-photographed edifices in Vienna; one has a tiled façade with exquisite floral patterns, the other gilded highlights and reliefs by Koloman Moser. Several beloved restaurants and cafés are in or around the iconic buildings, like the Japanese home-style hole-in-the-wall Kuishimbo, the spacious Asian fusion restaurant On Market, the traditional Wiener Beisl Sopherl am Naschmarkt and the venerable Café Savoy, a flagship of Vienna’s gay scene. Exceedingly opulent, the meticulously restored coffeehouse is dominated by enormous mirrors (allegedly the largest in Europe) and statues at the end of the bar that once belonged to Rudolf Nurejev, granted Austrian citizenship in 1982.

See and be seen

An excellent example of the changes on Naschmarkt is the venerable Café Drechsler, on the Linke Wienzeile. Originally catering to market folk, its pre-dawn opening at 4:00 a.m. also made it a favorite of night crawlers looking for late-night nibbles or early breakfast; its owner, Engelbert Drechsler, was known to hand-deliver coffee and snacks to his regulars working the market stands. In 2005 however, the family-owned coffeehouse was sold and underwent a €700,000 remodeling job by British designer Sir Terence Conran. While still popular, it now keeps regular hours, leaving the original crowd to go elsewhere. The market proper has also seen many conversions: Papas am Naschmarkt, previously known as an importer of Greek olives, has reinvented itself as a Levantine restaurant and brunch hotspot, with live jazz on Friday and Saturday evenings. Perhaps the best known of the new Naschmarkt is Neni, established in 2009 by Haya Molcho, that has since grown to encompass a decent chunk of the entire market, as well as branches in Berlin, Hamburg and Zürich, publishing cookbooks, and launching its own line of Israeli-inspired foods distributed by the Spar supermarket chain.

Fresh Produce and operas

Of the remaining market stalls, many have adapted by specializing or moving upmarket; Umarfisch for instance, thrives as high-end fishmongers – never freezing their wares or storing them for long, featuring an adjacent restaurant to sample the goods since 2004. Nearby Käseland on the other hand has changed little in 40 years, relying on one of the finest selections of cheeses in Austria, and the customer service to match. Further up the Rechte Wienzeile is Lilimarkt, a one-stop Chinese discount superstore selling everything from fresh pakchoi to rice cookers.

Finally, like Covent Garden, the Naschmarkt is also home to a venerable theater: Theater an der Wien, built in 1801 by Emanuel Schikaneder, the famous impresario and librettist of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He was also a frequent collaborator of Ludwig van Beethoven, who lived upstairs while he finished his opera Fidelo, which premiered there, along with his third, fifth and sixth symphonies. Nowadays, it is Vienna’s third opera house, specializing in smaller-scale master works, oratorios and contemporary music theater. Its Theatercafé is a popular hangout, where the occasional performer can be seen unwinding.

So grab an Aperol spritz and enjoy some people-watching; Naschmarkt might have changed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.