Students and professors, officials and artists all feel at home in this venerable neighborhood
If location is everything, the Piaristenviertel in Vienna’s 8th district has it all: Within walking distance of the university, City Hall and the government district, it has long attracted both civil servants and intelligentsia, living in harmony in neighborhood cafés and restaurants, both trendy and traditional.
It’s no accident Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle was partially set here: Both the locals and the look fit the story perfectly. A bastion of Bildungsbürgertum – Austria’s highly educated middle class that places art and culture above all else – the densely built-up area is defined by dignified 19th century townhouses, its cobbled easternmost Biedermeier sliver a part of Vienna’s UNESCO-protected old town.
Its famous Theater in der Josefstadt and close proximity to both the Burgtheater and Volkstheater, as well as the numerous cabaret stages, have also made it a preferred haunt of theatrical professionals. The list of famous residents is long, including most of Vienna’s mayors, director Fritz Lang, playwright Ödön von Horváth, and poet H.C. Artmann. Outgoing president Heinz Fischer also lives here, famously declining to use the official presidential villa in Döbling in favor of walking to work.
The stage is set
The biggest draw is the Theater in der Josefstadt (often simply “The Josefstadt”), right on the district’s main drag, Josefstädter Straße. One of the iconic stages in the German-speaking world, opened in 1788, it is also the oldest theater in the city. Its roster of distinction is long: Dramatists Nestroy and Raimund both started their Vienna careers here; Richard Wagner and Johann Strauss Sr. conducted there; and Beethoven both composed and conducted the theater’s reopening in 1822. Its interior was redesigned in 1924 by the legendary Max Reinhardt, its nominal director through the ’20s and ’30s – in practice, he often left the house to his students, like future Hollywood director Otto Preminger. Today, it still draws top performers, specializing in contemporary plays and edgy reinterpretations of classics.
Just a few blocks away is Vienna’s English Theatre, the oldest English- language stage on the Continent, founded in 1963 by director Franz Schafranek and his American expat wife, actress Ruth Brinkmann. Successful beyond expectations, casts have included Grace Kelly, Anthony Quinn, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jeanne Moreau, Benedict Cumberbatch and Judi Dench. Now run by their daughter Julia, VET is still going strong, maintaining the standards set by the founders. Just around the corner is Pizzeria Verdi, popular with actors for great late-night food.
Behind the Theater in der Josefstadt is the epicenter of the neighborhood, the baroque church Maria Treu of the Piarist teaching order. While their adjacent school turned out director Billy Wilder (a poor student), the real draw here is the expansive cobblestone square in front, where the pizzeria Il Sestante and the café-restaurant Maria Treu have open-air seating in summer, with a strong Italian vibe.
The 300-year-old Piaristenkeller next door is noted for its K. u. K. Hat Museum, a collection of fin-de-siècle chapeaux. Just a little further down is Verein 08, a neighborhood culture club with cutting edge art projects and excellent live music.
The Grätzl’s university life supports numerous hangouts catering to urban intellectuals. Just a block from the campus at Altes AKH, students retreat to read in Schönbornpark, the former gardens of the adjacent Palais Schönborn (now the Volkskundemuseum (Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art)). Further down on Florianigasse is another mainstay of student life, the eminently affordable Café Merkur: Traditionalist with Levantine touches, it has gotten many a starving scholar to the end of the month. Towards the first district are two popular ethnic restaurants: Tin-Tan, Vienna’s first taco bar, and the spicy Sri Lankan Curry Insel. Doubling back to Lange Gasse, you’ll find Beer & Songs, a low-key karaoke bar popular with a younger crowd. Finally, across the street is Miles Smiles, a charming hole-in-the-wall jazz bar that for over 30 years has regularly defied the laws of physics to host live music – how they accommodate both a band and the patrons on the same evenings is an unsolved mystery.
The magic is in the mix, so why choose?
Places mentioned in this article
Theater in der Josefstadt
8., Josefstädter Straße 26 (map)
(01) 427 00-300
What to see & do
(see Piaristenkeller, below)
Miles Smiles Jazz Café
8., Lange Gasse 51 (map)
(01) 405 95 17
Where to Eat
8., Florianigasse 18 (map)
(01) 990 54 13
Café-restaurant Maria Treu
8., Piaristengasse 52 (map)
(01) 406 47 09
8., Lenaugasse 4 (map)
(01) 406 92 33
8., Piaristengasse 45 (map
(01) 406 01 93
Pizzeria Il Sestante
8., Piaristengasse 50 (map)
(01) 402 98 94
Tin-Tan Mexican Restaurant and Cocktail Bar
8., Florianigasse 1 (map)
(01) 924 44 40