Tunnel: the popular student hangout and live jazz club gets a “reboot”, refusing to fix what’s not broken

Reinventing a classic is fraught with pitfalls: It’s easy to alienate your regulars, and the new clientele remains wary of your past. Tunnel, a cavernous café catering to an eclectic mix of students, aging boomers and all those in between, has managed the transition by changing very little: The rock bottom prices have crept up but still offer good value, otherwise it’s just a new paint job and a shorter menu.

Subterranean Homesick Blues
It’s in the basement jazz dive where the difference is most felt. Not quite picturesque, but run-down enough to evoke an atmosphere, patrons from previous years will be quick to notice that here too, alterations are minimal: their signature wooden booths are as scuffed as ever, with only a fresh gloss of claret on the walls and a less musty aroma acknowledging the new era.

The big change is in what’s been restored: After closing down the basement in 2012 following the death of the original owner, Tunnel again features live music six days a week. With both regular jam sessions and concerts by largely local talent, the jazz scene has regained a vital platform.

Exemplary of the bands that haunt Tunnel, The Haris Cicic Organ Trio played to a mixed crowd of beer-guzzling students and a smaller number of black-appareled jazz aficionados seated as close to the stage as possible. As they launched into a medley of standards by Grant Green, George Benson, Thelonius Monk and Billy Strayhorn, the reverent silence of the jazz lovers gradually gave way to noisy enthusiasm, infecting the students, who greeted each new improvised solo with rapturous applause. Sometimes the best way forward is two steps back.

Tunnel Vienna Live
8., Florianigasse 39
Mon-Sat 09:00 to 02:00, Sun 09:00 to 00:00;
Live music Mon-Sat 20:00.

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Manila born, Brooklyn bred and longtime resident of Vienna, Binu Starnegg is currently managing editor for Metropole. Photo: Visual Hub