A Viennese culinary institution: the “Beisl”
Nothing connects the Viennese quite as much with their beloved Hausmannskost (simple, traditional fare) as the place where they can enjoy it at length: in their local Beisl. But what exactly is a Beisl, and how do you recognise one? (And just to make matters more confusing, sometimes a Beisl is also called a Gasthaus!) The best way to explain it is with a rough description of what you might expect to find in one of these restaurants which are so beloved of the Viennese: an old bar, dark wood panelling, a shelf with hooks for coats, and wooden tables – one or two of which are reserved for regular patrons.
“When you pay and leave in a good mood, and just think to yourself: “I’ll come here again.”” The Vienna journalist Christian Seiler on what makes a perfect evening in a Viennese Beisl.
Usually there’ll be few people
leaning on the bar who look like they’re part of the inventory, and mostly there are no tablecloths – but a beer coaster under every glass. And naturally, the obligatory salted pretzel stick. A blackboard presents the menu for the day, which will always be made up of good, simple and delicious Hausmannskost: from Griesnockerlsuppe (soup with semolina dumplings) via Schnitzel, goulash and roast liver to Kaiserschmarrn (literally “the emperor’s nonsense”, fluffy cut-up sweet pancakes).
Originally a Beisl was a restaurant or pub of lower quality, inseparably associated with the Grätzl (neighbourhood) in which it was situated. The name probably comes from the Yiddish word “bajiss” (house), and for many Viennese it was, and is, a home away from home. In the good old days they’d often enjoy a hearty second breakfast such as Krenfleisch (boiled pork with horseradish). Nowadays there are even up-market “nobel Beisln” with the best reputation. They serve refined, but nevertheless traditionally uncomplicated fare. But usually it doesn’t take much more than what a typical Beisl offers anyway: a cosy, hospitable atmosphere, good food, and plenty to look at. The best way to end a real Viennese evening!
Text: Verena Brandtner, Fotos: Christine Wurnig