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Spelunke does dark and swanky for trendy busi­ness­peo­ple

METROPOLE - Vienna in English - - CONTENTS - By An­dreas Rainer

Spelunke may not be as shady as its name, but its mix of com­fort food and shabby chic works.

In Ger­man, a Spelunke is a dark and shabby bar, of­ten hid­den in a grotty back­street near a har­bor. Not un­ap­peal­ing to Vi­en­nese, who have a soft spot for the shady and ugly un­der­neath their no­ble ve­neers, even if the clos­est we have to a port is the Danube Canal – which, frankly, re­ally isn’t that seedy. The same could be said for the newly opened restau­rant Spelunke in the News Tower across from Sch­we­den­platz, which does keep the lights dimmed to a min­i­mum but oth­er­wise has noth­ing in com­mon with the ill-re­puted es­tab­lish­ments its name ref­er­ences. In fact, it feels more like Bev­erly Hills or Mi­ami Beach, with tanned men in suits hav­ing ca­sual busi­ness meet­ings over drinks. The Amer­i­can vibe ex­tends to the ser­vice: Upon en­ter­ing, you’re wel­comed by a host­ess who brings you to your ta­ble – al­most un­think­able in Vi­enna.

The venue is cav­ernous, a sin­gle large room di­vided into dif­fer­ent sec­tions by a mas­sive bar that is placed dead cen­ter. Loom­ing over ev­ery­thing is an enor­mous street mu­ral that could have been taken straight from the Danube Canal next door but was ac­tu­ally cre­ated by pain­ter and graf­fiti artist Akira Saku­rai.

Space is an is­sue though. Group reser­va­tions get roomy booths, but if you’re com­ing with a date, chances are high you’ll be seated in the front sec­tion, where ev­ery inch of space is used to squeeze in as many two-per­son ta­bles as pos­si­ble. Fre­quent fly­ers might feel re­minded of econ­omy class – you won’t have to fight for an arm­rest, but mov­ing your chair back to stand up or sit down might spill the drink of the per­son sit­ting be­hind you.

CHICKEN FIN­GERS AND GRAF­FITI

To make up for the miss­ing legroom, the staff treat guests with lots of charm and, thank­fully, none of the de­tached über­cool­ness usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with hip, tongue-in-cheek eater­ies.

Let’s talk food: The menu of­fers a well-bal­anced va­ri­ety of Aus­trian clas­sics sprin­kled with Asian-in­spired starters like their to die for Tuna Tataki – fresh tuna fried for just an in­stant and then chilled in ice wa­ter, served with egg­plant cream and avo­cado. Most of the main dishes are com­fort food – rib­eye steak, pork chops, mac ‘n’ cheese – which don’t quite fit in the up­scale set­ting, but re­deem them­selves in spades, es­pe­cially their Knus­prige Keule (crispy drum­stick), a fancier name for fried and bat­tered chicken pieces.

The veg­e­tar­ian op­tions are more than de­cent: The fried cau­li­flower would be the meat­less pride of ev­ery Aus­trian grandma. To main­tain the har­bor flair, Spelunke makes a point of serv­ing fish on a stick as well as Fis­ch­ers Frites, a plate of crunchy sar­dines with spicy Ha­banero sauce. The por­tions are very gen­er­ous but do come at a price, con­sid­er­ing that the menu is more or less elab­o­rate Haus­man­nskost (Aus­trian home cook­ing).

Some­how, it seems that Spelunke couldn’t de­cide if it wanted to be shabby, chic or fancy and went for all three – but mirac­u­lously, the com­bi­na­tion works well, aided by good, un­com­pli­cated food and at­ten­tive ser­vice. Cool yet com­fort­able, trendy yet down-to-earth, Spelunke is miles from the ocean and doesn’t quite live up to the in­famy of its name, but it’s a lo­cal fa­vorite al­ready.

SPELUNKE 2., Taborstrasse 1 (01) 212 41 51 Mon-sun 11:00-2:00 spelunke.at

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