Manhattans in Vienna
The Austrian capital’s “American bars” are the best place in Europe to drink like a Yankee
How American bars landed in Austria
There is, perhaps, no better place in the world to feel American right now than Loos American Bar in Vienna. This isn’t a theme bar. There’s no football on television or country music on the stereo. Rather, Loos is one of several American bars in the Austrian capital’s center, smoky sanctuaries dating back to the early to mid-20th century where you can sit at a mahogany bar and sip a no-frills Manhattan while a Dizzy Gillespie record plays. The first and best of Vienna’s American bars is Loos.
“In the 19th century, travelers kept coming to America from Europe,” says cocktail historian David Wondrich, author of
Imbibe! “They weren’t very impressed with the level of civilization we had here, but they really liked our drinks.” One of those travelers was legendary architect Adolf Loos, who lived in the States for a few years in the mid 1890s. In 1908, Loos decided to build a cocktail bar like those he had seen in cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago.
Loos paneled a 290-squarefoot shoebox space with mahogany, onyx, marble, and mirrors, and installed a stained-glass American flag above the door. Within a few years, other American bars, like Kruger’s American Bar, sprang up in the city. The bartenders at Loos mixed all the drinks we now consider classics—manhattans, sours, daiquiris, and martinis—until the space closed during World War II. It languished in the postwar period. Some musicians ran an underground club in the basement, while the barroom upstairs gathered dust.
In the 1980s, Viennese bartenders revisited the American bar concept. New York, New York and Barfly’s American Bar (both of which are still open today) introduced crystal glassware and dark wood interiors to a new generation. The renaissance was complete in the mid ’90s when a heavily inked nightlife vet named Marianne Kohn took over Loos American Bar. Adolf Loos had once worked for Kohn’s ancestors’ furniture company, and she restored every detail down to the green leather upholstery, coffered ceilings, and checkerboard tiles, and opened it again for business.
Sipping a martini in the soft orange glow of Loos’ barroom, it’s easy to feel like an insect happily preserved in amber. Aside from the stained-glass flag in the foyer, there isn’t much identifiably American about the place. In Germany, where I live, the american food section of the grocery store sells things like Marshmallow Fluff and Doritos. The American bar is, by contrast, discreet, handsome, urbane. Here is a place where it’s nice to feel identified as an American in Europe.
In Loos, I even started to feel a wave of patriotism. And just as I did, Kohn, who, now in her 70s, still sports a nose ring and a neck tattoo, warned me not to let the cocktails go to my head. Locals, she explained, have shed the bar’s “American” moniker. They just call it Kärntnerbar, after Kärntnerstrasse, the street it is located on.
what this area has to offer—please don’t jeopardize it,” said Scott Signori, chef-owner of Stonecat Café, on the region’s wine trail. A month after the January protest, Signori protested again, was arrested, and was sentenced to six months’ probation.
Signori and I were sitting at a table at Stonecat just before the opening of its 19th season. His partner, Daphne, who makes pastries and desserts for the café, was in and out of the kitchen. Daphne also got arrested—along with her mother, Crow.
“If you drive to Watkins Glen where the shale is exposed, every layer is weeping water all the time,” Signori said. “It doesn’t take a biologist or geologist to tell you the shale leaks. So the idea of storing liquid propane in that environment was absurd and dangerous to me. You can’t be a beautiful place that has thriving vineyards, dairies, and organic vegetables, and be the Northeast hub for liquid propane.”
Stonecat’s meat and produce all come from within 20 miles— rabbits and greens from Trumansburg, chicken and ducks from Romulus. It’s both a place where you can taste the landscape and a social hub for the people who work it. One of its regulars is Phil Davis, whose hand-planted 5 ½-acre vineyard supplies grapes for Damiani Wine Cellars. A farmer since “before he could walk,” Davis was one of the original Seneca Seven, the first round of people taken into custody when the proposal for the gas-facility expansion was announced. Four of them went to jail. He’s since been arrested two more times, and would do it again.
“This lake, I mean it’s my drinking water and my winery water,” he said. “This is precious.” The lake is also essential to the microclimate that allows the wineries to flourish here. “This is the deepest of the Finger Lakes. It lets us have a longer season to grow fairly consistent cabernet sauvignon and merlot, sauvignon blanc, cold-sensitive varieties you can’t get away with in other places.”
Outside the window the sun went down, turning the hills across the lake pink, then lavender. The lake shimmered. Water informs everything in this region. It runs through the woods, the pasturelands, down shale creek beds and waterfalls that people come from miles around to see. The whole area was once the bottom on an inland sea, the lakes later carved out by glaciers hundreds of feet thick. You can’t live here and not feel the power of all that blue depth.
This past May, Crestwood dropped its plans to expand natural gas. It was considered a victory for the people who have been fighting the project for seven years, although the company still has plans for propane storage, whose permits lie in the hands of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. The question now is: What will the state choose to support?
That night, leaving the restaurant, I looked out at the lake, sparkling in the moonlight like a deep blue jewel. Like Davis, I grew up here and worked on a farm. I love this land—the seasons, the blue hills, the earthy sweet smell of the poplars. I know there are two sides to every story, but to me this was putting something too valuable into the hands of people who haven’t acted responsibly in the past.
I remembered the day I got arrested. When the truck came, I looked up at the driver, thinking: This guy is just doing his job. I’m just trying to do what I think is right for my kids. I long for the day we don’t have to fight about this.
Someone started singing a song about keeping this water safe for our granddaughters’ daughters. I tried to sing, too, but the water rose in me and a lump closed my throat.
“This lake—it’s my drinking water and my winery water. This is precious.”
The 109-year-old Loos American Bar in Vienna (above and at left) languished for years before reopening as a tribute to American cocktail culture.