Man­hat­tans in Vi­enna

The Aus­trian cap­i­tal’s “Amer­i­can bars” are the best place in Europe to drink like a Yan­kee

SAVEUR - - Contents - BY BEN CRAIR

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.

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