Caffeine-fueled cities like Seattle and Melbourne may be some of the top-ranking destinations for coffee lovers, but Vienna might have all them beat.
How so? First, the Austrian capital’s distinctly formal coffee culture – a way of life for yesteryear’s philosophers and today's servers still donning white tuxedos – is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage-listed custom. Second, only in Vienna will you find an annual grand society event squarely devoted to its signature coffee culture.
I’m referring to the Kaffeesiederball (Vienna Coffeehouse Owners' Ball), a staunchly traditional affair in the palatial Hofburg Palace, where primped debutantes do choreographed numbers and guests in tuxedos and floor-length gowns floor-length gowns and tuxedos waltz the night away – all in celebration of the caffeinated, brewed drink. Vienna, considered “the ball capital of the world” with four hundred balls taking place in one winter season alone, still prides the “Coffee Ball” as one of the city’s most premier events, attracting more than 6,000 guests.
After experiencing the ultra-opulent event firsthand (which is open to both locals and tourists), I’ve provided a low-down on how to play the part at this Viennese soirée for the ultimate coffee lover.
First, you’d want to brush up on your waltzing moves. Elmayer, owned by the same family since 1919, is Vienna’s grand dame of dance instruction, and a lesson here from their helpful (and graciously patient) staff will give you a bit more confidence to join the hundreds of other dance pairs – all of varying experience – spinning about the main ballroom. It’s also handy to learn the quadrille, an even more complicated dance number done at the Coffee Ball once the clock strikes midnight.
Unless you’ve packed your floor-length gown or to-the-nines tuxedo in your suitcase, you're going to need to rent formal eveningwear outfit to enter the ball. The recently-opened dress shop Vondru provides a bevy of classic ball attire and accessories for men and women, and the tailors are on-hand to make sure every shoe, every dress and every tailcoat is fit to perfection.
Once you’ve completely gussied up for the evening’s ball, enjoy a fabulous pre-ball dinner at Park Hyatt Vienna’s The Bank Brasserie & Bar. Its soaring ceilings, marble and gold touches, and menu items like lobster ceviche and the foie gras-topped Rossini Burger surely match the sense of occasion.
Dinner is done and the ball’s festivities at the 2,600-room Hofburg Palace await. You can either walk, order a taxi, or go completely grand in a horse-drawn carriage and finally live out your Cinderella (or Cinderfella) moment.
Once you’ve made it inside the massive palace full of people in spiffy tuxes and Oscar-worthy ball gowns, head straight into the main ballroom to claim your ceremony viewing spot (unless you’ve bought a table).
Soon, the elaborate, orchestra-backed ceremony begins: the esteemed ball committee marches slowly from the ballroom entrance to their VIP seating; a ‘coffee goddess’ clad in a bronze gown and headdress commands the room; a dance troupe performs a spirited ballet number; an opera duo employ movement and affected vocals to convey the love of coffee; and a hundreds-strong legion of young adult debutants perform their waltz numbers for the finale.
Once the ceremony concludes, everyone can join in on the waltz in the ballroom. If you don't feel like joining in, there’s plenty of other hangout areas, lounges, and smaller dancefloors (with DJ’s) to explore in the gargantuan imperial palace.
The ballroom isn’t all nineteenth-century shuffling, either; there were definitely live jazz renditions of songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Alanis Morrissette, and even Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” played throughout the evening.
Hopefully you’ve stuck it out past midnight, as the quadrille dance is where the non-stuffy fun really begins. The highly involved group dance (also a nineteenth-century treasure) is a silly mess which might include galloping with your partner down the ballroom in between rows of dancers; human ‘tunnels’ chain – yes, even with a floor-length gown or black-tie outfit! – and a quadrille song tempo that increases so fast that collision and chaos is imminent. Plenty of laughs will be had.
All those moves on any given dancefloor at the ball will work up an appetite; for a traditional post-ball cure, head to any of the ubiquitous Viennese sausage stands like Bitzinger (open as late as 4 a.m.) for a hearty, traditional post-ball snack.
Want to partake in the world’s most elegant ode to coffee next year at the Hofburg Palace? The 62nd Kaffeesiederball takes place on February 22, 2019, with tickets starting at 150 euros (about $185) per person.
Where to Stay
The Park Hyatt Vienna is within walking distance of the grand Hofburg Palace (the host venue of the Kaffeesiederball) and feels just as opulent. Housed in the former hundred-year-old headquarters of Bank Austria, the centrally located five-star hotel has nearly 200 spacious and elegantly-appointed rooms and suites; a full-service spa with pool; the boutique Cafe Am Hof parlor serving coffee and sweets; and the aptly-named The Bank Brasserie and Bar, with soaring ceiling heights propped by marble columns.