Gay Travel in Vienna

Vienna is the undisputed capital of
gay and lesbian life in Austria. Of Vienna’s 1.7 million inhabitants, an
estimated 170,000 of them are gay or lesbian. Both in the past and in the
present, gays and lesbians have managed to play a prominent role in public life
and in the media.

Gay Generals and Imperial Love

The legendary warrior
Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736) is probably the most prominent homosexual in
Austrian history. But it wasn’t just on the battlefield that he was surrounded
exclusively by men; in private, he was said to prefer intimate relations with
members of his own sex.  Eugene built his
career and expanded his power base during the reigns of three emperors, and his
strong influence on Vienna remains visible to this day. His summer palace,
Schloss Belvedere, is an impressive baroque edifice which houses paintings from
the Middle Ages to the present day, including a multitude of works by numerous
Austrian artists of the modern period (Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka).

The last emperor
served by Prince Eugene, Charles VI (the father of Maria Theresa), is said to
have had an intimate relationship with Count Michael Johann Althan III, one of
the few members of the introverted and eccentric monarch’s inner circle. When
Althan died in 1722, the grieving emperor recalled that they had “loved each
other intimately 19 years long, in true friendship.” Under Charles’ reign,
Vienna flourished, the Church of St. Charles Borromeo (Karlskirche) was built,
Schönbrunn Palace and the Hofburg were enlarged, and numerous grandiose baroque
structures were designed by the most prominent architects of the day, Fischer
von Erlach (the elder and the younger) and Lukas von Hildebrandt.

The 19th Century

Somewhat more than
100 years later, in the second half of the 19th century, it was once again time
for frenetic building activity. During this period, Vienna grew to exceed a
million inhabitants and Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the construction of the
Ringstrasse, Vienna’s most glorious boulevard. The tragic end met by the
architects of the world-famous Vienna State Opera had to do both with the
Ringstrasse, the building itself and with their homosexuality. The gay
architect couple Eduard van der Nüll (1812-1868) and August Sicard von
Sicardsburg (1813-1868) began construction of the opera house before the street
level of the Ringstrasse had been officially established – with the fateful
consequence that the street ended up being one meter higher than they had
expected. The result, visible to this day, was that the State Opera turned out
a bit too low-slung, with the front ramps a little too short. Following open
public criticism of the architects’ error in judgment – to which Emperor
Francis Joseph supposedly added his voice – van der Nüll, who was depression-prone
to begin with, took his life on April 3, 1868. Barely ten weeks later,
Sicardsburg – his heart surely broken – followed him in death.

Today’s Scene

The center of the
gay and lesbian scene is the Rosa-Lila-Villa on Linke Wienzeile. Known locally
simply as “Villa”, it first opened its doors in 1982 and was run by a dedicated
a handful of Viennese gays and lesbians. Today, numerous gay, lesbian, and gay
and lesbian organizations are headquartered here. Services include information
and advice. In the foyer of the building tourists and locals alike can browse
flyers, magazines and announcements of gay and lesbian life in the city. Café
Willendorf on the ground floor of this gay and lesbian institution is a
pleasant place to while away the hours in a great atmosphere, enjoy one of the
many vegetarian dishes on the menu or sit at the central bar.

The lion’s share of
gay and lesbian hangouts is situated near the Rosa-Lila-Villa, along Linke
Wienzeile and Rechte Wienzeile. Friends meet at the time-honored Café Savoy for
a “Melange” coffee or a “G’Spritzter” particularly at the weekend or after a
trip to the nearby Naschmarkt; young gays up for cocktails go to the Mango Bar.
Felixx is an upmarket alternative on the gay café and bar circuit. At Village
Bar gays get together with friends of all ages to savor the easy going
atmosphere. During the daytime, Café Berg with its adjoining gay and lesbian
bookshop Löwenherz is a popular place to meet. The doors of the
well-established Eagle Bar Vienna and the modern, exceptionally appointed Sling
are open until deep in the night for the late night crowd.

Alongside Café
Willendorf at the Rosa-Lila-Villa, there are several restaurants nearby
offering fine food to their gay and lesbian guests. For years now, Motto has stood out from the
masses as a perennially popular haunt where a particularly wealthy and
attractive clientele can meet up. The chic interior is only outshone by the exceptionally
good-looking staff, who count an as then unknown Helmut Lang among their alumni.
Jude Law is a recent A-list patron. Operator Bernd Schlacher’s burgeoning
restaurant and catering empire now includes such luminaries as Kunsthallencafé,
Halle im MuseumsQuartier and thespectacular Motto am Fluss inside the Wien-City
boat terminal on the Danube Canal. All of the restaurants and bars have one
thing in common: every single one is an out-and-out hit with gay men.

Gugg, another star of
the new crop, is the club restaurant of the highly politically active Hosi Wien.
Alongside group meetings and get-togethers it also runs a café where visitors
can meet qualified contacts in a relaxed setting during advertised opening
hours. The first district’s Santo Spirito is one of a kind, and undeniably one
of Vienna’s most distinctive establishments. Its gay and heterosexual clientele
are treated to unforgettable evenings of good food and exquisite wines, all set
to a background of classical music.

Hard On, the Leather
& Motorbike Community Vienna (LMC, est. 1985) created a new bar after
leaving [lo:sch] in 2009. It quickly established itself as a popular haunt on
the Vienna gay fetish scene and is the location for Wien in Schwarz (Vienna in
black) – an international event which has already become a permanent fixture on
the scene – as well as the newer sister event Vienna Fetish Spring. The leather
and fetish bar known for many years as [lo:sch] has been run by the Association
of Motorbike & Leatherwear Friends Austria (MLF) as Club-Losch since 2009.
Club-Losch has its very own club catering to all preferences and hosting
frequent events.

Anyone who prefers to
meet the like-minded out of doors during the summer months can – by day – head
for the nude area in the “Toter Grund” section of the Danube Island, a
recreational area very popular among the Viennese, and – in the evening –
venture a walk through Rathauspark. And it’s not just during the cold winter
months that the Kaiserbründl mens’ sauna (a listed oriental bathhouse) and the
Sportsauna, which is popular with younger people, keep the steam turned up for
hot and sweaty action. Anyone who likes letting their hair down should check
out the monthly parties at the Sargfabrik. Since 1997 the bathhouse there has
been a popular venue for gay men. It is geared towards men looking for a place
to relax, and who find the classic gay sauna too sex-oriented. The ideal
location for gay men who like to go to the sauna, for a sauna.

Party, Party

Why Not, a popular inner
city disco which has occupied the same location for more than 30 years is a
true pioneer of Vienna’s gay dance club scene – and is still full to bursting
on a regular basis. Known locally simply as “Not”, these popular Friday and
Saturday night parties belt out all the classic gay anthems in a set list rich
with hit tunes from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and present day.

Fronted by Vienna’s
best known drag queen, Miss Candy, for over 20 years now, Heaven is an absolute
institution on the city’s club circuit. The Heaven brand’s packed agenda
includes weekly club nights, monthly mega events and of course the Rosenball at
Palais Auersberg which is held on the same night as the world-famous Opera Ball.
Although not really a ball if you go by the strictest definition of the word, the
Rosenball is a red letter day on the capital’s party scene, providing gay and
lesbian party people with a queer alternative to its more conservative
counterpart. Every now and again Miss Candy and her team take the Heaven parties
back on to the stage at one of the city’s numerous clubs.

G.Spot takes place
on the first Friday of the month, and is geared mainly to lesbians but is also
open to gays. The music program features alternating musical themes such as
Electronic, Tribal and Techno, providing welcome relief from the
run-of-the-mill gay and lesbian disco fare. At queer:beat gays, lesbians and
friends can dance away to indie rock, electronic and chart music. Four DJs on
two dance floors pump up the sound for the young, dance-addicted guest joined
by optical treats in the shape of visual artists. Up! at lutz – der club brings
North American big city music to the Austrian capital and is a great insider
tip. FMqueer is the brainchild of a group of music and culture loving gays and
lesbians who met at radio FM4 and now hold cool parties at irregular intervals
exactly to their own tastes.

Arena – a huge complex and familiar face on
Vienna’s club scene – plays host to The Circus every three months. Probably the
capital’s biggest gay night, it even attracts cross-border clubbers from neighboring
countries. The FSK organizers sporadically stage their event at Pratersauna,
one of Vienna’s most in-demand locations. This former sauna club in the Prater park
provides an interesting alternative to the capital’s city center locations,
particularly during the hot summer months. Both of these large-scale events
draw in the crowds with a mix of house and a smattering of pop and German
Schlager alternatives, all very easily accessible using the 24-hour weekend
underground service.

The OMG Society’s new location, Chaya Fuera,
brings with it an end to their invitation-only policy – a move which has been much
appreciation by gender-free, queer, gay, straight, and ‘whatever’ partygoers. Once
a month, DJs ensure party atmosphere into the early hours with premium club
house on the main and restroom floors, and in contrast to the newfound
openness, there’s also a men only area.

Amongst the movers
and shakers on the Vienna party scene, Pitbull – Bear & Butch Clubbing is
definitely one of the most exciting and promising nights. Once a month, “real
men” meet guys on the lookout for someone new at the Pi Club. The music is all
about heavy bass and the mood is heady. An absolute must, and not just for stout
bearded men in plaid shirts.

Another well-established
recent addition is the Meat Market party series. The organizers pick the city’s
coolest locations for their parties which are aimed at clubbers that like to
dance long and hard. The Badeschiff, a converted barge moored on the Danube
Canal, is Meat Market’s venue of choice although it has been known to call in at
Volksgarten too from time to time. Genre: techno and electro.

The Lesbian Scene

Vienna’s lesbian
scene is significantly smaller than its gay scene, but here too there are
well-established offerings. A popular fixture since 1977 is the Frauencafé.
Founded in the 1970s by a feminist collective and then lovingly and faithfully
managed by a sole woman, this small but exclusive women only (transgender
welcome) café is now headed by a group of committed lesbians possessing plenty
of experience in the gastro and cultural scene. The Frauenzentrum Bar, known to
regulars simply as the “FZ”, complements Vienna’s female and lesbian bar
culture with recurring fests and events. Women wanting to hit the dance-floor
go to the Saturday disco at FZ where there is plenty of space to dance
(sparsely furnished) and a good atmosphere and music for minimal admission.
Despite the modern interior, lipstick lesbians may feel a little out of place
here.

One of the oldest
clubs of the scene is Café Willendorf in the Rosa Lila Villa which has become
especially popular with lesbians in recent years. It offers excellent cuisine
and in summer a cozy bar in the inner courtyards is an idyllic haven for guests,
but make sure you reserve in advance to avoid disappointment. Women’s parties
take place at irregular intervals – organized together with the counseling
center for lesbians located in the same building. Female patrons feel right at
home at Marea Alta, a friendly women’s bar in nearby Gumpendorfer Strasse. The
clientele is young and trendy, and the location is a real insider tip.

A perfect destination for party lovers is Las Chicas
Frauen Clubbings. The night has attracted a devoted fan community and is now
resident at S-Club Vienna. Run by women for women and their male and female
friends, Labr!s is a trendy  bar-cum-club
in Vienna’s seventeenth district which hosts special events such as karaoke and
club nights.
Other haunts not purely lesbian, but
nevertheless frequented particularly well by women, are club events g.Spot, FMQueer
and Café Berg.

Culture

Retaking its
prominent position on the gay and lesbian program after a break of a few years
is the Festwochen Schamloser Kultur (Shameless Entertainment Festival). Georgette
Dee, the Geschwister Pfister and Margaret Chou are amongst the array of
well-known artists on the lineup. The queer film festival identities
takes place every two years and enjoys a particularly strong following.
Centrally located cinemas combine to host a varied program alongside a packed
series of fringe events for the enjoyment of film fans.

All these themed
offerings shouldn’t, however, obscure the fact Vienna offers an immense range
of cultural, culinary and shopping experiences that aren’t specifically gay and
lesbian in character. The major cultural institutions, including the State
Opera, Burgtheater, Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts, with its
newly opened Kunstkammer) Albertina, Belvedere, and the MuseumsQuartier vie for
visitors’ attention, as do the avant-garde offerings of small exhibitions and
cellar stages. Shopping on Kärntner Strasse and Graben has a homo-factor nearly
as high as that of Mariahilfer Strasse, which lies in close proximity to the
scene – and it goes without saying that openly gay and lesbian guests can feel
quite welcome at the city’s “normal” restaurants, inns and wine taverns.

Vienna Travel