In 1906 the Kaiser Franz Joseph Lebens- und Rentenversicherungs-Anstalt (insurance company) moved into the newly-built premises at the same time as Café Korb moved into the ground floor where it still sits today. The emperor himself rocked up for the usual free bubbly and canapes.
The café was owned and operated by Amalie and Adolf Korb, who had not only been successful as restaurateurs but also as parents of one of the most famous sopranos and dancers of her time: Jenny Korb.
The complex around the initial insurance company main building was rebuilt around 1960. The new owners of the venue, family Widl, decorated the premises in the day’s fashion: functional early 1960s style. Much of the interior (like the wooden chairs, the Formica table-tops) is still the same as in the 1960s, with much love and effort going into maintenance and repairs.
Keeping in tradition with its beginnings under the Korbs, the café remained closely affiliated with artists and over time grew more and more into a hotspot of the scene. The photos on the walls are a reminder of the famous guests that enjoyed their melanges here: Sigmund Freud, Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller, and many Nobel Prize winners such as Elfriede Jelinek. Different from some other ones of the famous cafés in town, Café Korb still attracts a high percentage of locals.
While it is less likely to bump into a world-renowned writer or painter today than it was in the 60s or 70s, there are still many more or less famous artists from Austria and abroad frequenting this venue. Current owner Susanne Widl, is a well-known and much-loved artist in her own right, among others as stage and TV actor.
Even when I visited a couple of times end of October, the café’s beer garden (‘Schanigarten’) was still very popular, despite the cooler temperatures. In the basement a lounge was created in 2002 which serves as meeting and performance area for artists.
The waiters have a reputation of being even more Viennese than in most other places, meaning they might come across as quite abrupt. But they will share anecdotes and jokes with you, if and when they warm up to you and consider you worthy. I can certainly confirm that my waiter seemed to start out on the frosty side, but gradually became slightly friendlier (we never got to the story-telling stage, which is perfectly fine in my book).
The good man was back at my table with a menu as soon as he had led me to it. There were still many empty seats, so I did not feel bad taking my time screening the very extensive menu.
It was a mix of pleasure and torture going through the myriad of dishes, all of which sounded mouth-watering and almost sinfully enticing. I normally criticise Ms B for taking her time pondering options while I am starving in the seat opposite her. This time I had to ask the waiter to give me more time twice, before I was finally willing to cut the universe of options down to three courses I fully committed to.
For starters, I opted for Blunznradln at €11.50, as a main I ordered goulash for €12.80, and as dessert their widely celebrated apple strudel for €5.20.
It took more than 25mins for the starter to arrive, but I didn’t mind. The slices (‘Radln’) of blood sausage (‘Blunzn’, the word sounds hilarious to most of us German speakers when pronounced in Viennese dialect, no disrespect to the locals, just showing my appreciation of the very cool dialect) came with weapons-grade grated horseradish the like of which I had not tasted before.
I’m a cautious soul and only put a knife-tip of the white stuff onto a piece of one of the deep-fried, battered bits of sausage, and I nearly choked. My eyes swelled up and my ears started itching unbearably. But I am a fighter and gradually managed to cope better with every bite. In the end I was able to have twice the amount of horseradish per bite and still lived to tell this story. Mr B one – horseradish nil.
The goulash was exactly how I like it. Simple, straight-forward, rustic goodness in a bowl. Simple salt potatoes, the meat so soft it melted on my tongue. No fancy garnish or creative tweaks.
Unsurprisingly, the strudel, which many other cafés try to imitate unsuccessfully, hit the spot. It is served warm, very soft. Surprisingly light touch and feel, despite its actual density, and full of flavours. Not too sweet but also not too acidic. I liked the fact that it wasn’t smothered in tons of cream or custard, just dusted with a bit of powdered sugar.
Bonus tip: Check out the toilets, even if you don’t need to go. They are out of this world, design-wise.
I greatly enjoyed my visit and the amazing food. 5 out of 5 in my book. I’ll definitely be back many times during my next visits.