Café Zartl, 2012
Janove Ottesen might not be used to accompanying elderly breakfasters with piano tunes in a Vienna café. Yet Café Zartl, the location of his two-song performance on a January morning is known for its „open piano“, where guests can play some songs whenever they are up to. So, without too many curious looks from his audience, the singer of the Norwegian Kaizers Orchestra takes a seat at the piano in the center of the room. He laughs, says that he has to think of some more bar-like songs for this situation and soon plays the first chords „Drøm Videre Violeta“ from their new record „Violeta Violeta Vol. 2“. Janove’s voluminous voice and Norwegian lyrics sound trough the café and easily drown out the noisy coffee machine and clanking plates. Some people turn their heads, others just continue eating or reading the newspaper. „Bris“ from Kaizers Orchestra’s 2001-debut „Ompa til du dør“ is the second song of Janove’s performance, and it’s very likely the most powerful solo piano performance the café has seen in a while. Yet the audience seems still caught in Viennese morning lethargy. Honestly, no applause? The appreciators only appear when we’re done with the session, asking for the name of the performer.
It appears as if in Vienna the quality and charm of traditional coffee houses is measured in two ways: The first indicator of a high ranking is the quantity and prominence of artists, musicians, cabaret artists, writers or architects, who regularly visited the cafés, preferably around 1900 or in the interwar period. Secondly, the longer the interior hasn’t been changed and the more worn off it is, the better. Old school cafés therefore tend to be places were Vienna’s past glory is celebrated and conserved. Café Zartl is not the most popular example, but one that fits very well into this description. Opened in 1919 by Robert Zartl the café is located on a busy street crossing in Vienna’s third district. Famous regulars included the writers Robert Musil and Heimito von Doderer as well as artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. After severe damage from World-War-II bombings the café was reopened in 1945 and since then has experienced its up’s and down’s but never closed down. These days it’s a quiet, semi-busy place with traditional Austrian food and all coffee variations you’d expect. And yes, the furniture is worn off as well!