You probably already know about Viennese cafe culture, but you may not have heard about the little-known Heuriger--a unique style of east Austrian tavern with origins that go back more than 1,200 years.
In 1784, Emperor Joseph II passed a decree allowing all farmers and winegrowers in this region to sell their own produce (although he was only officially recognizing a tradition started in A.D. 795). Each winegrower would only open for business a few weeks at a time, ensuring that there was always an open tavern to be found somewhere. Heurigen that continue to operate this way are now called Buschenschanken (bushel taverns) because of the pine bushel above the doorway that tells you they're open. But most Heurigen can be enjoyed year-round, usually in the outer districts of Vienna.
My favorite Heuriger is a cozy inn called The Huber, in Vienna's 16th district (Die Huber; Roterdstrasse 5, 1160 Wien; tel. 01 4858180). Its bare wooden tables and long benches are typical of Heurigen, as are the waiters and waitresses that wear traditional Austrian costume; Lederhosen for the men, Dirndl for the women. But this is not a show put on for tourists--all the patrons are locals, and most know the owner by name.
Food is inexpensive and plentiful; beware the huge portions served in Heurigen--one portion of wiener schnitzel is more than enough for two people. Out of one portion consisting of seven schnitzels, we had to take three home (unlike most Austrian restaurants, in a Heuriger, it is perfectly acceptable to take food home). Heurigen also offer excellent table wine, usually served in an open carafe--a half-liter won't cost more than four euro ($5).
Heurigen are generally open from late afternoon until midnight and most have live Viennese music. In summer, sitting outside in the Schrebergarten is a treat. For the best views of Vienna, I recommend Weingut am Reisenberg (Oberer Reisenbergweg 15, 1190 Wien; tel. 01 320 9393) but it can get crowded weekends and most of the summer--reserve a table in advance. If it's too busy, you'll find the second best views of Vienna at Heuriger Leitner (Sprengersteig 68, 1160 Wien; tel. 01 480 0139).
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