These days, in the land of waltz maestro Johann Straus, there are different “Tales from the Vienna Woods” as this Austrian capital opens its arms wider every passing year to the LGBT community, which otherwise faces slurs and indignity in many places in the world.
“We love to promote openness, have huge respect for tolerance, freedom and an instinct for equal rights for everyone,” said a diminutive but assertive Matthias, a 30-something resident.
Waiting for a tram to take her to her aunt’s place in the city’s ninth district, she said that she, like “any other Austrian of my age”, is proud of the “tight embrace the nation gives to gays and lesbians”.
“What is wrong with it ?” she asked apparently noticing the somewhat amused expression on my face. The question was a supplementary to the one on the gay scene in India. As I told her that India largely remained a homophobic country, she suggested I have a look at the gay hangouts in and around Vienna to “feel and smell the freedom”.
I decide to take the suggestion seriously and take a peek into an alternative world and lifestyle.
Other than escort services and gay dating websites, there is much in the city in terms of both variety and quality.
To begin with are the fitness centres where only gays are allowed. Be it the Linz Hafenstrabe, the Linz Leonding or the Happy For Premium, they offer enough to keep the LGBT community in shape. Then, the Kaiserbruendi sauna is hugely popular with both locals and tourists.
There are several cafes near the Naschmarket where one can sip some great Austrian coffee and also cuddle up, unmindful of unwanted gazes. For instance, Cafe Savoy, with its gigantic mirrors, a traditional Viennese coffee house dating to imperial times, attracts a lot of people from the gay community.
Fett+Zucker, which opened in the summer of 2011, has become a permanent fixture on the scene. This small espresso bar in the second district also offers outstanding cakes, with vegan and gluten- and lactose-free options.
Among the restaurants, Motto, Sixta and Santo Spirito stand out for varied reasons. The Motto is perhaps the ultimate hotspot in Vienna where everyone who is anyone meets for a drink in the stylised but very comfortable bar.
Sixta, a restaurant in the fifth district, combines rustic charm with modern accents. Santo Spirito stands out for classical music, red silk, long hours, good food, and a mixed clientele.
Located in a small side street right near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, it enjoys great popularity among gays and lesbians and so does Cafe Willendorf in the centre of Vienna, while the Turkis Rosa Lila Villa is the heart of the gay and lesbian scene focused on the Naschmarkt.
Among the bars popular with LGBTs are the Village bar, Felixx and Kisss bar, which serves not only drinks but also food, ranging from carpaccio to Kasnudeln (Carinthian cheese pasta) and the Kisss burger.
To round off the journey, there are also dozens of gay-friendly hotels dotting the city where one can let one’s hair down without bothering about peering eyes or questions on orientation.
Gay icon Conchita, known for her women’s attire and beard, has inspired a lot of people from all over the world to come to Austria and “immerse themselves in the gay abandon here”, explained Isabella Rauter, an official with the Vienna Tourist Board.
To that end, nobody is complaining.