„Central is not a coffeehouse like any other – it’s a philosophy.“
In his “Theorie des Café Central” (Theory of Café Central), Viennese dramatist and essayist Alfred Polgar (1873-1955) gives a detailed insight into the nature and essence of ‘Centralists’, as Café Central’s regulars were known. A number of famous personalities regarded this place of tranquillity, upheaval, cigars, coffee, chess and billiards as their home.
They held court at hotly contested regulars’ tables, notable names including Polgar, Loos, Werfel, Hofmannsthal, Alternberg, Musil, Kraus, Kuh, Schnitzler, Zweig, and a few revolutionaries to boot – Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin.
As Alfred Polgar put it so fittingly: “A proper Centralist, locked in his coffeehouse, has the feeling of being cast out into the harsh world, exposed to strange coincidences, anomalies and the cruelties of the unknown.” “Café Central is located below Vienna’s line of latitude, on the meridian of loneliness. Its inhabitants are mainly people whose misanthropy is as strong as the craving for people who want to be alone, but also want company as they do so.”
Naturally, this aura of intellectual exhilaration had a magical effect on the ladies, so every now and again a heart was destined to be broken. One such belonged to Peter Altenberg, who had idolised the wife of Adolf Loos, Lina.
In the lulls between heated debates, out came the chess boards. The play was of the highest quality: Alfred Polgar was a dreaded opponent and defeating Leo Trotsky (alias Herr Bronstein) was a rare and scarcely believable honour.
Peter Altenberg can still be found in Café Central to this day – although only as a papier mâché figure. He sits next to the entrance, casting a rather grim, yet curious eye over guests as they arrive.
Herr Jean (Johann Czerny), a waiter at the Central, was just as famous as his former regulars. He knew everything there was to know about everything, but was rather tight-lipped. He even helped out the odd Centralist who was strapped for cash – but only if they were “someone”. After all, he himself was “someone”.
There are so many stories to tell, but let’s finish off with the words of Alfred Polgar: “It’s a coffeehouse, take everything on balance. You’ll never come across another place like it.”