I like to think I would have been a Beatnik had I been born and in my 20s in the 1950s. On further reflection, the more realistic version of the 20-something Beatnik me would probably have been limited to a black roll neck, black capri pants, cigarettes, black coffee and sitting around cool cafés in San Francisco writing in a tatty notepad, Beatnik Lite. In the 2010s, Vienna with its seemingly decades-unchanged cafe culture is my best hope for living out my latent Beatnik.
For my third ever trip to Vienna, a chilly November, I packed for cold weather, sensible warm boots, coat, gloves and hat. Beatnik fail #1.
Black roll necks have not suited me since I was roughly 22, ergo I no longer attempt to buy or wear them. I’ve never worn Capri pants, I’ve just seen Audrey Hepburn looking super cool wearing them. I had neither the top nor the bottoms necessary. Beatnik fail #2.
I gave up smoking in my early 20s and I am still a very tut-tutty ex-smoker. I was reminded how much I hate the smell of smoke, especially in a café or food environment, while sitting in a smoky cafe sporting an uncool disapproving frown and the occasional pathetic “yuck, smoke” cough. Beatnik fail #3.
Cool jazz. I’d forgotten about that. I do try to like “cool jazz”, I just … Beatnik fail #4.
Diet of black coffee, cigarettes and LSD … reality check. Beatnik fail #5.
You get the idea, my inner Jack Kerouac aspirations were fading fast and I was feeling more un-20s, uncool and out of place than I could bear.
But then I looked around the cafe I was actually trying to be cool in, Cafe Jelinek. The smoke-stained ceiling, peeling wallpaper, vintage posters, old furniture, stove heater, daily newspapers hung from wooden rods, wonkily hung photos in mismatched frames; it was all so fabulously 1950s/’60s. Yet this was now a non-smoking café, there was no jazz playing, patrons varied from young to old and trendy to frumpy and we all looked like we fitted in. As for breakfast … ahhh, my breakfast was perfect.
I love that café. I could have sat there all day, people-watching, writing, eating. Vienna does step-back-in-time cafés and restaurants really, really well. I was in the environment I had envisaged, wearing the clothes I felt most comfortable and warm in and about to devour the kind of food and drink that makes me smile, in fact beam. I felt anonymous, relaxed and enormously happy. I even wrote in my notebook; see, proof of my inner Beatnik.
As for breakfast, about which this post was intended to solely be about, egg, cheese, charcuterie, a crusty white roll, orange juice and tea; I can think of nothing else I could want more for breakfast, then or indeed as I write this and look at the photo …