A beloved, albeit ambivalent, saying about Vienna goes: “When the world ends, I’m heading to Vienna, everything there happens 50 years later.” Actually, the jury is out on whether the original statement predicted it would take Vienna 10 or 50 years longer to end and whether the Austrian who declared it was the composer Gustav Mahler or the satirist Karl Kraus. Regardless of who the sage was, and however long Vienna would need to catch up with the rest of the world, it is exactly this saying that came to mind yesterday evening while dining at the Pfarrwirt.
What you won’t see when you visit the convenient online-reservations section of Pfarrwirt’s professionally done website is any indication that this restaurant has a smoking and non-smoking section and has reserved the superior seating for the friends of Phillip Morris. The reservation form poses all the necessary questions EXCEPT a preference for smoking or non-smoking.
In fact, nothing, NOTHING, on the carefully crafted website, complete with a gallery of room-by-room photos, gives any visual or written indication that your dining experience will begin by navigating through a hanging cloud of fumes to arrive at the non-descript back room sectioned off for non-smokers. Assuming, of course, you are lucky enough after-the-fact to secure a non-smoking table. (Unfortunately, we weren’t).
Immediately upon detecting (smelling) our dire reservation mistake two minutes after being seated at our first charming table, the staff was professional enough (or accustomed to such last-minute requests by unpleasantly surprised guests?) to swiftly re-situate us to an alternative table directly outside of the glassed-in, far smaller, non-smoking section (which, not surprisingly, was full). This new table was where hope went to die. Instead, of counting our losses and high-tailing it out of there, we recklessly remained seated and ordered, falsely believing that the two bouncing, bright-eyed 6-month olds at each of the tables next to us would guarantee a smoke-free evening.
Ten feet away, three perniciously determined nicotine addicts worked their tobacco-stained way through enough Marlboros to make up for every non-smoking diner present.
The Pfarrwirt boasts that it is Vienna’s oldest restaurant. Nestled in an enchanting, cobble-stoned square beside a picturesque church more than seven centuries (!) old, I don’t doubt that it’s true. The whole locale oozes in so much Old-World charm, you want to bundle it up and preserve it on the front cover a Christmas greeting card. Assuming, of course, that you don’t mind if the golden-winged cherubs wishing you “Good Cheer” all have Pall Malls dangling from their pouty, angelic lips.
When you go out to dinner, and particularly when you are entertaining guests from abroad, you really want three things from your restaurant of choice: 1) savory meals (and quality wine) 2) professional staff and; 3) an atmosphere that imbues you with the sense that everything has come together in effortless perfection.
Pfarrwirt achieves the first two of the three. The food was good (not great but good – though the chocolate mousse was great), the wine selection okay, the staff attentive but not overbearing (though when I kindly suggested a smoking/non-smoking button option on the website, our waiter seemed to imply it was my mistake for not mentioning my preference in the “Your message to us” box at the end of the page), but when the place reeks of cigarette stench so stifling that every non-smoking diner feels asphyxiated, no stretch of the imagination can describe the dining experience as “imbuing a sense of effortless perfection coming together.” In fact, if you venture to close your eyes in an attempt to grant them a temporary break from the stinging fumes, rather than the fine aroma of Schnitzel inspiring illusions of a visit to one of the city’s best restaurants, the pestilent odor of Lucky Strikes conjures up images of a fenced-in courtyard of a high-security prison facility. With main courses ranging in price from 12 to 30 Euros, you expect a high quality dining experience that will be impossible for Pfarrwirt to ever achieve as long as it persists in allowing a nicotine haze to permeate its air, penetrate its food, and invariably taint what-could-have-otherwise-been a (positively) memorable experience.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but it ain’t nearly good enough. In fact, in this case, it was highly disappointing.
For a restaurant that once had a smoking section and then decided it was time to go completely smoke-free, check out a local favorite – the Schöne Perle. No, it is not Vienna’s oldest restaurant and it does not look so quaint that it belongs on a Christmas card, but you will be guaranteed good food, good service, and a smoke-free atmosphere. (Reservations recommended). Save room for the Susi Torte for dessert. Decadence embodied. Usually one serving with forks for everyone is the way to go!