Vienna * a gay hot spot

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Author: Ralf Strobl, CEO Kabane13 MediengesmbH, Manuel Simbürger,
freelance journalist
Last updated: January 2016
Vienna – a gay hot spot
Vienna is always worth the trip for gay travelers. Countless cultural and shopping
attractions shape life in Austria’s tolerant and open-minded capital, which is also home to a
vibrant gay scene.
From tradition to contemporary lifestyle, laid back to out-there, and historic to modern, Vienna has
something for everyone. The sheer diversity of the capital means one thing for gay visitors in
particular – the chance to be themselves. “I have never had a negative experience in Vienna
relating to my homosexuality,” explains long term Vienna resident and fashion designer Nhut La
Hong. “I am very open about my sexuality – and I get openness back.” Vienna-born soul singer
Sankil Jones continues in a similar vein: “Couples can walk down the street hand in hand without
having to worry about negative reactions.” Conchita Wurst, winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song
Contest, feels at home in Vienna: “No matter what bars and restaurants I go to, I’ve never
encountered any hostility or experienced rejection. For me, Vienna is a very gay friendly place.”
In actual fact, the Austrian capital is one of the most tolerant and gay friendly cities in anywhere in
Europe. LGBTI events are supported by the city council, and weeks before the Rainbow Parade
gets under way the capital’s trams are decked out with rainbow flags. “Over the past few decades
Vienna has changed massively for the better,” noted Holger “Miss Candy” Thor, who is Austria’s
best-known drag queen. “Gays and lesbians have a high standing in society, and people have a
completely open approach to the subject, in the truest sense of the word. The days of having to
hide away are long gone.”
Long gay history
Vienna also has a fascinating gay history. Various leading historic figures are said to have had
same-sex relationships, including Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736), who commissioned the
famous Belvedere palace as his summer residence and the impressive Winter Palace in Vienna’s
historic city center. Just ten minutes’ walk away from the Winter Palace is the historic Kaiserbründl
sauna, a meeting place for gay men as long ago as the nineteenth century – and to this day.
Among its prominent customers was no less a figure than Archduke Ludwig “Luziwuzi” Viktor
(1842–1919), Emperor Franz Joseph’s gay brother.
Homosexual architects Eduard van der Nüll (1812–1868) and August Sicard von Sicardsburg
(1813–1868) drew up the blueprints for the Vienna State Opera. Gay history buffs shouldn’t miss
out on the Sisi Museum at the imperial Hofburg which pays homage to the life, beauty and
mysteries surrounding Empress Elisabeth (1837–1898). A stroll through the Austrian capital’s old
town still throws up traces of Sisi, the Empress who was so far ahead of her time that she
espoused the virtues of feminism and fought for her emancipation – until her untimely death in
1898 in Geneva at the hands an assassin, making her a bone fide gay icon. Anyone looking to
delve a little deeper into Vienna’s gay history would be well advised to go on one of the historic
walking tours of “Vienna’s gayest locations” which are hosted at irregular intervals by the Viennabased culture center QWIEN.
From art and culture to shopping
“The Austrian capital has a variety of sights, restaurants and the kind of spectacular and constantly
changing nightlife for gays that other major European cities are hard pressed to match,” said scene
stalwart and bar owner Frank Liebetegger. The city’s arts and culture scene comprises countless
theaters, museums and opera houses – with the Burgtheater and Vienna State Opera warranting
particular mention owing to their top international standing. Meanwhile the MuseumsQuartier
complex has a distinctly young and hip vibe. Its numerous bars and exhibitions are a magnet for
gays and lesbians, particularly during the summer months. And in Löwenherz, Vienna can also
boast a book store which is exclusively given over to gay and lesbian literature.
Vienna’s longest shopping street, Mariahilfer Strasse is located right next door to the
MuseumsQuartier, with hundreds of stores selling fashion jewelry and accessories. Smaller original
shops can be found lining the side streets concentrated around Neubaugasse and the romantic
cobbled streets of Spittelberg, Where cult fashion boutique Tiberius has a well-established retail
presence. But anyone looking for a more luxury experience should head for Kärntner Strasse,
Graben, Kohlmarkt and the Goldenes Quartier in the city center.
Finally, a shopping trip can only truly be deemed to tick all the boxes if it culminates with a
melange and a slice of Sachertorte at one of the city’s countless coffeehouses. Naschmarkt also
comes highly recommended. “Stroll around Naschmarkt, and it’s not just the colors and aromas of
fruits, vegetables and spices that you notice,” explains historian and QWIEN president Andreas
Brunner. “It goes without saying that gay couples come here walking hand in hand to do their
weekend shop.” There is another aspect of Vienna’s legendary Gemütlichkeit or coziness that the
gay and lesbian community prizes. Familiar face on the gay scene Tamara Mascara sums it up
perfectly: “Vienna combines the coziness of village life with the openness of a cosmopolitan
Buchhandlung Löwenherz, Berggasse 8, 1090 Vienna,
Burgtheater, Universitätsring 2, 1010 Vienna,
Goldenes Quartier, Tuchlauben 3-7, Bognergasse, Seitzergasse, Am Hof, 1010 Vienna,
Kaiserbründl, Weihburggasse 18-20, 1010 Vienna,
Kohlmarkt, 1010 Vienna,
MuseumsQuartier, Museumsplatz, 1070 Vienna,
Naschmarkt, Wienzeile, 1060 Vienna,
QWIEN – Zentrum für schwul/lesbische Kultur und Geschichte, Grosse Neugasse 29, 1040
Schloss Belvedere, Prinz Eugen-Strasse 27, 1030 Vienna,
Sisi-Museum, Hofburg, 1010 Vienna.
Staatsoper, Opernring 2, 1010 Vienna,
Tiberius, Lindengasse 2, 1070 Vienna,
Winterpalais, Himmelpfortgasse 8, 1010 Vienna,
Vienna’s gay scene: dynamic and visible
“I often have gay friends come to visit from other countries and I show them Vienna’s vibrant gay
scene with pride,” says actor and entertainer Alfons Haider. When he officially “came out” in 1997
he was one of the first Austrian celebrities to do so. Alfons Haider is a big fan of Vienna’s gay
scene. And it’s easy to see why: over the past few years a young, dynamic and vibrant scene has
established itself in the city “which can hold up its head with pride in a comparison with the other
major European capitals such as London and Berlin,” notes the openly gay “Homophobia” director
Gregor Schmidinger. The city’s numerous bars present a distinctly self-assured front to their
patrons. Something that goes without saying for Holger “Miss Candy” Thor: “Vienna’s cosmopolitan
outlook has rubbed off on the local gay scene. Gays, and the whole gay scene, by extension, are
more visible than ever before.”
The majority of gay bars can be found on the Rechte and Linke Wienzeile, just a short distance
from the old town. “I like the way that the gay scene is part of the fabric of the city and not tucked
away somewhere,” comments soul singer Sankil Jones, “that really isn’t something that can be
taken for granted.” Laid back cafés sit comfortably alongside hip bars, cool discos, fetish joints and
trendy event locations. ““I just love letting my hair down on the scene,” confirms 2014 Austrian
European Song Contest entrant Conchita Wurst. “Proceedings always have something of a family
get-together about them.” Austria’s most successful YouTube star, the openly homosexual
columnist Michael Buchinger, is full of praise for the Viennese scene: “The Viennese are open, and
it doesn’t take any time at all to meet new people. I was welcomed with open arms from the very
first visit.”
Club nights and coffee houses
The Viennese scene is bursting with coffeehouses and bars. One of the figureheads is Café
Savoy, which was established in the nineteenth century – and built by a student of gay architect
August Sicard von Sicardsburg’s students. The two gigantic mirrors and impressive wall and ceiling
paintings set the scene for an enchanting journey back in time. It is a place where patrons of all
ages come to relax and flirt, with many people selecting the Savoy as the starting point for the long
party night ahead. Options include the nearby Mango Bar, which can safely claim to be the favorite
haunt of the younger crowd and is famed for its attractive waiters and brightly-colored cocktails.
Mango Bar is part of the “gay empire” built up by leading figure on the gay scene Frank
Liebetegger, who is also the man behind the Why Not disco, Felixx-Bar, Sportsauna and Villagebar. Liebetegger sees the capital’s scene as “more open and friendly than ever before. We are
really glad to see that younger and older groups are coming together more and more. Round here
people can be whoever they want to be.” While Felixx-Bar treats its patrons to excellent wines and
an overflowing cocktail menu, it’s the clientele at Village-bar that reads like a who’s who of the
capital’s gay scene.
Good times are guaranteed at Why Not, Vienna’s most popular gay disco, thanks to its trio of bars
and trendy dance floor. As an alternative, Vienna offers two or three different gay club nights
virtually every weekend, ensuring that there really is something to suite every taste. Pop fans and
party animals turn night into day at Ken Club, while queer:beat offers a captivating mix of indie
rock, electronic music and charts hits. The city’s top club nights include Circus with scene doyenne
Tamara Mascara, Meat Market (with resident DJs Scirox and Gerald van der Hint) as well as OMG
Society, which has charted its own course with cool visual effects, international DJs and a no party
pics rule. The idea that Vienna’s scene makes every effort to reach out to people outside the gay
mainstream is reflected in various club nights, including alternative music events like Fish Market,
the BallCanCan queer Balkan parties, bear night Pitbull, Malefitz at Künstlerhaus brut where
director Gregor Schmidinger “brings together art and trash and blurs the lines between different
sexual orientations.”
Kibbutz Klub at Club U is another one for those in the know. Serving up Israeli pop music, it adds
yet another dimension for the late night crowd to enjoy. Fans of classical music cannot afford to
miss Santo Spirito, a mix of café, restaurant and bar with predominantly gay male patrons. [lo:sch]
and cruising joint Hard On are an absolute must for anyone with a thing for leather. Sauna
devotees are in their element at the well-known Kaiserbründl (a heritage-listed historic oriental
bathhouse), Apollo City Sauna (with differently themed days), Römersauna (with Roman parties)
and Sportsauna. The latter is open round the clock on the weekends and its bar even offers
breakfasts. Outdoor fans should head for the nudist FKK zone at Toter Grund (also known as Gay
Beach) on the Danube Island.
Apollo City Sauna, Wimbergergasse 34, 1070 Vienna,
BallCanCan @ Opera Club, Mahlerstrasse 11, 1010 Vienna,
Café Savoy, Linke Wienzeile 36, 1060 Vienna,
Circus @ Arena Wien, Baumgasse 80, 1030 Vienna
Felixx, Gumpendorfer Strasse 5, 1060 Vienna,
Fish Market @ Grelle Forelle, Spittelauer Lände 12, 1090 Vienna,
Hard On, Hamburgerstrasse 4, 1050 Vienna,
Kaiserbründl, Weihburggasse 18-20, 1010 Vienna,
Ken Club @ Club Auslage, Lerchenfelder Gürtel 43, 16th district,
Kibbutz Klub, Club U, Karlsplatz Künstlerhauspassage Objekt U26, 1010 Vienna,
Fünfhausgasse 1, 1150 Vienna,
Malefiz @ brut, Karlsplatz 5, 1010 Vienna,
Mango Bar, Laimgrubengasse 3, 1060 Vienna,
Meat Market, check announcements,
Naschmarkt, Wienzeile, 1060 Vienna,
OMG Society @ Chaya Fuera, Kandlgasse 19-21, 1070 Vienna,
Pitbull Bear & Butch Clubbing, Club Titanic, Theobaldgasse 11, 1060 Vienna,
queer:beat, check announcements,
Römersauna, Rüdigergasse 2, 1050 Vienna,
Santo Spirito, Kumpfgasse 7, 1010 Vienna,
Sportsauna, Lange Gasse 10, 1080 Vienna,
Toter Grund, Donauinsel, Steinspornbrücke 2, 1220 Vienna,
Village Bar, Stiegengasse 8, 1060 Vienna,
Why Not, Tiefer Graben 22, 1010 Vienna,
Gay events: dance, party, reflect
Rainbow Ball: The Rainbow Ball at the Parkhotel Schönbrunn has carved out a niche for itself as
a classic fixture on the gay and lesbian ball calendar. This annual get-together is a smart affair that
plays out according to time-honored Viennese traditions, opening with a polonaise, followed by
waltzes, foxtrots and samba dancing. The celebrations are all in a good cause, With the proceeds
from the night going to Vienna-based homosexual initiative HOSI Wien. Jan 30, 2016,
Rose Ball: Anything the straight scene can do, the gay and lesbian scene can do better – much
better! The Rose Ball provides a queer alternative to Vienna’s Opera Ball. Held on the same night
as its legendary counterpart, it also maintains a strict dress code. But instead of the strains of a
traditional waltz, the dance floor at the Kurlsalon Wien echoes to the sounds of house and techno
music. Attending the Rose Ball is something of a political statement, with ballgoers doing their bit to
promote visibility and tolerance. The Rose Ball’s patron and host Miss Candy has managed to
successfully establish the ball as a Viennese institution. Feb 4, 2016,
Creative Ball: The Kreativball has come a long way since its low-profile beginnings – you have to
be quick these days because tickets for this event for the LGBTI community and their friends sell
out weeks in advance! Each year the ball follows a different theme to get ballgoers’ creative juices
flowing. Feb 5 & 6, 2016,
Diversity Ball: Staged by the equalizent society every year since 2008, the Diversity Ball is all
about enjoying life, respecting diversity and celebrating colorfulness. The event’s genius lies in its
ability to create new worlds. Celebrations at the Kursalon in Stadtpark go on until deep in the early
hours Apr 30, 2016,
Vienna Boylesque Festival: The first Vienna Boylesque Festival took place in 2014 – and
instantly proved to be a huge success. The two-day event is hosted by Austria’s only Boylesque
artist Jacques Patriaque, and focuses on Burlesque, Boylesque, Vaudeville and everything in
between. Visitors can look forward to an outlandish mix of humor, erotic dancing and music! May
18 & 20, 2016,
Life Ball: Held in the heart of the Austrian capital since 1993, the Life Ball is the world’s largest –
and most unconventional – AIDS charity event. The two-hour free opening ceremony on
Rathausplatz sets the time-honored traditions of classical Viennese ball culture in a fresh context
for a more contemporary audience. Afterwards, the 3,780 Life Ball ticket holders head inside City
Hall for a wild night of partying all in the name of a good cause. In addition to hundreds of helpers
working away behind the scenes each year, the event attracts the voluntary support of worldfamous personalities, artists and music acts. The profits from the Life Ball are put to work
supporting respected international partner organizations such as the Clinton Health Access
Initiative, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, amfAR – The Foundation for AIDS Research and
UNAIDS, driving forward various projects in the parts of the world hardest hit by the AIDS
epidemic. The Life Ball is skipping a year in 2016, for the first time since its inception. According to
organizer Gery Keszler the aim is to reinvent the ball from the ground up. 2017 will see the ball
return to its regular venue, City Hall. The Red Ribbon Celebration Concert and the First Ladies
Luncheon will take place in 2016 as usual.
Vienna Fetish Spring: The organizers of Wien in Schwarz (Vienna in Black) have their hands full
in spring with the Vienna Fetish Spring festival, which is held around Corpus Christi. Fetish
highlights include the presentation of the Mr. Leather Austria award. May 25- 29, 2016,
Vienna Pride and Rainbow Parade: For six days each summer Vienna Pride plays out in Vienna,
inspired by arresting slogans such as “Show your Face!” and “Born this way!” During this special
week the community celebrates gay pride and life itself, while working to improve visibility and
advance equal rights. The core of Vienna Pride is the Pride Village tent city on Rathausplatz. Its
packed program and full schedule of live acts has a wide appeal, reaching out to people outside
the community. Vienna Pride culminates with the Rainbow Parade, a huge mobile party and
demonstration which travels along Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard in the opposite direction to the
usual flow of traffic. These days the parade draws a mixed gay, lesbian and straight crowd of
more than 100,000 onlookers who come to join the party. Vienna Pride Jun 14-18, 2016, Rainbow
Parade Jun 18, 2016,,
Rosa Wiener Wiesn Festival: Rosa Wiener Wiesn, Vienna’s hugely popular gay and lesbian
answer to Oktoberfest will be back once again in 2016. Held on the Kaiserwiese meadow right in
front of the Giant Ferris Wheel, the colorful characters at this event proves that toe-tapping Alpine
rhythms, cold cuts, cheese boards and a spot of swinging in the aisles are not the exclusive
preserve of the straight crowd. Each year the entertainment is provided by drag queens, yodelers
and numerous VIPs – previous star guests include entertainer Alfons Haider and ESC winner
Conchita Wurst. Sep 30, 2016,
Vienna in Black There is more to the international leather and fetish meeting in Vienna (held
around the Austrian National Holiday on October 26) than the obligatory parties; it also features a
side program packed with related attractions. Hard On is the focal point and chief location, with a
traditional fetish brunch, a flea market and various other attractions among the main attractions.Oct
28-Nov 1, 2016,
It’s a legal thing – equal rights for everyone!
Vienna is something of a special case among the Austrian provinces when it comes to gay and
lesbian rights, having driven the pace of change in various areas such as civil partnerships and
foster care for several decades now. “Vienna City Council does everything within its power to fight
for equal rights for the gay and lesbian population,” explains Angela Schwarz of the Vienna AntiDiscrimination Agency, WASt. Schwarz sees confirmation of the city’s commitment to equality in
the level of support lent to events such as the Rainbow Parade and, above all, the Life Ball, which
takes place every year inside City Hall.
But this was not always the case. In 1768 Empress Maria Theresia introduced the Constitutio
Criminalis Theresiana, a unified criminal law that would see sodomy punishable by death and
outlawed all forms of homosexual activity for both genders. Under the reforms initiated by Emperor
Joseph II, in 1787 Austria became the first country in Europe to repeal the death penalty. However,
the crime of “unnatural sexual activities” would continue to carry a prison sentence of several years
for many decades to come. It was not until 1971 that homosexual acts between consenting adults
were legalized. Discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation was officially
prohibited by law in 2004.
On January 1, 2010 Austria introduced civil partnerships for same sex couples, a legal union which
is largely equivalent to civil marriage (and equal to marriage in terms of its tax and social security
implications). Here too, Vienna played a pioneering role: gay and lesbian couples have been able
register their civil partnerships at any of the Austrian capital’s register offices, with special locations
such as Schönbrunn Palace also an option from the outset. The civil union is recognized in all
countries where civil unions are permitted by law. “Vienna fought for a fair civil partnership right
from the start,” Schwarz confirms. A possible change in the law on marriage to include same sex
couples is currently under debate. Recent studies clearly demonstrate that the population is
currently way ahead of many politicians, with one Austrian daily newspaper reporting in 2013 that
fully 61 percent of Austrians were in favor of opening up marriage to same sex couples.
Homosexual foster parents have been part of the Viennese landscape since 1995, when the
capital became the first of the Austrian provinces to allow fostering for same sex couples. “We
have had the same experiences with gay and lesbian foster parents as we have with straight
couples – very good ones,” notes Martina Reichl-Rossbacher, head of the Municipal Department
11 - Vienna Youth and Family Offices adoption and fostering program. There are no precise
numbers as “it’s not something we count anymore,” she explains.
Joint adoption of biological children has been permitted in Austria since August 1, 2013. The start
of 2015 brought a major breakthrough in Austria when the constitutional court ruled that the current
bar on same-sex couples adopting non-biological children was unconstitutional. The ban will be
lifted on December 31, 2015. Vienna’s credentials as an open and cosmopolitan city can be seen
in various different areas, including a provincial law that states that homosexual couples should be
in no way discriminated against when it comes to allocating social housing. The process of
changing personal status for transgender individuals involves “significantly fewer bureaucratic
hurdles in Vienna than in other cities,” Schwarz confirms. As an employer, Vienna City Council
grants gay and lesbian workers all of the same legal rights as their heterosexual colleagues, a
move that extends to aspects such as care leave. Eva Götz, president of the Queer Business
Women association also singles out the affirmative action undertaken by the Vienna Economic
Chamber (WKW) together with the capital’s shopping streets, leading to “more and more
businesses presenting themselves as gay and lesbian friendly.” Headquartered in Vienna, Queer
Business Women is an independent association that serves to promote exchange on a business,
personal, economic and professional level between lesbians living and working in the city.
The work of Vienna’s Anti-Discrimination Agency for lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals
(WASt) is unprecedented. It supports NGOs and projects aimed at improving equality and visibility
for gays, lesbians, and transgender people. Education and schooling is another of WASt’s core
focuses. “We want gays, lesbians, and transgender people to feel at ease in Vienna,” Schwarz
concludes. Thank goodness Vienna really does do things so differently!
Vienna Anti-Discrimination Agency (WASt), Auerspergstrasse 15/21, 1080 Vienna, (German only)
Municipal Department 11 - Vienna Youth and Family Offices (MAG ELF), Rüdengasse 11, 1030
Queer Business Women, Alserstrasse 45/4c, 1080 Vienna,
Additional information on Vienna for gay and lesbian visitors is available at and