Brawling and Boozing in Vienna’s Bare-knuckle Dive Bars

Only a pig drinks alone.
  1. Some of the saltiest old dives in the world can be found in Vienna.
  2. There’s a bar for every breed of thrifty alcohol enthusiast.
    You’ll find nothing but hard liquor at the “Branntweiner.” The same goes for beer at the “beisln”, or wine at the “weinstuben.”
  3. Bar owners rule their establishments like little fiefdoms. Disagreements usually end in fistfights.
  4. For decades, these bars teemed with working-class Viennese grabbing a quick beer or three over lunch.
  5. But now, with their elderly patrons beginning to die off, the dive bars of Vienna are also facing their final days.
  6. Journalist Clemens Marschall used to sweep the streets outside these popular drinking spots, and he was fascinated by their “rough spirit.”
    In 2012, he began a project with photographer Klaus Pichler to document the dwindling number of dive bars.
  7. Pichler could also sense that an era was ending.
    “It is a part of ‘old’ Vienna [that] is about to die out,” he said, “a time of working-class people being proud of being working-class people, a time of quick beers at lunch break, of shady crooks acting as gentlemen, of hard-earned nicknames and human legends with strange habits. … Now it just exists in stories and a few places where one can get a feeling of how those times might have felt.”
  8. Their book, “Golden Days Before They End”, is a celebration of the unique culture of these Viennese institutions — but it’s also a eulogy for the human casualties of economic progress.
    “For some people, these bars are literally the last shelter and much more than just drinking places,” says Marshall. “[T]his is their family where people still support each other in their way. If those places are all gone, what are they gonna do?”