Our 1994 "Hotel of the Year" hasn't lost a step. The Altstadt retains all the endearing charms that first attracted us to it: Art Nouveau decor, pleasant guestrooms, and, most of all, owner Otto Wiesenthal's efficient but guest-friendly management style.
This is a hotel blessed with great "bones," a wonderful building from a long-gone era whose legacy includes wide corridors, squeaky old wooden floors, high ceilings and soaring windows.
The Altstadt's spacious and inviting "Red Salon" is its gemütlich heart. Here, on a late winter afternoon, guests warm themselves with hot drinks by an open fire while looking out over the roofs of Vienna to the neighboring Church of St. Ulrich. The room works equally well for a nightcap and, next morning, as a light and airy breakfast room.
The 29 guestrooms, no two alike, have been carefully decorated in a minimalist Art Nouveau style that includes halogen lighting and well-chosen modern art. Every room comes with a telephone in both bed and bathroom, master light switches, cable TV with CNN, and a selection of complimentary toiletries.
Added last year was a new floor of rooms including three new suites.
A capable and accommodating staff will see that your early-morning taxi to the airport is on time, arrange for opera or concert tickets, and recommend off-the-beaten track restaurants in a variety of price categories.
The Altstadt's location, outside the Ring, might be a drawback for some, but others will enjoy life in an urban neighborhood of interesting shops, good restaurants and few tourists. The Zentrum is only 15 minutes on foot or five minutes by underground. In an expensive city, this hotel is a remarkable value.
Daily Rates: Singles from about $120, doubles from about $146, suites from about $183
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 17/20
Starlight Suites Hotel Salzgries Vienna
This hotel is part of a small local chain of business-oriented hotels that have sprung up in the last five years. Owner Dieter Jbstl seems to have developed a winning formula: find a centrally located old building with an historical exterior in a tranquil street, fill it with a few dozen tastefully-decorated suites, and then offer them at a comparatively low price. The results have been impressive.
The Hotel Salzgries is on a quiet but central street of imposing turn-of-the-20th-century façades in Vienna's Innenstadt. The building is entered through a massive, antique oak door that flings open automatically. The entrance and lobby retain the lovely stucco ceiling work, but everything else is stylish and modern. The high ceilinged lobby, which doubles as bar and breakfast room, is decorated in blue and slate gray, with marble accents and leather chairs.
A glass elevator rises to short hallways that connect the suites, each of which comes with a relatively spacious living room and bedroom, both with phone and TV. The former is attractively decorated with a chrome framed royal-blue leather lounge set, large corner desk, and a stylish bar with stainless steel sink, microwave, and complete coffee service.
Guestrooms have double beds with thick white linens, gold-hued bedspreads, retractable reading lamps, smallish open closets and broadly patterned curtains in gold, green and blue. The sparkling white bathrooms are separated into two rooms; one has the sink and the other the toilet plus either a bath or shower.
Other hotel amenities include a free sauna and three-machine exercise room.
This is the best of Vienna's three Starlight Suites hotels and a good choice for visitors who prize space and modern comforts over traditional Viennese décor.
Daily Rates: Singles from about $165, doubles from about $105. Breakfast is an additional $15, though you can do better at a nearby coffee house.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 17/20
This 120 year-old hotel is operated by the Schick family, who also own the Am Parkring, Erzog Rainer, Capricornio and City Center. The family's other hotels have some unique attractions—for example, the view from the sky-high Am Parkring—but the Stephanie is still the best. It offers an excellent location across the Danube canal in the lively and somewhat trendy 2nd District, a short walk from the city center.
Although over a century old, the Stephanie stays looking fresh and clean with regular renovations and refurbishments. The façade, with its lights, pillars and striped banners, looks something like a Mississippi steamer. The lobby strives for a modern version of traditional elegance, with marble floors, beveled mirrors, dark wood, brass fixtures and leather sofas, all illuminated by a myriad of sparkling halogen lights. A few antiques add a touch of gravitas to the lobby, especially the massive museum-quality Augsburg wardrobe and the washbasin of the hotel's namesake, Princess Stephanie, wife of Rudolph and the forgotten victim of Mayerling.
Breakfast and all other meals are served in an imperial dining room or, during the warmer months, in the pleasant tree-shaded courtyard.
Accommodations are squirreled away off very long hallways. All offer traditional design with a modern twist, though there are a number of versions, some more dated than others. The clean baths are decorated in flat gray tiles, and offer a mix of bath or showers.
The old-fashion staff is formal, but obliging, making the Stephanie a good—and more Viennese—choice.
Daily Rates: Singles from about $130, doubles from about $155
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 12/20
Hotel Mercure Josefstadt
Although part of the French hotel chain, the Josefstadt manages to retain an owner-operated atmosphere. Instead of the Mercure's flashy Eurodesign, the Josefstadt is a charming hostelry in a baroque manor house located on a quiet cobblestone street in one of Vienna's favorite neighborhoods. The Vienna English Theatre is next door, the restaurant-rich Josefstadt district surrounds, and the Rathaus and Ring are just a short walk away.
Guestrooms are spacious and tastefully decorated with a light classical touch. Most have parquet floors, dark wood furniture, rich fabrics, and brass chandeliers dangling from high ceilings. A few come with small kitchenettes.
While the staff might not be very numerous or experienced, they are remarkably friendly and do their best to make one feel at home.
Daily Rates: Singles from about $111, doubles from about $155. Rates do not include breakfast; try the nearby Café Eiles or Café Rathaus.
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 12/20
This longtime Gemütlichkeit favorite continues to impress. It certainly has one of the friendliest staffs in town as well as pocket-friendly rates. The location is almost unbeatable: in a tall, attractive turn-of-the-last-century building overlooking the Neuemarkt, where the emperors' hearts are buried, and the Kärntnerstrasse, Vienna's most elegant and popular promenade.
The Aviano occupies the top two floors and is reached by a poky little elevator that can handle only one request at a time. All rooms are attractively draped in a commercial, classical style, though the best are on the lower floor and have high ceilings and the original wood- and stucco-work. Ask for Numbers 302, 303 and 304, which overlook the street rather than the less interesting courtyard (the rooms are high enough that street sounds are not a problem). Number 301 is small, but has a nice view.
Daily Rates: Singles from about $85, doubles from about $130, junior suites from about $140
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 18/20
Hotel Römischer Kaiser
Though this hotel benefits by comparison with its rude neighbor (see below), it is a winner in its own right. Over the years, Gemütlichkeit has had numerous pleasant experiences with this beautifully located Alt Wien charmer; the welcome has invariably been warm and the staff helpful and efficient.
The bonus is that over the last two years the Römischer Kaiser has undergone extensive renovations and is better than ever. The maroon- and ivory-toned lobby and breakfast room have been expanded and refurbished, and the guest quarters enhanced.
Guestrooms have been refreshed with striped silk fabrics accenting the carved ivory-toned furniture. We prefer the newly renovated Biedermeier rooms with cherry-wood wall panels framing rich silk insets. Good choices among the new rooms include the classically decorated room Number 9 and the Biedermeier rooms numbered 17, 34, and 43 (the latter is on the top floor and a bit lower priced.)
The Kaiser is for visitors who want a small hotel with a touch of imperial Vienna.
Contact: Hotel Römischer Kaiser Annagasse 16, Vienna A-1010, tel +43/01/512 77 51 0, fax +43/01/512 77 51 13
Daily Rates: Singles from about $138, doubles from about $175
Rating: Quality 15/20 Value 16/20
Hotels to Avoid
(Editor's Note: For the second time in 10 years, a scheduled review of the Hotel Mailbergerhof, located on the same cobblestone street as the Römischer Kaiser, had to be scrapped because its management refused us access. We can only conclude they are not interested in North American guests.
Worse was the Best Western Hotel Tigra where the reception staff kept swearing under their breaths about customers and fellow staff members. These are two hotels to avoid.)