The first coffee house in Europe

The “hot pleasurable beverage” began its journey, it couldn’t be anywhere else, in Italy where the first European coffee house opened its doors in Venice in 1647. As “flavours for the brain, food of reason and a means of sobriety”, the success of the jet black hot drink is primarily associated with the social rise of the middle classes in Europe, which has always appreciated coffee in all of its forms.


Finally arrived in Innsbruck

However, it will take more than a century until Innsbruck can also benefit from the delights of a coffee house, whilst Vienna is already home to more than 30 coffee houses. It is thanks to the persistence of Maria Innerhofer that in 1758 Innsbruck’s first coffee house opened. The envious Innsbruck innkeepers successfully stopped the burgeoning “coffee house rivalry” at Innsbruck city council for decades, so that coffee was boiled and served as an exotic medicine only in “apothecaries”.


Innsbruck’s pioneers

Give credit where credit is due. This is where Café Katzung should be mentioned, which was established in 1780 by confectioner Anton Georg Katzung and is still the oldest, existing coffee house in Innsbruck. It became apparent to Katzung early on how well coffee blends with sweet baked goods and he expanded his coffee house in 1823 with a sizeable repertoire of confectionery.


Mercenary coffee house owners

In 1847, there are already eight coffee house owners with billiard tables in Innsbruck where you can also play a game of billiards while sipping a coffee. Whilst the popularity of coffee houses continues to grow, in 1854 the price per cup rises significantly to one Kreuzer, which leaves Innsbruck’s coffee house guests reeling. With the so-called “Kreuzer alliance”, the coffee house owners are however forced to give in and see an end to the two-month visitor boycott, serving milk with the coffee.


The birth of the coffee house

The moment is finally here: The birth of Café Central, which is, for now, still certainly called Café Grabhofer. The coffee house, established by coffee provider Johann Grabhofer, first opens its gates on 14 September 1876 at exactly 1 pm. Only four years later, on 28 April 1880, Grabhofer passes away and the three-storey coffee house passes into the hands of his widow, who in turn hands it down to her daughter and her son-in-law. The leaseholder during those turbulent years is married couple Gottfried and Maria Geisberger.


Café Grabhofer becomes Café Central

As the hotel at Erlerstraße 11 passes into the hands of Leopold Eck in April 1891, the name of the coffee house also changes to Café Central. Whether the Viennese Café Central was the inspiration, can only be found out with the help of tasseography. However, it’s proven that concerts started to take place at the coffee house in those days. For advertising purposes, it was pointed out that only a few men sit in the Central in the afternoon and there is no smoking. So women are starting to recognise the amenities of Café Central, too.


Establishment of Hotel Central

The establishment of Hotel Central in 1892 had very practical and logical reasons: The yet undeveloped space on the upper floors of the coffee house would finally be used and then opened up to guests for overnight stays. In light of the fantastic location in the heart of the city, it is thus obvious that hotel rooms are constructed on the upper floors.


Coffee cups and beer glasses

In 1896, Franz Kosak, Café Central leaseholder, purchases the building at Erlerstraße 11 along with the Café from Leopold Eck for the grand price of 113000 Gulden. Yet cash flow problems cause the gastronomer to take out a large loan; he is obliged to buy at least 250 hectolitres of beer from the stock company “Bürgerliches Brauhaus in Innsbruck”. Beer is then served for the first time in the coffee house.


Political conspiracies at the Central?

In addition to writers, artists and people of every kind, students have meanwhile appeared at the Central. One worth mentioning here is Serbian medical student Milos Stankovic. He tells the waitress working at Café Central, Anna Wach, a very special story, trying to impress her. In the late hours, he tells her that he plans to shoot Austrian heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand. The only thing he actually achieves by telling this story is his arrest shortly after. Whether he would have put his plan into practice remains unknown, as after five months in custody, he is expelled from the country.


From coffee house to bank and back again

Wine merchants Josef and Antonia Falkner purchase Café Central in 1919 where they set up a trading base for selling wine. Two years later, Josef Falkner sells his share to his wife and the sole owner rents out the premises to Wiener Kommerzbank, which is sad news for those who liked visiting this café. However, when Josef Falkner once again becomes joint owner of the Central in 1927, times change and, on 14 May 1928, Café Central celebrates its grand reopening.


Comptoir Francais

The challenging years after the war are dedicated to reconstruction works. Fortunately, the Central survived bombings on Innsbruck unscathed, yet the French occupiers immediately want to make use of its attractive location. The French instantly seize the Café Centralisée and use the former coffee house bastion as their “Comptoir Francais”.


A coffee house with a nightclub

With the occupying forces withdrawing, the house is again in Josef Falkner’s charge. However, he hands over the hotel business to his daughter Isolde Sterzinger who revives the Café. Architect Norbert Heltschl is appointed to restore the coffee house to the way which attracted the citizens of Innsbruck. Josef Falkner focuses more on the cellar of the house where architect Gärtner constructs the famous “Falkner cellar” for him. Instead of the customary Tyrolean lounge panelling, based on the model of an old pirate fortress from the 17th century, a type of port tavern which would become a real Innsbruck nightclub sensation.


The end and the beginning of an era

After gastronomy legend Josef Falkner passes away in 1964, Sparkasse Innsbruck acquires Hotel Café Central in 1967. Yet instead of converting the premises into a bank branch again, this time the motto is to preserve the cultural heritage. And fortunately even the tenacious plans to turn the Central into a soulless shopping mall very quickly dissolve into thin air. Instead, theatre performances are held at the Central for the first time, which are extremely well received.


A very special gap

The consistent new construction at the Central, which finally fills the construction gap between hotel and coffee house with meaning and life and makes it a luxury hotel, is achieved between 1978 and 1980 with a great deal of attention to detail from architect Peter Thurner. In addition to new luxury rooms, an indoor swimming pool with sauna and several meeting rooms, the Hotel Central primarily gains a large, two-storey entrance lobby which is harmoniously incorporated into the existing architecture of the hotel.


The Fröschl family takes over the Central

Taken over as the Innsbruck traditional house in Erlerstraße in 1987 from master builder engineer Eduard Fröschl, so many “Central fans” shake at the thought of its much loved coffee house steeped in tradition. But there is no need to worry. Quite the contrary. As the Café Central is lovingly restored and the original character and style of the hotel maintained.


No more smoking

Ash Wednesday in 2015 is a sad day for many smokers, as the Café Central actually becomes non-smoking. Whilst the government beats around the bush for years, Café Central takes a courageous step. At the beginning fewer students visited the café, but it is still worth it: The smokers can continue to smoke outside the door, the quality of staying inside increases to an entirely new level.