So far, the drinking culture in Austria has been sort of low-key. All Europeans seem to want to do is sit in cafés and biergartens with their friends or neighbors to have a few beers and glasses of wine and simply relax. I didn’t notice a shift in this community-style drinking culture until I walked into Vienna’s Travel Shack. This bar reminded me of a college party gone all wrong, but it was so much fun. It was created for people like me – travelers from different cities looking for good music and cheap drinks on a Saturday night.
The travelers’ bar was across the street from our hotel, which was extremely convenient. Believe it or not, the Shack was ranked one of the top ten college bars in Vienna, according to Yelp. It was covered in posters and tacky black lights with a long bar across one side, high-tables on the other, and a dance floor in the back. It was packed with people speaking several different languages and enjoying different cocktails. The beers they served were actually Coronas… with a lemon (this was just wrong). Off to the sides there was access to a smoker’s lounge and a karaoke lounge. Both of these rooms were packed as well. It seemed like a pretty hot spot for young adults staying in the nearby hostels and hotels.
The smoking room and the dance floor were where I spent most of my time. The smoking room had a pool table and darts and foosball table that never seemed to be free, and it reeked of cigarette smoke but at least it was colder than it was in the main bar. The dance floor wasn’t huge, but it did the job. The bar played American pop songs and recent rap hits. Smack in the middle of the dance floor was a hideously shiny silver pole (Don’t worry mom, I didn’t go anywhere near it). But the pole was actually a hit for many of the worldly travelers in the bar with us. Men and women alike would climb to the top of the pole and spin their way down almost like a ballerina while the dancers cheered them on loudly.
It was a cheap college bar that was filled with young adults just curious about where people were traveling to and from. The nights I went out in Vienna, I met people from all over the world. On Saturday we met people from nine different countries including Australia, South Africa, Russia, Syria, and so on. Everyone was so friendly – we all just wanted to have a good time. It was a dead giveaway to the other travelers that we were from America. Once they heard our group speak “American-English,” as they would say, they knew exactly where we were from.
The Travel Shack was the first time someone complimented my “heavy accent.” To me I was talking perfectly clear; I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was the foreigner. Of course, I noticed I couldn’t use my traditional slang and if I started to talk too fast people would look at me like I had three heads. But this was the first time I felt like people were fascinated by the way I spoke, or reacted, or even drank and danced. Many of them just wanted to know what we were doing in Vienna. When I told them I was enrolled in a class studying the history of beer, I got the same wtf look – like what the heck do American’s value in their education?
Experiencing this for the first time made me feel different. Suddenly I had an accent and people were linking me to typical American stereotypes. One guy asked me if I was a sorority girl and if I missed my fraternity “bros” back home – the Mount doesn’t even have Greek life, but how would any of them know that? Another asked one of my friends if he was a surfer, because apparently every guy in the States knows how to surf? We didn’t fit these stereotypes at all, but the travelers in the bar expected that we would.
It was so interesting to see the way people conceptualize Americans. From all over the world, everyone had the same reaction to hearing our group say “we’re from America.” It was a simple, almost unimpressed “oh.” They labeled us as the Americans they see on social media or in the news. And since we were all drinking and engaging in the same social experience, the travelers felt totally comfortable asking us any question they wanted. Many of us asked them the same questions: “How many languages do you speak?”, “Can you legally drink back home?”, “What’s it like in New York, London, Rome, Ontario, California…?”
Walking around in Salzburg and Vienna, everyone knows I’m a tourist. But the beauty of the Travel Shack was that we were all tourists, and we all came from different places in the world just looking for a good time. It was so easy to talk to people and ask where they were from and where they were headed because, in some way, we were all connected. Drinking in this setting was used as a way to break barriers between cultures, and it ended up being a really exciting night.
All in all, the bar was an amazing experience. The last thing I did in the Travel Shack was take a shot called the “Fire Shot.” It was a cinnamon rum shot that consisted of lighting the whole thing on fire inside of my mouth. This isn’t something readily available in America, so I swallowed my fear and went ahead with the crazy shot. It didn’t hurt and it didn’t taste bad – it was actually kind of fun! Check out a short video of the experience: Grace’s Fire Shot
Now we’re on to the last leg of our trip in Austria, and the drinking culture has definitely influenced our experiences. Not only have I observed the ways that Europeans drink to relax and recharge, but I have also noticed that drinking socially has given our group the chance to become more outgoing, to get to know each other and the culture around us more easily, and to just indulge in the good stuff.
Make sure to check out next week’s blog posts as we wrap up our trip in Austria. To see our favorite pictures from the trip, check out blog posts from Wednesdays or follow the @msmutravels Instagram account. Auf Wiedersehen!