The picturesque building situated at the corner of Fleischmarkt and Griechengasse, which houses the “Reichenberger Griechenbeisl” on its ground floor, is generally considered to be one of the oldest in Vienna.
The “Griechenbeisl” stands just where the straight line of the Fleischmarkt, following the historical plot boundary, turns into a shallow arch curving towards the opening of the Griechengasse. This arrangement provides the attractive ambiente that gives the location its charm, and this is also where we have our romantic outdoor dining area during the summer months.
The first historical record of the house dates to 1350, when it belonged to Lienhart Poll, an important and wealthy burgher, who in addition had the status of a knight. The next mention in the sources is of the sale of what by then appears to have been a fairly prestigious building to the abbey of Lilienfeld (in Lower Austria) in 1385. In 1550, the house is extensively refurbished and partially expanded: the residential tower, still clearly distinguishable in the courtyard, appears to have become part of the structure at that point. It is possible that the lower levels of this tower served as a store room for one of the Levantine merchants who are known to have resided in this quarter from the late Middle Ages. It seems that the upper floors were used as habitation even then. The tower has often been confused with the so-called “Hafnerturm”, a component of the city walls, and has erroneously been considered part of the medieval fortifications, but this was never the case. It is also not true – although this has often been claimed – that the whole building lies on top of the medieval city wall. It is rather the case that it is an organic whole which has grown by incorporating various elements in the course of the centuries, hand in hand with urban development.
This continuous activity of restructuring and extending the building, and of incorporating elements into it, has left its mark on its deep and labyrinthine cellars. Their oldest part lies in the lower section of the Griechengasse. There one can still see a walled-up, rectangular opening in its ceiling; perhaps stairs led down from there once. Direct access from the outside would have made it easier for customers to visit the cellar when wine was sold to the public there.
There is no evidence, though, for a commercial tavern with a proper name in the “Griechenbeisl” house during the Middle Ages, but we can be sure that a seasonal trade in wine for drinking on the premises (as it is well documented for medieval Vienna) took place, and that this would have been an occasion for communal eating and drinking. This activity can be considered the nucleus of the present-day restaurant.
The first commercial tavern in this place, by the name of “Zum gelben Adler” (“The Yellow Eagle”), is documented for the early 16th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries the name changes to “Zum goldenen Engel” (“The Golden Angel”) and then to “Zum roten Dachl” (“The Red Roof”), until after the mid-19th century the name “Griechenbeisl” (“Tavern of the Greeks”), or also “Reichenberger Griechenbeisl”, prevails. Both refer to the popularity the tavern enjoyed with the Levantine and Greek merchants, who had flocked to Vienna in great numbers from about the 17th century and settled in the vicinity of the Fleischmarkt – as did the cloth merchants from Reichenberg in Bohemia, who also liked to gather here.
Elfriede Hannelore Huber