After every excursion into the central city — to the Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's, a church with 13th century origins), the Spanish Riding School stables, the Mozart Memorial — we find an excuse to sit in the hotel lobby. The large central gathering spot leaves a visitor with one lasting impression: red. There are red brocade couches and chairs and enormous vases of red flowers. Table lamps and wall sconces are topped with red fringed shades. Smaller public rooms are decorated with hundreds of portraits of guests — Liz Taylor and Jimmy Carter, Donovan and Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby and Maximilian Schell. Some of the photographs date to the 19th century.
As do the origins of the hotel. Franz Sacher was born in Vienna in 1816 and destined, seemingly, to be a chef. Historical sources state that he was an apprentice chef in Prince Metternich's palace and earned a place in history — or legend, at least — when the chief cook became ill and he had to create a dessert for a big dinner. That dessert turned out to be the first incarnation of the Sacher torte, a sweet that has inspired copycats, lawsuits and reams of promotional material. Franz's son Eduard became a restaurateur and hotelier, opening the Hotel de l'Opera in 1876, which was eventually rechristened the Sacher Hotel.
Eduard's wife, Anna, took over the business in the 1890s, an era when Vienna was flourishing. According to one history of the hotel, Anna "collected chiefly celebrities … their portraits hung like trophies on the walls of her small offices."
That photo collection continues to grow, evidence of the hotel's ability to survive wars, invaders and a 1969 John and Yoko news conference.
The Sacher houses an elaborate spa, decorated in beige, black and white. Products, many of which can be purchased, are displayed in cabinets that line the walls. Chocolate is a theme in the spa, as well as the restaurants, with spa treatments named "A Symphony in Chocolate," "A Dream in Chocolate" and "A Taste of Chocolate." Prices are steep; the aroma, divine.
The power of chocolate is undeniable. When we leave the Hotel Sacher, our bags are slightly heavier because I've grabbed all the chocolate toiletries that remain in our room and the leftover candy from our first day. Not that they were necessary. Our parting gift? Two tiny Sacher tortes, reminders that chocolate — and caffeine — make the world go round.