Vienna Journal 01 : Loos American Bar – A New World Amongst Old Ruins

“Be not afraid of being called un-fashionable…  Architecture arouses sentiments in man. The architect’s task therefore, is to make those sentiments more precise.” – Adolf Loos

If you follow me on Instagram, you may remember that I made a quick detour to Vienna during my stay in Paris for AW16 Fashion Week to catch the last few days of Olafur Eliasson’s art installation “Baroque Baroque” at the Winter Palace in Vienna.  And when I say ‘quick’, I really mean quick because I was there for less than 24 hours.

‘Baroque Baroque’ was fantastic.  It certainly was worth flying all the way to Vienna to see, and I have plenty to share with you about that.  However, since it was also my first time there, I did not hesitate to take the opportunity to explore this wonderful Baroque city that I had always dreamt of going.

One of the most memorable places during my 24 hours in Vienna was this modernist architectural gem in a form of a tiny little bar called Kärntner Bar or more famously known as ‘Loos American Bar’ because it was designed by Adolf Loos back in 1908.  My ex-colleague from Foster + Partners recommended me to visit this place, and I was so glad that I followed his advice because not only was the interior architecture was absolutely stunning, the cocktails were one of the best I ever had, and the crowd was fantastic.

Measuring just 5m long, 3.5m wide and 3.5m tall, The American Bar was clad in onyx and marble, with mahogany paneling, sumptuous dark green velvet upholstery, and expanses of mirrors on three sides of the upper walls that give the illusion of a much larger space.  Perhaps this was one of the reasons why I was so fascinated by this little bar.  It touched upon my personal obsession of designing functional, yet intriguing small spaces.  Loos’ use of mirrors here was a clever optical illusion in a non-narcissistic way because although three of the walls were covered by vast expanses of mirrors, none of them reflected the people occupying the space.  Instead, they reflected only the space itself – multiplying this tiny luminescence jeweled box of marble and onyx to infinity.  Yet, it retained the quality of a discrete intimate room, perfect for drinks, cigars and conversations.

Photographs courtesy of Loos American Bar
Photograph courtesy of Loos American Bar

When I stepped into this tiny bar, it felt like being transported back to 1920’s.  I imagined myself sitting in one of the bars described in F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby, sipping a Manhattan…  If only the men were smartly dressed in suits and the women were flappers… but alas, everyone were rather casually dressed, including myself.  Having said that, I could understand why this place was so iconic and radical, especially in the early 20th Century.  In 1908, during the last years of the Habsburg Empire, Vienna was the cultural centre of the world.  Design wise, Loos’ American Bar was a brutal modernist architectural statement, amidst the last bastion of Imperialism.  The interior architecture showcased materiality and stripped bare of any architectural ornaments at all.  Even though it retained classical proportions, the room itself was radically modern.  Function wise, it was the first cocktail bar in Europe ever! (Since cocktails were an American invention)  Kärntner Bar was very much A New World amongst the ruins of the Old.

As I continued sipping cocktails – which were amazing I had to say – and began to melt into the environment, more and more intricate details revealed themselves… the internally lit bar tables, the finely cut back-lit onyx wall glowing softly as the night moves on…  Combined with the hazy smokes from cigars and constant hums of conversations…  It was a rather dreamy affair…  I certainly was not expecting the Roaring Twenties experience in the middle of a Baroque City.  Loos American Bar was certainly an unexpected but very pleasant surprise…

Photograph courtesy of Loos American Bar
Photographer: May Naruemannalinee



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