Hotel Daniel, Vienna, review: Daring to be different

Our rating

4.5 out of 5

A hip Austrian hotel defies its conservative neighbours.

It only takes a look up to the roof to realise that the Daniel is more than a little odd. A boat is moored on top, but it's in a precarious state, slipping over the edge like glooping honey from a jar.

The cartoonish vessel is the first indicator of an hotel intent on shaking up its surroundings and bringing the neighbourhood into 2013.

The Vienna of the clichés is a staid, stately city of classical music recitals, grand palaces and dancing white horses. Yet even the Viennese regard District Three as overly demure and conservative. It is a place for parks, zero rowdiness and the immaculately primped gardens of the Belvedere. 

It is the Belvedere – the twin baroque palaces constructed on Prince Eugene of Savoy's behalf, now home to one of the greatest art collections in Europe – that the Daniel finds itself sidling up alongside. The hotel, however, is considerably less stiff of collar.

There are rules, however. Heaven forbid we neglect the rules. A sign by the entrance to the lobby states them strictly. Illustrated with simple drawings of smiley faces, cameras and male necks, they read: "No bad temper", "No spies" and "Tie? Why not try without".

Tie? Why not try without.

The ground floor is a buzzy open-plan affair, owing far more to hip neighbourhood hotels in New York or Chicago than the stout capital of the Habsburg Empire. Lamps have "Be optimistic for the world" written on the shades, old newspapers are bundled up with a cushion on top to act as stools and a giant wooden cart is filled with soil and sprouting plants.

The small reception desk is somewhat dwarfed by the shop next to it. This temple of commerce sells all the essentials, like white shirts "in case you have a ketchup accident", motorbike helmets, huge bags for carrying books in, an assortment of furry hats and a magazine about beef. It seems to be aimed more at easily-entertained curious moochers than serious purchasers.

On the other side is self-deprecatingly titled 'Bakery'. It is, of course, more than that – it's a bar, café and restaurant rolled into one tricky-to-pigeonhole social space, albeit with tremendous cakes that appear to be a beacon for sweet-toothed pilgrims from far and wide. Even on a Thursday morning it seems notably busy with local trade, rather than hotel guests trudging down for breakfast.

The lift door opens to reveal the framed and beaming face of Elisabeth Razumovsky. An explanatory sign next to her photo tells her story. "Elisabeth lives in our neighbourhood and just loves to bake," it reads. "One day she came here and said she would like to make her delicious pastry for us. Of course, we couldn't resist. Elisabeth quit her job and since then we all enjoy her great homemade delicacies every day."

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Such endearing whimsy is frequently recurring hallmark of the Daniel. It's the sort of hotel where you can wander round in delirious joy, reading signs on the wall and leafing through information booklets.  Notes in the room encourage visitors to "nick the perfume samples from the repositories. We haven't seen anything." Under the emergency exit map on the back of the door, a museum-style label tells you that it is from "The gallery of important signs".

Yet despite such charming silliness, the chintz factor is entirely absent. The rooms are strikingly modern and broadly minimalist. A conscious decision has been made to bring everything into the open, so there's no wardrobe – just a few hangers on a tiny rail. More importantly for anyone of a prudish disposition, the shower cubicle stands proudly against the back wall, unencumbered by doors, screens or frosted glass. This is not a place to stay if you have issues with showering in front of your travel partner.

It's always one part swagger to one part stripped back. The ceilings have an industrial look, hooks and drawn-on planning lines left in place. Yet three marvellously bold green lamps dangle from it above the pillow, controlled by a dimmer switch in the middle of the headboard. It's not a place for robes, but larger rooms have hammocks to flop back and swing in.

If that's not gimmicky enough, it's also possible to sleep in the silver vintage trailer parked out the front. It has been kitted out as a surprisingly luxurious en-suite hideyhole.

But it's what's around it that really shows what the Daniel's about. A bank of grass has been turned into a small garden, and a few vines have been planted in what is a possibly delusional attempt to grow decent wine grapes by a busy main road.

There may be more success with the beehive on the roof – the plan is to use it to provide ultra-fresh honey for the Bakery. But these little touches, along with the shelves buckling under the weight of pot plants by the bar, show a devotion to opportunistic urban gardening.

The green fingers fiddling in every available gap encapsulate the hotel's busy, irrepressible personality. It doesn't belong to the Vienna of waltzes and wedding cake architecture, but it's one that adds a modern twist to the sense of wonder.

Be warned though, the surrounding area is so serene at night that it's morgue-like – don't expect to go bar-hopping in the immediate vicinity.

David Whitley was a guest of Vienna Tourism (www.vienna.info)

TRIP NOTES

STAYING THERE

The smallest 'Smart' rooms start from $135 a night excluding breakfast but including free WiFi. Hammock rooms start at $150. Breakfast is an extra $17.

SEE + DO

Urban explorers can rent the Daniel's personalised Vespas or city bikes for $20 a day.

DINING THERE

The burgers served up at the Bakery should be revered globally as a gold standard of juicy and unabashedly naughty perfection.

MORE INFORMATION

hoteldaniel.com; vienna.info.