Legendary Stories

From our book Hotel Bristol Vienna by Andreas Augustin
The Name: City or Duke? It is somewhat difficult to document exactly why a hotel is called Bristol. In fact this is a dilemma all Bristol hotels around the world suffered from. Many of them claim that they were allowed to name their house after Frederick Augustus Hervey, the fourth Earl of Bristol. It has been said that the Earl only gave permission for the use of his title to those hotels that could measure up to his high standards. This is of course nonsense since the majority of these hotels opened their doors over 100 years after the Earl had died. Furthermore, these hotels also carry the coat of arms of the city of Bristol, a city, not a travelling aristocrat. We can assume that the early Bristol hotels (Rome 1870, Vienna 1892) served as examples to the hotels that opened in later years (Warsaw 1901, Oslo 1920, Paris 1925 plus around 50 further hotels across Europe). They all proudly carry the coat of arms of the City of Bristol. The often quoted connection to the Earl of Bristol is no more than a bad PR-gag. As you can see, the hotel trade is full of surprises and inventions. Until recently this story had been supported by many Bristol Hotels and sold to guests as fact. 

hotel bristol vienna - historic sirk corner

On 15 April 1894 Anton Grigorevich Rubinstein (1829 – 1894) Rubinstein became the first person to sign the new visitors’ book of the Bristol. Today a suite is named after him. He was a Russian pianist, composer and conductor. As a pianist he was a rival of Franz Liszt, as a musician he ranks amongst the great keyboard virtuosos. He co-founded the Saint Petersburg Conservatory together with his brother, Moscow Conservatory founder Nikolai Rubinstein.

Opera singer Nellie Melba’s only performance in Vienna was much celebrated and there were no spare tickets to be had. Gustav Mahler, director of the opera, had planned to stage ‘La Traviata’ (see above for cast list). However, people had heard about Nellie Melba’s performance as ‘Lucia’. Thus, without any qualms, Mahler let her die from consumption in ‘Traviata’ only to bring her straight back on stage in ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ half an hour later. She found some good rest at her room at the Bristol.

The grandfather clock next to reception has always been a showpiece of the Hotel Bristol. It is 295 cm high and depicts the phases of the moon, a calendar and the planets. It is made of mahogany with Dutch writing. It dates back to the mid-eighteenth century.

Agards Guide to Austria, 1900
Hotel Bristol, I. Kärntner Ring 5. The fashionable residence of the elite of European and American society, situated in the most central and convenient part of the city. 200 reception and bedrooms. 270 front windows. Private suites of apartments, including drawing, bed and bathroom. Magnificent public halls such as dining, reading, ladies, conversation, smoking and billiard rooms. French restaurant, musical performances during luncheon and dinner. Anglo-American bar. Central heating. Original Otis-lifts. N.B. The establishment is entirely fitted with the latest modern comforts and improvements.

Enrico Caruso (1873–1921)
Enrico Caruso, one of the biggest names on the operatic scene, paid his first visit to Vienna in 1906 and arrived at the Bristol on 4 October. He moved into a suite in the ‘old’ Bristol, house No. 7. The suite comprised room 102, a salon and room 101, a bedroom. When Caruso came to the metropolis on the river Danube he had just dethroned Jean de Reszke as the most favourite tenor at the Metropolitan and had become a world class star. The Viennese audience paid tribute to his efforts but there was a local star, whom they worshipped so much more. The critics remarked: ‘Compared to Leo Slezak Caruso’s volume is rather disappointing.’ Caruso was in Vienna to perform in ‘Rigoletto’.

To be precise in every respect you should know that ‘Korso’ a) is Italian for 1. a promenade, street, etc. 2. to promenade and b) that this Viennese Korso stretched from the Sirk Corner of the Hotel Bristol to the Eastern end of the Café Schwarzenberg vis à vis of the Hotel Imperial. This scene is right in front of the main entrance of the Bristol. Vienna was one of the fashion metropoles of the world, its girls famous for their charm, grace and beauty.  Every day civilians and military personnel would stroll the Korso to woo the other sex. To see and to be seen was the motto.

The famous corner was named after August Sirk and has been a popular meeting point since around 1900. Nowadays, only very few people still know who August Sirk (right) was. He was a German tradesman, who owned a leather goods store on the corner. He dealt in the finest travel accessories. His shop was called: ‘Zum Touristen’.

The painting can be found on the mezzanine floor at the Bristol.
Like no other painting of its time, Hans Stalzer’s work provides an insight into the nightly society gatherings at the Hotel Bristol in 1910. The painting can be found on the mezzanine floor at the Bristol. The leading figure here is Archduke Franz Salvator, son-in-law of Emperor Franz Joseph. In his position as General Troop Inspector of the Austro-Hungarian army, twice a month he invited 40 staff officers to an informal dinner at the Bristol. Since space was restricted, not all 40 gentlemen are depicted here. Behind the table of the archduke is Count Zichy, a much admired statesman. Frau von Dörr, one of Vienna’s leading ladies, can be seen standing. Alfred Grünfeld, the gentleman at the table of Gutmann-Gelse, was a famous pianist. Paul Szapary was famous for the hunts he organised at his property in Hungary. These hunts were also attended by Emperor Wilhelm II and the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. Baron von Twickel was regarded as an expert on horses. He advised Baron Alfons Rothschild on all equine matters. The group at the back of the painting shows, amongst others, Arthur Wolf and C W Bertsch, former owners of the Hotel Bristol. After the death of Carl Wolf, Bertsch married his widow, Emma. The diplomats’ table at the centre of the painting only shows a few members of the diplomatic circle of the time. Amongst them Moreira-Marques, Charge d’Affaires of Portugal, who died in Vienna at a far too early age.

It is said that the Grill Room of the Bristol was modelled after the Grill Room of the Titanic. Well, both do not exist any longer.

On 8 March 1918 the future Sultan Mehmed Vahdeddin visited Vienna and signed the visitors’ book of the Bristol as ‘Prince Ottoman Imperial’.

1916: The Great War found the God of Dance, Vaslav Nijinsky, stranded in Vienna (with his wife Romola and daughter Kyra, born in Vienna in 1913). He asked Wolf for a room but told him that he couldn’t pay for it. Wolf answered: ‘You’ve given us so much pleasure with your performances. I’ll have one of the suites prepared for you, with a bedroom, a room for the baby, a living room and a bathroom. You’ll feel right at home. Order anything you like. Stay as long as you wish. You can pay when this terrible war is over.’
In 1981, Kyra visited the Bristol again, leaving a note in the guestbook.

The new Bristol Between 1913 and 1916 the Schallinger brothers built a perfect ensemble on the corner of Kaerntnerring / Kaerntnerstrasse. The two towers of the new building (added much later, opened 12 June 1928) signalled the architectural connection. The tower rooms were long used as workshops and offices. Today the right tower houses the new gym, the left one the European conference room.

Tipping and Concierges
Sigmund Loewy became the new president of the Hotel Bristol AG. Under his reign some ‘Concierges’, amongst them the gentlemen Gabriel, Schwammberger and Hekkel, became legends. Ludwig Hirschfeld, author of the humorous account ‘What you cannot find in the Baedeker’, described them as masters of their trade. ‘They have been close to their guests for many years. They know all about the quirks and needs of each and everyone one of them. These concierges are all originals in their own way.’ Hirschfeld also looked at the subject of correct tipping - a topic very much of interest to the perfect guest. He advised: ‘It is usual to give more than the usual…’.

John Galsworthy (1867 – 1933), English novelist and playwright arrived in 1926. His works include The Forsyte Saga (1906—1921), A Modern Comedy and End of the Chapter. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.

‘Someone has arranged for me a lecture in a very big hall – unfortunately for me I have a big reputation and people expect from me a big effect, a sensation in a wholesale quality. What a waste!’ wrote Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941) on 13 July 1926 on a Bristol letterhead*. The Bengali polymath – being the first non-European to win the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature – was a mesmerising representative of the Indian culture whose influence and popularity internationally perhaps could only be compared to that of Gandhi. He returned and met Sigmund Freud in October 1926. Tagore’s opinion regarding Freudian thought gradually changed from severe criticism and a near complete rejection to appreciation.
* Selected letters of Rabindranath Tagore: Rabindranath Tagore, Krishna Dutta, Andrew Robinson 

In 1928 George Gershwin and his brother Ira stayed at the Bristol. George was working on ‘An American in Paris’, probably his most ambitious orchestration. It was filmed in Hollywood in 1951 and starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.

At the same time Richard Simon, one of the founders of the New York publishing house Simon and Schuster, was staying at the Bristol. One morning when Ira and Leonore returned from a walk, they found George and ‘Dick’ Simon in the Grill Room. Ira noted in his diary: ‘We met George, Dick Simon and some author of a new book that Dick wants to publish in the hotel restaurant. It was a book about a deer.’ Of course the author was none other than Felix Salten and the deer was Bambi. You see, the fame of Bambi originates from this meeting at the Bristol. As we all know, Walt Disney made it into a movie some years later.

Maharajas at the Bristol:
Indian Maharajas enjoyed the Bristol’s hospitality at various occasions. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, for example, stayed at the Bristol in 1928, accompanied by the youngest of his five wives and his five daughters. He had reserved almost a whole floor of the hotel. The ladies enjoyed shopping, the chief purchases being leather goods and various field and opera glasses.
An epicure from top to toe, the Maharaja was so impressed by the service at the Bristol that he, when he left by train for Budapest, Munich and Lucerne, expressed the wish that the head cook and attendants at tables should accompany him on the journey to cook and to serve in his dining car. Needless to say the wishes of this honoured guest were complied with.

Paul Pálffy ab Erdöd (1890–1968) was the second husband of Louise de Vilmorin. He used to stay at the Bristol in the 1930. One day, he met there the Maharaja Khengarji de Kutch, who became a good friend.

His Highness, the Maharaja of Alwar (a country he has not been allowed to set foot in, since the day he was deposed) arrived in Vienna looking for a specialist to cure his stomach ailment. He took up 18 rooms at the Bristol Hotel, brought 265 suitcases, his own piano and even his very own temple! The temple was erected in a room out of the way and no European was allowed to enter. Incidentally, Alwar is a state no larger than 8.000 square km with around 700.000 citizens.
The Maharaja of Jaipur also spent many months at the Bristol Hotel in Vienna. He made no fuss whatsoever, took his meals in the dining room and even rode the tram! He too, was receiving medical attention, albeit for a polo injury.
Another interesting guest at the Bristol was the American millionaire Blumenthal. His phobia of catching an infectious disease led him to spend years behind bricked windows on the second floor. Local newspapers reported: ‘The windows have been shut for 10 years now. However, we still live in hope that this obviously ailing man can still be healed.’

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) fled his country during the Russian Revolution in 1918 and settled in the United States. He visited Vienna in 1926 and stayed at the Bristol.

Big reception for Big Chief White Horse Eagle, 107 years old (!), at the Bristol on 25 September 1929. He toured Europe and made a sensational arrival wherever he travelled. In Berlin he requested to shake President Hindenburg’s hand, as he allegedly had done with Bismarck during his first Grand Tour in 1887.  After hiring on a German Wild-West circus similar to that of Buffalo Bill’s, White Horse fell into disrepute: His alleged tribesmen complained that he spoke not a word of their native language, that he knew nothing of Indian culture and religion, and that the only God he held dear was alcohol. Finally, it was apparently proven that he had African Americans among his ancestors. His age had never been believed, anyway.

Vladimir Horowitz (1904 – 98), Russian pianist from Kiev, married Wanda Toscanini – daughter of Arturo Toscanini, who was another one of the Bristol’s regular guests. Both gentlemen, as well as Richard Strauss, signed the visitors’ book on the same day (22-10-1933).

Prince Charming’, Edward, Prince of Wales first visited Vienna and the Bristol on 16 February 1935. One must remember that this member of the House of Windsor did not become famous for any political achievements but because he gave up his claim to the throne and married the American Wallis Simpson. He liked to travel on the spur of the moment and always did so incognito using his title Earl of Chester. This relieved him of any political and diplomatic obligations. The newspaper Neue Freie Presse wrote: ‘It is imperative that the Prince must not be bothered. He should only be regarded as a visitor of distinction. He should neither be stared at nor followed under any circumstance!’ The Prince came directly from a snowy Kitzbühel and spent a few relaxing days in Vienna. He had rented the entire floor, which nowadays houses the ‘Prince of Wales Suite’. His entourage comprising twelve people was probably a means to divert attention from Wallis, wife of Ernest Simpson. The hotel provided them with two private limousines and hotel director Felix Primus received exact instructions on how to look after his famous guest. The Prince rose each day between 10.00 hrs and 11.00 hrs and had breakfast (grapefruit, tea, toast, butter, marmalade and his beloved fresh Kaisersemmeln, typical Viennese rolls). On 20 February 1935 the group boarded the train to Budapest carrying 50 pieces of luggage.

Great chefs are a tradition and a must in a hotel like the Bristol: Julius Eckel worked as chef at the Bristol from 1922 until 1933 (he had started his apprenticeship at the hotel in 1911). During his days he was Vienna’s most famous chef.  More than 1.000 people crowded the tables at the restaurant after a premiere performance at the opera. 40 cooks worked under his direction. The Maharaja of Patiala didn’t want to leave Vienna without him, that was how much he enjoyed his cuisine. In the end, the Bristol could no longer afford to pay the salary, a top chef like Eckel can command. Eckel became a freelancer. His cookbook ‘Was koche ich heute’ (What shall I cook today) inspired generations of chefs and housewives.

Life Memories Let me tell you the story of a pageboy, the late Gustav Kollar. He worked at the Bristol from 1935 to 1938. He recalled many details, including memories of the Prince of Wales, who sometimes escaped through the back entrance, at the second porter (the staff porter). His Royal Highness had a Daimler waiting for him, the destination was unknown. The greatest pleasure was serving famous guests such as the composer Robert Stolz, who always stayed with us and finally moved to the Bristol from Berlin in 1938. While doing his first year as a page boy he would deliver his newspapers to his suite every morning. One day a gentleman approached Mr Gabriel, the head concierge, and asked if he could see Professor Stolz? ‘Who may I say is asking?’ Gabriel replied. ‘Lehar, my name is Franz Lehar,’ the equally famous composer replied (right). Afterwards Gabriel confessed to the young pageboy Kollar: ‘This I should have known . . .’ Kollar carries on: ‘Later I became a waiter (bottom left) and served the American Women Club, the Renaissance Club, the Bridge Club, the Viennese Automobile Club and the Wiener Club, where Alfons de Rothchild used to be. At one point we had at least one dozen Maharajas in house. I recall a Mr Hide, two metres tall, who arrived with his green Rolls Royce from Paris. ‘Our working hours at the porter’s desk were from 6.00–11.00 and 18.00–23.00 one day, 13.00–23.00 the next, 9.00–19.00 the following and 6.00–16.00 the fourth day. Then it would start again, all this six days a week. His eyes lit up when he recalled ‘poor little rich girl’ Barbara Hutton: ‘She gave me one pound tip.’

On the night of 11 March 1938, Robert Stolz heard in his apartment at the Bristol the famous radio address by the Austrian federal Chancellor Dr Kurt Schuschnigg announcing that Austria had stopped to exist. Warned by one of his brothers, a National Socialist, the composer left Austria for Zurich that same night leaving everything including his fortune behind.

Austria wasn’t Austria any more. The German spoken by the Germans was a different sound; the melancholic, soft spoken Austrian was replaced by Prussian discipline, by Nazi law and order. The Jewish owners of the Bristol were convinced that it was smarter to sell their shares.

With the demise of Austria, former Austrian aristocracy had a severe problem, too. A few days before Christmas, on 19 December 1938, the head of the Wiener Rennverein (horse racing club) and Jockey Club, Ulrich Ferdinand Prince Kinsky, arrived at the Bristol, coming from his palace in Herrengasse. The Viennese organisation had been brought under the supervision of the German association of thoroughbreds and horse races.  Around 11.30 that morning, Kinsky received the unexpected visit of a gentleman from the Berlin headquarters, Herr von Bock und Pollack. The man entered the office of Prince Kinsky. After one hour – the Prince had smoked a cigarette with his guests – Herr von Bock und Pollack came outside and asked: ‘Is your Prince always falling asleep when he has a meeting?’ ‘Certainly not,’ came the reply like a shot. ‘Then wake him!’ The 45-year-old Prince Kinsky was dead. Today his son Franz Ulrich recalls the shock of his mother at the subsequent visit of Gestapo (Secret Police) men who came later that day to search their palais. Up to date the death of the Prince, a fine sportsman, car racer and pilot with an English aircraft and close ties to Great Britain, is unsolved. The official verdict, published in the papers the next day, was heart attack.

After World War 2, the Bristol once again became the centre of American social activities. Many political issues were discussed over an excellent glass of wine and a delicious meal. All this could not hide the fact though, that a new war had begun: the cold war. A time characterised by espionage, intimidation and threatening gestures. Vienna, too, felt its effects: the British and their Senior Officer’s Transit Club, from which Graham Greene had taken his idea for The Third Man, sat in the Hotel Sacher. The Russians had taken up residence at the Imperial and the Grand Hotel. Vienna had become the theatre of the Cold War and its American epicentre was the Hotel Bristol. An amusing story that you will find in any book about famous Viennese hotels: ‘If you booked a room at the ‘Russian’ Grand Hotel you immediately were suspected of being a western spy. If you ordered a glass of vodka at the Bristol you surely belonged to the enemy…’

A personal thank you
was sent to the Bristol after the war by General Mark Clark.
When in October 1955 the international treaty that freed Austria had been signed, the Bristol was released by the occupying forces. The last troops withdrew from the city and all Americans left their beloved Bristol. Some of them had been here for many years. They had slept in historic beds and eaten from the finest china, used the silver tableware duchesses and princes had used before and drank from the cellars the greatest artists, politicians, friends and enemies had been served from. They would never forget ‘their’ Bristol.
Mark Clark was the commander in chief of the US troops in Austria. After his return to the States many people specifically requested his suite and soon it became known as the ‘Mark Clark’ Suite. Nowadays it is known as the Chinese Salon. A story is inseparably linked to Clark: the story of the Austrian Crown jewels, seized by the Germans when they took over Austria in 1938. They were recovered by the US 3rd Army and returned to the Viennese by General Mark Clark.

From the Guestbook
President Sukarno of Indonesia became a regular guest at the Bristol. In 1963 he celebrated his birthday here.
HRH Umberto (1904 – 83) was the last  King of Italy and stayed at the Bristol in 1956. After the abdication of his father Victor Emanuel III in 1946, Umberto took the throne for one month before Italy became a republic. He went into exile in Portugal.
„In respectful salutations – to the Bristol of Vienna – a truly splendid hotel which combines the best traditions of the past and of today’s luxuries“ -
Arthur Hailey.
In May 1986, British/Canadian novelist Arthur Hailey (1920–2004) stayed at the Bristol. The author of ‘In High Places’, ‘Airport’, ‘Wheels’ and many more thrilling novels left this little note in the hotel’s guestbook. Of course he knew what he was talking about, after all he had written the best-seller ‘Hotel’, which had been turned into a TV-blockbuster.

The Bar:
Officially named ‘American Bar’, most of the Viennese folk simply call it ‘The Bar at the Bristol’. For generations they’ve come here to meet, sometimes on official business and sometimes in secrecy. No matter what the occasion for their visit – generations of bar keepers, such as Gabriela Reithofer, have done their utmost to tend to their needs. The bar is hidden away deep inside the belly of the hotel. 

Catherine Deneuve at the Bristol:
‘La’ Deneuve was at the Bristol to film the story of Marie Bonaparte, whose grandfather was the principal real-estate developer of Monte Carlo who had left her a great fortune. In 1925 Marie checked into the Bristol and consulted Sigmund Freud for treatment.

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