Vienna, Austria – Flex

Photo taken by Jacob O. Gold
By Jacob O. Gold
One of the coolest parts of any contemporary vampire movie is the requisite "Ultracool European Vampire Club" scene. Hip, young vampires wear tight, synthetic semi-clothing and writhe around to techno music inside of a converted cathedral or catacomb or palatial penthouse. Vampire headquarters are usually located in the back offices of these places, forcing the hero to push through the dancing crowd en route to busting up some diabolical scheme. These scenes have apparently inspired the acutely underrated MGM Studios theme park to open up their own put-the-kids-to-bed nightclub a la Disney’s Pleasure Island, but in a vampiric, rather than tropical, motif. However, you won’t find this nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Instead, these clubs (for there are many, many of them) have been opened all across Central Europe, though rarely in the abandoned cathedrals and opera houses depicted on the silver screen. It is the privilege of the American traveler in this region to visit these vaguely goofy replicas. For as many nights into bleary mornings as one should wish, and without needing to purchase a ticket for the rest of the park, you become an awkward extra among the real natives. These being the svelte, high-cheekboned clubgoers who, for all their frenetic movement, still exhibit a kind of sullen demeanor. As a visitor to Vienna, Austria, I had a chance to patronize a number of these clubs. They are a lot of fun, par for the course with their homegrown equivalents here in Chicago. But there was one nightspot in Vienna which seemed to reject the sleek dracular trappings of its peers for an altogether different narrative: In a world overrun by vampires, this is the joint where the human holdouts go for their funky mammalian revels. The name of this club is Flex. Its distinctly Viennese sensibility and filthy loud vibrations make it an indispensable place to party when visiting the city.

Photo taken by Jacob O. Gold
Flex is located on the western bank of the Donaukanal, a narrow branch of the Danube (Donau in German) that runs along the eastern edge of Vienna’s city center before it rejoins the river further south. Spanned here and there by bridges, lined with parks and paths for bikers and joggers, the green waters of the Donaukanal ease along at some twenty feet lower than the surrounding city; a concrete canyon girds the canal on either side. The canyon walls are a favorite canvas for graffiti muralists and taggers and sweethearts making a record of their liaison. Running along the bottom of these walls, at the water’s edge, are broad concrete walkways. This is how one reaches Flex, whose spacious dancehall is burrowed into the cement wall of the canal like some cavernous bomb-proof bunker.
The association is not far from one’s mind since, near to the east, there looms one of Vienna’s surviving Flakturm (“Flak Towers”), an enormous concrete cylinder built by the Nazis which served as an impenetrable anti-aircraft gun nest and bomb shelter for up to 30,000 troops and civilians during WWII. On the contrary, the fortifications of Flex, not far from one of the many reminders of Vienna’s strange relationship with its past, are about as militaristic as Sgt. Pepper - altogether a raucous embassy of universal good will. The only thing they defend against is Vienna’s long, bitter winter.

Photo taken by Jacob O. Gold
Winter was still very far off, though, when I visited at the sweltering height of summer. This is the season when Vienna, like all cities situated in a similar climate, gets truly serious about having a good time outside. Outdoor film festivals and concert series run every night. People pass idle hours sitting at tables under the deep awnings in front of the city’s famous cafés. All through the day and night beautiful youths hang around in the plaza of the Museumsquartier- a ring-shaped complex, right in the heart of the city, near fantastic modern art museums, bars and of course more cafés. Vienna has no “open container” laws. One can amble around communing with the summer air in whatever state of drunkenness befits the mood and moment.
This is probably why no one in the audience at the screening of Jaws in the Prater, the largest of Vienna’s many well-designed public parks, seemed to mind that the subtitles were not in German, but in Swedish and Finnish. It’s also probably why Richard Dreyfus seemed just that funny to me, or why the curry chicken and noodles swimming in grease that I got from a Chinese food cart on my way out of the park tasted so good. Riding the U-Bahn (Vienna’s neatly realized subway system), my friends and I passed around the carton of noodles and the remains of a bottle of cheap whiskey en route (via Paddy O’Brien’s Irish Pub, also well worth checking out) to Flex.

Photo taken by Jacob O. Gold

Flex shares in Vienna’s tryst with summertime, as well as in the traditional Viennese concern for Gemütlichkeit, a German term meaning calm, welcoming coziness. Even Flex’s dancefloor, for all its pounding energy and capacity crowds, never seems edgy or suffocating. It’s more like the dancing section of a cyborg Grateful Dead show in the year 2525 when you’re having a good trip and doing your thing. In the summer Flex, cool and cozy, sprawls out onto the broad concrete boulevard bestride the water. An open-air bar, recessed into the concrete wall, serves drinks to the folks packing the ranks of long picnic tables (right out of Yellowstone or a city beach) stretching one after the next like an overgrown nightside cousin of the cafés frequented in more refined quarters by Vienna’s respectable citizenry. This is a fine place to take up with absolute strangers or lay down for a nap. People are talking fast and loud or just chilling out. West Africans, hardworking nodes in a global mercantile diaspora, are taking their ease after a day of commerce or invisibly plying their more clandestine trades. Beyond the fence where the bouncers keep casual watch over the incoming guests, one can see lights flickering briefly behind the support columns of a nearby bridge.

Inside, Flex presents a fairly straightforward space to go bonkers. One twists through a narrow corridor coated with layers of graffiti scrawl and in through a double door. Beyond this lies another bar and a big dark cube where people are dancing. On a stage at the back of the hall a DJ is going to work . Busy scapes of lighting flash and play over the wiggling youngsters come to get down. Spazing out for all the life of me among them, I once pushed to the front of the crowd, up at the edge of the stage, where in a pocket of empty space I saw Andy Warhol. (He was likely a Warhol impersonator- or rather, an absolute simulacrum- but, then again, wasn’t that the whole idea?) There was Andy - poofy white mop-top and little circular shades, awfully skinny and wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt. His arms were raised above his head with the palms of his hands pressed together; a devotional pyramid, a perpetual A-ssociation. Andy bobbed up and down, jerking his torso, lunging gently to and fro. It might have been Iggy Pop dressed as Andy Warhol.

Carefree, sweaty hours pass by. Finally, the party juices of the cortex depleted, it is time to leave. Even now, at this most beat and weary hour, the spirit of Vienna- as embodied in Flex- does not let one down. Before one can clear Flex’s gates there appears, atop a raised wooden platform, a little sausage shack staffed by what appear to be attentive, good-natured Austrian physics students. Blonde hair, rosy cheeks, bookish glasses, wicked sausage. For a few grimy coins one can wolf down a curry-coated hot dog in a kaiser roll, or a sliced bratwurst swimming in spicy pepper sauce (eaten with a complementary cocktail fork). My favorite, the käsekrainer, is a jumbo sausage filled with bits of cheese which, after it's been crackling on the grill for a while, gushes, liquefied, into one’s mouth which each piping hot heavenly bite. The whole affair feels truly right. Exactly right. Trudging along the Donaukanal as the sun rises over the city, one feels deeply fortified - ready for another day of gaping at more Habsburg opulence, more Gustav Klimt.

All opinions expressed by Jacob O. Gold are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

Jacob O. Gold is a Chicago native, just returned to his beloved home city. He can be reached at

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