Small but mighty, Vienna’s nightlife scene punches above its weight, featuring clubs that take music seriously and keep the tracks spinning well past dawn. Masha Aleynikova, also known by her DJ name Masha Dabelka, is the founder of Turntablista, a Viennese DJ school for women. Here, she shares her favourite places to perform and the best places in Vienna to party through the night.
“People here are very educated musically,” says Dabelka, who moved to Vienna over a decade ago from Novosibirsk in Russia to complete a master’s degree at the Academy of Fine Arts. “This is both good and bad. Everybody’s impulses come from the head, not the heart. You can see people thinking about the music.” This means that people tend to be more considered in their appreciation for music than they might be elsewhere. “There isn’t crazy, wild dancing on the floor.”
Vienna is often described as a world capital of music, and its long and illustrious musical legacy lives on in the city’s cultural offerings. But it’s not all as glamorous or high-end as the opera house: Vienna’s clubs tend to be unpretentious, with relaxed door policies and low entry fees. Techno is particularly popular, although other music styles can be found with more of a search. Drinking alcohol outside is also legal in Vienna, although some places collect a Pfand (deposit) of about a euro with your drink, especially those with outdoor bars. You’ll get the deposit back when you return your glass.
Dabelka plays techno, acid house and underground disco at several clubs in the city and runs a DJ school for female DJs that she founded in September 2019 after winning an entrepreneurship competition. She explains that Vienna’s nightlife scene might not be obvious to visitors from the outset.
“It probably seems like nothing is happening,” Dabelka says, “but it’s concealed behind unlikely facades. You have to know the right places to go.” Although the Viennese music scene and the city itself can seem closed off, she says, “With time, all the doors open.” She rounded up her nightlife recommendations for the city, to give an insider’s insight into the best places to go out in Vienna.
Set behind a wacky-looking trash-incineration plant designed by Austrian architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Das Werk is Dabelka’s favourite DJing venue. The club features two dance rooms, reasonably priced drinks and a makeshift outdoor area on the street set against graffitied brick walls. It’s a fun place to go out, and at weekends you might find adults decorating each other with glitter and neon face paints. “They have really good techno parties and the people who come are international and mature,” Dabelka says, referring to the sophisticated crowd that tends to gather here, adding, “It always has a celebratory atmosphere.”
Dabelka describes Grelle Forelle as “the most hyped club in Vienna”. Situated a short walk from Das Werk, Grelle Forrelle has been the best place for underground techno music in Vienna since 2011 and continues to host popular events such as Zusammen Kommen, a sex-positive party. “They have an amazing sound system, good bookings and they attract cool performers,” says Dabelka. As in many Viennese clubs, the real action doesn’t start until after midnight, and easily lasts until past dawn. Be aware that taking photos and videos in the club is strictly prohibited, and the wait to enter can be long.
Like a number of nightlife spots in Vienna, Venster99 is on the Gürtel, a road that runs through the city centre. Venues are clustered inside the arches of a raised section of the Gürtel, making it particularly popular with partygoers looking to do a bar crawl. The vibe at Venster99 – best described as experimental, open-minded and non-mainstream – is clear from one glance at its promotional materials: a banner on the website reads “Love Music; Hate Fascism” and the main image on the club’s Facebook page is a drawing of a woman with a fist raised, with the words “The Future Is Female” written alongside. But what Dabelka likes about Venster99 is a more technical aspect of the club. “It’s a small bar with a hellish sound system,” she says. “Your hair stands up when you walk in. It’s hardcore.”
Established in 1998 and set right beneath the subway tracks, rhiz is an institution in Vienna. The club even made an appearance in the Wien Museum’s exhibition about music in the Austrian capital, which credited rhiz (along with several other locales) with bringing new life into the then-dilapidated Gürtel, now well known for its nightlife. “It’s a place where they play indie, industrial, experimental electronic, techno and house,” Dabelka says. “There’s a stage, and they have concert-level sound.” Head to rhiz to hear experimental music on weeknights and to dance the night away at weekends.
At this unmarked club set inside a former synagogue, the ambiance changes by the day. Instead of permanent decorations, the club’s owners project different light installations onto the walls each night. “They have massive ceilings and a lot of international visitors,” Dabelka says, adding that the sound levels are ideal for a sociable evening. “You can hear everybody talking, even though techno is blasting behind you.” Those who want some privacy can pop inside one of the venue’s ski lifts. Hungry after hours of dancing? You’re in luck, as there’s a takeaway stand inside the club that sells sausage, a classic snack after a night out in Vienna.
A restaurant, bar, art gallery and club rolled into one, Elektro Gönner is the kind of hangout where you can talk or dance, or do both at the same time. The club offers other opportunities for mingling, too. “They have workshops for DJs, vinyl markets and talks about the music industry,” Dabelka explains. Come nighttime, DJs spin electronic music, house, disco and techno. The drink selection is diverse, too. Cocktail fiends will be happy to see that the menu includes a selection of classic options, such as a paloma (a tequila-based drink), a Moscow mule, a negroni and a Dark ‘n’ Stormy (€8 each). Those wanting something more intense can opt for a piranha shot, which combines vodka, Amarena cherry and Tabasco, or a Russian cocaine shot with vodka, lemon and coffee (€3.50 each).
Dabelka describes Tonstube as less of a club, and more of a bar with music. But it’s a great place to go out, and less experienced DJs are invited to play here. Tonstube is located near Naschmarkt, a popular Vienna food market with over 100 stands and restaurants that was established in the 16th century and is now a popular tourist attraction. Tonstube is small, but it’s often packed with visitors to the city, who come for the mix of electronic and hip-hop music. It’s a popular place for parties, Dabelka tells us.
With four rooms, a basement for jazz concerts and several bars, Celeste is a multifunctional space that hosts recurring events such as a fundraiser for LGBTQ refugees and a tasteful karaoke night called ‘No More Wonderwall’ (sorry, Oasis fans). “It can be really fun and homely,” says Dabelka. “It’s the kind of place where you’ll run into people you know.” The musical selection is ever-rotating, and you can find foosball and ping-pong tables inside. As for drinks? They serve the usual, as well as a moonshine option.
Built inside a former pedestrian passageway on Praterstern, a major transport hub in Vienna, Fluc has thick concrete walls that allow DJs to blast the music as loud as they like. The club, which is painted a baby blue colour on the outside, has two floors – the bottom floor has an entry fee and the top floor does not. With its anarchist leanings, affordable drinks and low cost, Fluc is a favourite of the underground music community in Vienna. “There’s everything from drum and bass to techno to tropical,” Dabelka says. “It’s authentic and it’s worth going to.”