If you are the parent of a young child and live anywhere within the “first nine,” you’ve almost certainly already heard of or been to the Smalltalk Kids Cafe just off of Mariahilferstraße. For those not in the know, it’s basically a big open room that is divided into 3 parts: a bar area, an open area with tables and booths, and a large, staffed play area with innumerable toys and equipment for the amusement of the youngsters. The whole place is, of course, non-smoking.
I applaud this effort, and have visited quite a few times. So, apparently, has the rest of Vienna. This place is a serious success. It’s always crowded, and word is spreading quickly. It underscores something that I’ve been ranting about since I moved here, and I hope it points toward a trend. The other day I was lounging there with my wife, my two kids, and another couple with their two kids, and we agreed: if the same company or a similar place opened a location 2 blocks away, it would be equally successful. So I think we’ll see a huge boom in child-friendly establishments in the years to come.
The inner city appears to be going through somewhat of a baby boom. Compared to when I lived in Vienna in 1991, this place is taking on a much younger hue. Maybe I was blind to it before, but it appears to me that Vienna young urban residents are taking up the government on their offer of Kindergeld and getting busy with the procreation.
Vienna’s benevolent and exhaustive network of city-sponsored and private child-friendly exhibitions, play yards, playgrounds and events has always served it well. But modern parents want something very simple. They want to be able to interact with their friends socially, while not neglecting their children’s’ needs for play and amusement. In Portland, this was a growing trend. Many restaurants, taking advantage of the totally non-smoking public space environment, would offer up some small amusement for the kids — maybe some toys, placemats for them to draw on, etc.
Smalltalk is filling that need, but many more such places are needed.
But here’s my tip. As much as I like the Kinder Cafe, it is a bit overwrought. I, personally, don’t want my kid to be too far away or detached from the group so thoroughly. Sure, it’s nice to have somebody watch the kids while they play, but on a smaller scale, what I really want is just a small, friendly, non-smoking restaurant/cafe scene that has a few toys in a corner so that the kids — supervised by their own parents — can entertain themselves a bit. It’s a formula deployed with enormous success by places such as the Laurelwood Public House in NW Portland.
Just serve up some fresh, decent food and hopefully some decent coffee, a selection of brews and wine, throw a box of clean toys in a corner free of sharp objects and stairways, smile once in a while, eliminate smoking, and watch the business boom.