It might be an obvious contender when it comes to a list of the best bookshops in Vienna, but there’s a reason that phil is so highly rated by book lovers in this city. Although the selection is small, it’s very carefully curated, and the comfy seating areas and outstanding cakes make this bookshop-café popular with readers and non-readers alike. And as if all that wasn’t enough, the fact that you can pop into phil and buy a book at half past midnight is reason enough for it to get full marks from me.
On a corner of Gumpendorfer Straße in Vienna’s ever-trendier 6th district, phil is something of an institution among the hipster, student, artsy and international crowds (many of which overlap). At any given time of day you’ll hear a range of languages being spoken here, groups of students working on presentations, and people hotly discussing the latest arthouse film premiere – the bookshop/café is linked to the Gartenbaukino and papered with tattered posters for films and arts festivals. While a lot of the clientele and staff is achingly hipster (especially in the evenings), phil is absolutely an all-inclusive venue in which I’ve never felt uneasy for not having an asymmetrical fringe, long beard or fleamarket-sourced outfit.
A good way to treat this bookshop is to come in for breakfast (served daily except Mondays from 9am until 4pm), a grilled cheese sandwich or a plate of falafel and hummus, using the time before your food arrives to browse, buy and get yourself comfy on one of the battered old sofas (which are, incidentally, mostly for sale). If they aren’t working or catching up with friends, a lot of people do this, meaning that if you’re unlucky you’ll have to buy a book and head across the road to the more traditional Café Sperl for a cup of coffee. But even better, in my opinion, is to pop in after dinner one evening (phil is always open until 1am) for a glass of wine combined with a book-buying session. I find the all-day music level just a little too loud for me to really concentrate on reading if I sit here, and there’s something thrilling about buying books on a late-night whim somewhere other than the internet.
Despite its slightly oddly mixed product range (books, cakes, furniture, drinks), phil is one of those ‘concept stores’ that just works. In part this is because of the carefully curated bookshelves, which stock a mixture of new German-language fiction, selected English titles, shiny coffee-table tomes on everything from yoga to wild camping, art books, a handful of kids’ books, and a goodly number of non-fiction titles ranging from biographies of Beethoven and Einstein to dense works on religion and economics. Come with an open mind and you’re definitely going to find at least one book to pique your interest, or arrive with more specific demands and the booksellers will happily order within 48 hours if your chosen title isn’t in stock. You get the feeling that people here really do care about books, and the sign around the central island says it all, really: ‘Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a book, not a genre.’
Whether you read in English or German, live in Vienna or are just visiting, phil is definitely worth a visit for its eclectic but lovingly assembled bookshelves and laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. Try late-night book shopping, read a novel over breakfast, or pop in for one of the occasional events (usually author discussions or film opening nights). I don’t live in Vienna any more, but phil was one of the first places that made me feel welcome there and I go back – whether for ten minutes or two hours – almost every time I’m in the city. I defy any book lover to visit and not leave feeling happy and inspired.
phil is at Gumpendorfer Straße 10–12, 1060 Vienna, Austria and open on Mondays from 5pm to 1am, Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 1am