- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

VIENNA (AP) - Leopold Hawelka, whose famous cafe in the Austrian capital is considered an institution by locals and tourists alike, celebrated his 100th birthday Monday amid much fanfare.

The Cafe Hawelka, which opened in 1939, is perhaps the most celebrated of hundreds of coffeehouses in Vienna where young and old spend hours reading newspapers, chatting or simply people watching.

For decades, it attracted world renowned writers and artists such as Arthur Miller and Andy Warhol, who would discuss their ideas in the once smoke-filled establishment with worn sofas, small tables and old style, dark wooden coat racks. Now, it draws an eclectic crowd that includes a fair share of travelers who read about it in guidebooks.

On Monday, longtime patrons, family members, friends and even city officials crowded into the small and stuffy coffee shop _ located on a quiet street in the heart of Vienna _ to wish Hawelka well with songs, anecdotes and poems.

Hawelka himself was too weak to attend the party, but his smiling portrait perched on a striped couch served as a reminder of the centenarian who still, to this day, spends the occasional morning watching over the waiters dressed in a blazer and bow tie.

Longtime patron Annemarie Eppinger, clutching a bunch of yellow and red flowers, recited a poem she penned about Hawelka and his wife, Josefine, who died in 2005 at the age of 91.

Later, she recalled how, years ago, Hawelka had watched over her niece as she studied at the cafe, shooing away anyone who wanted to distract her.

“He was like a father to her,” Eppinger said as she squeezed past a waiter juggling multiple trays laden with coffee cups and a type of jam-filled pastry known as “Buchteln” in German that Josefine used to make and serve warm to customers.

Robert de Clercq, a 75-year-old Dutchman, said he first met Hawelka more than 42 years ago and immediately felt at ease in his cafe.

“It was my living room when I was in Vienna,” he said fondly.

Despite his absence, Hawelka also got his share of birthday presents. Austria’s post office, for example, released a special stamp in his honor and Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, Vienna’s cultural affairs alderman, brought a small golden statuette.

Hawelka’s 70-year-old son Guenter, who now runs the establishment with his two adult sons, appeared pleased but not surprised by the enthusiastic turnout.

“He’s a Vienna coffeehouse legend after all,” he said of his father proudly.

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