If you do a quick search for the oldest restaurant in the world, you’ll probably come across a few of the same entries. Perhaps Sobrino de Botín will top the list — it’s a casual restaurant in Madrid that opened in 1725 and is well-known for it’s mention in a Hemingway novel. Dig a little deeper, and you may come across Stockholm‘s Zum Franziskaner, opened in 1421 (though it’s not in the original building).
While no one would deny that a restaurant opened in the 15th century is old, it’s not the oldest in the world. That honor belongs to Salzburg, Austria’s St. Peter Stiftskeller. It opened in 803 (yes, more than 1,200 years ago) and is in the same building as it as when founded by one of Charlemagne’s top religious scholars (which yes, kind of means Charlemagne was the first owner). The reason some people don’t consider it the oldest restaurant in the world is because it wasn’t accepting money for food when it first opened. It was tradition to serve food to religious travelers, who would often stay and help at the monastery while passing through. But if you define a restaurant as “a place that serves food to travelers,” well, St. Peter’s tops the list.
And there’s so much more hot pink than you’d expect.
I ate at St. Peter’s back in March and was shocked at the restaurant’s amazing transformation and balance of new styles and extremely, extremely old features. It’s divided into two restaurant concepts: ACTHUNDERT& DREI, which is the formal dining area inside most of the building, and PETER, which is the hipper spot with Mediterranean-inspired dishes. I ate at ACTHUNDERT& DREI but walked around all the areas and wow — to say I was surprised at what it looked like is a serious understatement.
Here’s what the world’s oldest restaurant actually looks like, plus tips on snagging a table at the Salzburg hot spot. Scroll to the end for the most mind-blowing parts.
When you first walk into St. Peters, which has several rooms and different dining areas, it more or less looks how you’d expect the oldest restaurant in the world to look. There are original walls and wood carvings inspired by monks.
Rooms inside the oldest restaurant in the world
Salzburg was founded in the year 696 CE (yes, with the establishment of St. Peter’s Abbey) and is on the site of an even older Roman establishment, so it’s history goes way back. It’s even divided into the “new” and “old” city; the old city is dominated by the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
But the reason most people know the town — and the reason so many tourists visit — is because it’s the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was born in the old city in 1756 and the town’s annual Mozart Festival, which runs for six weeks every summer, brings nearly 200,000 attendees to Salzburg. So I wasn’t surprised to see that much of the decor in the oldest restaurant in the world looks like it’s straight from the 1700s and early 1800s.
The food at the oldest restaurant in the world
St. Peter’s truly did an amazing job of blending traditional cuisine with modern culinary styles and it was one of the best meals I had in Austria. The menu is fairly traditional, with a great wine selection and many local Austrian beers.
The rest of the space
After dinner, I walked around the oldest restaurant in the world a bit more, and that’s when things started getting…unexpected.
How is the oldest restaurant in the world so dang cool?
If you’re wondering, like I was, how St. Peter’s is so hip, the answer comes down to two people: Claus Haslauer and wife Veronika Kirchmair. Haslauer signed the first lease ever for the restaurant in 1992 at the age of just 25, and his wife began a serious redesign of the restaurant space in 1999. Kirchmair says she wanted to design something unlike other offerings in Salzburg.
“For PETER, I designed an urban jungle and want to spread that holiday feeling in the middle of the city of Salzburg. We placed great value on style and colors in order to exude happiness. Different plants and animal figures play a major role, as do natural materials,” she says.
And while she wants to keep ACHTHUNDERT&DREI more authentic, well, you can see how it turned out.
“At ACHTHUNDERT&DREI restaurant, we celebrate the traditional side of the house, with antique furniture and fine-dining table settings,” she says. “But we always incorporate a modern twist, like colorful wall paint and paintings.”
How to get a reservation
Getting a reservation at the oldest restaurant in the world isn’t as hard as you’d think, especially because the restaurant is so big. It’s easier during the off-season (not in the summer) and brunch reservations tend to fill up fairly quickly. Note that you can’t make requests for specific rooms, but you can walk around the entire building regardless of where you sit.
The exception to that is during the Mozart Festival, when snagging a table is a challenge, especially before a show. Make your plans as early as possible, especially if you want to attend a Mozart Dinner. As you might imagine, it’s a popular activity.