The story now comes full circle with the city’s burgeoning new-wave cafés, and their accompanying cosmopolitan lifestyle. A number of the gilded coffeehouses of the Belle Époque remain, however, spanning a century of history within four walls.
Still popular to this day, the Ruszwurm stands a few steps from Matthias Church. Confectioner Ferenc Schwabl opened this venerable establishment in 1827, and it retains its Biedermeier furnishings. Its cakes and pastries remain legendary – Empress Elisabeth of Austria, a great Hungarophile, would have them delivered to her.
The classic era of the coffeehouse, however, came a century or so later, with the development of Pest as an urban hub. Until the mid- to late 1800s, the common language in Budapest was German. As Pest was built block after block, cramped, dimly lit apartments encouraged the menfolk to meet elsewhere, in the coffeehouse. Here, the common language was Hungarian. Writers, artists and people of influence would be able to convene for hours over a single cup of coffee. The coffeehouse became a forum, where ideas could be exchanged, most notably at the Pilvax in the city centre, where Sándor Petőfi and his contemporaries plotted the uprising against their Viennese masters in 1848.
Once Budapest gained its elevated status as a twin capital of the Dual Monarchy, so the Hungarian capital flourished, culturally as well as architecturally. The city gained theatres, a daily press, book publishers, and these actors, journalists and writers would gather. Editorial meetings took place, magazines were conceived – most notably, the seminal Nyugat at the Centrál, opened in 1887.