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The historical cafés of Budapest

New York Coffee House
Budapest
Greater Budapest

When Hungarians first encountered coffee (which they referred to as “black soup”) during the Ottoman rule, they were not overly delighted with it. However, when a Rác merchant called Balázs “Coffee Maker” opened the first known coffee house in the early 1700s, something changed. So much so, that 200 years later, Budapest (at that stage already a united city) was referred to as a “coffee city.”

 

A café was not simply a catering outlet, but the centre of social life and the meeting place for the intelligentsia. It is no coincidence that the Revolution of 1848 also started from a café, but a café was also the place where the legendary magazine Nyugat was founded. By the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, there were about 500 cafés in the city. However, after World War II, café culture began to decline rapidly, with most of the venues frequented by the middle classes closed down. Nevertheless, today many legendary historic cafés have returned to their old splendour. An entire book would be too short to list all of them, but we can show you the most important ones.

Gerbeaud

This opulent café located in Vörösmarty tér was opened by Henrik Kugler in 1858, and was later taken over by Emil Gerbeaud. This place – which combines all the advantages of a confectionery and a café – operated under the name Vörösmarty from 1948 to 1984, but has now been given the name Gerbeaud back, and represents Hungarian café culture on many prestigious international top lists.

Centrál

The café, founded in 1887, entered into Hungarian literary history when the highly influential newspaper of Hungarian literature and public life, Nyugat, was established here in 1908. It was frequented by the greatest artists of the era; this is where Babits proposed to Ilona Tanner (Sophie Török), for example. But regular patrons included Frigyes Karinthy, Géza Gárdonyi, Kálmán Mikszáth, Gyula Krúdy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Zsigmond Móricz, Géza Csáth and Lőrinc Szabó. However, the post-war world did not tolerate this opulent, bourgeois coffee house, so it was closed in 1949. It afterwards served as home to many things, from a cultural centre to the university club of ELTE, until in 2000, regaining its old lustre, it reopened as a café.

New York

The New York Café, founded in 1894, also has a special place in the line of legendary coffee houses, and it was able to survive beyond the heyday of cafés. In the “golden age” at the beginning of the 20th century, the members of the editorial staff of Pesti Napló, Nyugat and Est-lapok were daily guests here, but Pál Szinyei Merse or Jenő Heltai were also regular patrons. According to the guestbook, Josephine Baker, Thomas Mann and Maurice Ravel also visited the café. Although the venue still housed a café after World War II, it was only restored to its original splendour in 2006.

New York Coffee House

Művész

The café, which opened in the former Szenes Palace, was first named Little-Gerbeaud, and then Művész (Artist) Café, and, in accordance with its name, it was and still is a favourite place in the artistic world. In the old days, for example, Iván Mándy and János Pilinszky enjoyed delicious coffee and cakes here, and today the stars of Budapest’s theatres are often seen within its walls.

Hadik

It was not only the Pest side that abounded in legendary cafés; Buda also boasted opulent, cosy establishments. The Hadik, for example, which was founded in 1906 but became really famous in the 1920s – not so much for its coffee as for its renowned guests, such as Zsigmond Móricz, Dezső Kosztolányi, Frigyes Karinthy and Milán Füst. It was reopened in 2010. 

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