Budapest: A Grand Café Is Reborn

Photo courtesy of New York Café

To sip an Eastern European cappuccino is a delectable experience, no matter where you are. But when the setting is as grand as  the New York Café in Budapest, a whole new level of elegance is achieved. The crimson chairs, ornate ceilings and magnificent chandeliers that make up its interior are testimony to this century-old beauty’s enduring charm.

In a city with a long, tumultuous political history, it is only fitting this café on the main floor of the New York Palace would have a story of its own. Designed by Alajos Hauszmann, Floris Korb and Kalman Giergl to be the local home of the New York Insurance Company, the circa 1894 structure is trimmed out in marble, bronze, silk and velvet. Elegant indeed.

Budapest’s writers and artists from its opening flocked to the New York, making it the center of intellectual life at the turn of the 20th century. Regulars held court at “artist’s tables,” sitting for hours with their work. The story goes that on the day  of the New York Café’s opening, the writer Ferenc Molnar and his friends threw the keys into the Danube River to convey their desire that it never close.

Rather than be asked to leave for overstaying their welcomes, these authors, poets and journalists were taken care of by personal waiters, who were attuned to their customers’ needs.

Photo by Ramona Zacharias

Not only were many Hungarian literary works created at the café, but the editorial office of the most important literary journal of the age also set up “residence” there, its staff editing the publication from their tables.

Unfortunately, World War I marked the beginning of a long downturn for the café. Apart from a brief renewal in the 1930s, the New York was never quite the same.

Having been bombed at the end of World War II, the café morphed into a warehouse, before briefly reopening in 1954. Two years later, following the uprising against the Soviet Union, the café became the offices for a publishing group.

The building eventually re-opened its doors as the Hungaria, but it wasn’t until a decade ago, when the Italian Boscolo Group of luxury hotels, purchased the structure that it showed the promise of being restored to its original glory. Today, the New York Café, as part of the adjacent five-star Boscolo Budapest Hotel, is a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike.

While you can order an excellent cup of coffee pretty much anywhere in Budapest, the New York Café lets you drink in some Hungarian literary history in a most magnificent setting.