As an enthusiastic coffee drinker since the tender age of ten I often imagine myself one day working in retirement at a local coffeehouse to help feed my habit. On a recent visit to Hungary I discovered that Budapest also has a lavish addiction to grand coffeehouses. Never too far away is a welcoming coffee break to rest your legs from your hours of meandering Budapest’s streets.
Budapest got its first taste of caffeine from the Ottomans in the 16th – 17th centuries. By the 19th century, during the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest enjoyed over 400 coffeehouses. Many coffeehouses were destroyed during the World Wars. Then the post-war communist era saw popular coffeehouses systematically closed in an effort to prevent underground organizations using them as a base to conspire against the leadership. Therefore, during the time of Communism smaller outlets called espressos were encouraged. Espressos were cafes where only few people could stand at a bar or sit at a table to drink coffee. As a result this limited the amount of time and number of people that could meet and talk politics.
Budapest of today has been likened to Budapest’s Golden Era of coffeehouses. A surge in new coffeehouses as places to spend time, meet friends, and as a work space instead of the traditional office. As visitors to this city this time, we were looking for traces of the old golden era and for cafes preserved in their classic splendor. We wanted to absorb and imagine what a coffeehouse experience was like in days gone by.
So on this brief trip we explored four of Budapest’s grand cafes we feel are worth taking the time to visit.
Opened in 1858 by Kugler Henrik who came from a famous confectionary family. The cafe moved from its original location to Vörösmarty Square in 1870. A decade later Kugler began to look for a business partner since he didn’t have any descendants who would inherit his business. Emile Gerbeaud was recommended and he became Kugler’s business partner in 1883.
The Gerbeaud Café is one of Budapest’s oldest and most traditional cafes. The elegant crystal chandeliers, draped curtains, and brocade wall coverings make you feel like you are stepping back in time to the late 19th century. Although prices are expensive, we splurged anyways on a $9.00 Karamellas Jeges Kávé (Caramel Iced Coffee) and an $8.00 Csokoládé Shake (Chocolate Shake).
Cafe Gerbeaud – Budapest, Vörösmarty Square 7-8, 1051 Hungary
Originally opened in 1887 this cafe was the meeting and working place for artists, writers, journalists, and editors. However, after World War II the Centrál Kávéház was closed and then repurposed into a construction workers diner. Finally under new ownership in 1999, the cafe was brought back to life and reopened.
The dark furnishings are reminiscent of a 1920s men’s club. Hence the cafe arouses an old-time feeling of devilish possibilities – coffee and desert! We were huddled into a cozy corner with other patrons ordering just drinks or desert. The plush leather seating reserved for those who decide to dine. The café latté tasted as expected, but the raspberry elderflower lemonade was a truly refreshing respite from the hot summer heat. Notably drinks were close to $5.00 each.
Centrál Kávéház – Budapest, Karolyi Mihaly Utca 9, 1053 Hungary
Art Nouveau Cafe
Located near Parliament, Bedő House is the former commissioned residence of industrialist Belo Bedő. Built by architect Vidor Emil in 1903, the house was designed inside and out in the Budapest Secession style. Secession Style in Budapest is Art Nouveau with a distinctly traditional Hungarian accent. The ground floor now houses the cafe, with the floors above housing the Hungarian Art Nouveau museum. The museum is home to a unique collection of furniture, decor, and paintings related to the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century.
Probably my favorite coffeehouse of the four is Art Nouveau Cafe. This cafe provides a more intimate experience within an organically furnished environment. Sit back in a cushy arm chair or at an elegant bistro table surrounded by art and decor. This cafe has elegance, charm, and a casual feel minus any grand touristic commercialized efforts. It was in this cafe where I felt comfortable and enchanted by the experience.
Art Nouveau Cafe – Budapest, Honvéd Utca 3, 1054 Hungary
New York Café
The building was originally constructed for a New York based insurance company between 1892 and 1894. The New York, the original cafe name, was opened in 1894 by Sándor Steuer on the ground floor. During its heyday it was the most popular cafe frequented by writers and artists who received special treatment from waiters in the form of discounted prices and extra large portions!
Towards the end of World War II the building was bombed and in 1947 the cafe was closed to become a warehouse. In a post war Communist era Hungary the cafe was briefly reopened in 1954 as Hungaria a sort of buffet restaurant. After the fall of Communism in 1989 there were several offers to purchase the building. Ultimately it was sold by the Hungarian government in 2001 to Boscolo Hotels with a condition to fully restore the famous New York Café. The cafe was reopened in 2006. It is also known as, the most beautiful cafe in the world.
Now a very popular cafe with lots of visiting tourists to Budapest. You can make a reservation on their website or check online for busy times when planning your visit. We chose to go in the evening during a non peak time and waited for 10-15 minutes to be seated. Even during this less busy time, the cafe was still bustling with customers. Prices are expensive; a cappuccino costs approximately $8.67. Furthermore, you can check out their menu and prices on their website.
New York Cafe – Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Hungary
Hope you enjoyed seeing inside a few of Budapest’s grand cafes and historic coffeehouses! Did you get some coffeehouse inspiration for planning your trip to Budapest? Let us know if you have visited any of these cafes or if you have any other recommendations.