European coffee houses (in the Anglo-Saxon world known as cafés) were traditionally social outlets and meeting places for intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries. In some cities, like Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, Zurich, Rome and many other cities in the world this tradition continues to the present day. These eloquent coffee houses are not just coffee and food establishments, but also cultural institutions in respective major capitals around the world as they are frequented not only by local residents, but often by visitors from other countries as well.
Many of these visitors are tourists who single out these magnificent coffee houses to visit like others place churches, museums and castles on their tourist menu assisted by guidebooks, of course. Some of these cafes essentially function as small museums (e.g. Nostalgia Coffee House in Szentendre), while naturally offering a superb cup of well-brewed coffee and a delicious piece of pastry as well.
Prices are generally on the high side in these fabulous coffee establishments, but not out of range for the middle class, since multinational coffee shop chains also have premium pricing as part of their marketing strategy. It is interesting that some of the largest international coffee shop chains are not particularly well known known to Hungarians yet. For example, the largest chain store in the world, Tim Hortons, has not penetrated the Hungarian market yet. Number 2. rated internationally is Bewley’s, which is also not known to most citizens in Hungary. Of the large international chains that are familiar to Hungarian clientele include Starbucks, McCafe, Lavazza and Costa.
Some of the old coffee houses and chain cafes have actually turned into full-blown restaurants, but the highest rated traditional coffee houses keep their cultural heritage alive by hosting literary and other cultural events. The New York Café in Budapest is certainly one of them: www.newyorkcafe.hu
This Budapest architectural marvel was a fashionable social meeting place for artists in the early 20th century. Recently renovated by designer Adam Tihany, it maintains its earlier glitter by featuring ornate lamps and paintings on the ceiling mixed with contemporary furnishings. The New York Café in Budapest is skillfully connected to Boscolo Budapest Hotel, and today it is both a cafe and full-blown restaurant, welcoming locals and tourists alike.
The New York Café was frequented by dozens of renowned Hungarian writers, poets and artists. Among these were Sándor Márai who said that “there is no literature without coffee houses (cafés).” According to credible sources, Ferenc Molnár actually wrote his famous novel, “The Boys of Paul Street”, here. Others who liked to visit the New York included Mihály Babits, Zsigmond Móricz, Géza Gárdonyi, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Gyula Illyés and Sándor Weöres.
One of the most impressive buildings on the Nagykörút, originally The New York Palace functioned as an insurance headquarters. Its story actually began in the 19th century, when Max Aufricht assigned Alajos Hauszmann to design the building to house the New York Insurance Society. The Cafe on the ground floor was incorporated into the architectural plans. It was opened in 1894 and quickly became one of the favorite central social outlets for intellectuals and artists in Budapest.
The designers focused on implementing an exquisite interior with marble columns and sculptures. The external sculpture pieces (14 bronze figurines) were made by Károly Senyey. Among these sculptures one is called “El Asmodáj”, which proclaims the spirit and harmony of coffee and intellectual thought as an inspiration to visiting artists and writers.
During later years, anyone could ask for a pen, ink and a “dog tongue” (a sheet of paper) in order to write, a practice which was later banned when, according to Krúdy, Karinthy spilled some ink all over one of the elegant couches. The Cafe New York continues to be a venue for literary artists into the present day. One of the events organized here every year is the New York Artist Lodge series.
The building itself was exposed to external threats during the world wars and lost some of its glamour before it was acquired from the Hungarian state by the Italian Boscolo group. Boscolo then went ahead and restored the building and the New York Café as well. They made a special attempt to preserve the old elegance of the interior and the building. These efforts have clearly borne fruit, as the New York Café in Budapest was recently nominated as the most beautiful cafe in the world.
Following the New York, the other top listed cafes in the world were as follows: Caffe Florian in Venice, Italy; Cafe Central in Vienna, Austria (see picture below); Cafe Imperial in Prague, The Czech Republic; Cafe de la Paix in Paris, France; Cafe Majestic in Porto, Portugal; Cafe Confeitaria Colombo in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil; Caffe Gambrinus in Naples, Italy; Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and finally Caffe Greco in Rome, Italy.