A grand breakfast Budapest style was on the menu in the opulent New York Cafe, celebrating 120 years as “the most beautiful coffee house in the world.”
Strolling along the Grand Boulevard (Erzsébet körút) in Budapest one morning, we thought we’d opt for a “grand breakfast Budapest style” in a historic coffee house. An understated reference to a stop and gawk on the circular bus route map convinced us we should at least check out the incongruously named New York Cafe. Little did we realize.
Entering the cafe’s vestibule is to be transported back to 1894. Budapest was celebrating La Belle Epoque in arts and letters. The Hungarian economy had been bolstered by three decades of dualistic Hapsburg monarchy.
In this location, the New York Life Insurance Company completed construction of a wedding cake palace as its Hungarian headquarters, and the building’s cafe was an immediate sensation. Legend has it that writer Ferenc Molnar (“Carousel“), so delighted with the first day’s heady experience, threw the cafe’s keys into the Danube so that it would always remain open.
Boscolo Hotel Group, who purchased and renovated the entire building in 2006, describes New York Cafe as the hotel’s “beating heart.” The ceiling frescoes were painted by Gusztav Mannheimer and Ferenc (Franz) Eisenhut. The cafe is illuminated by Venetian chandeliers which enhance the sparkle and polish.
Local and international intellectual celebrities flocked to the New York Cafe in its heydey. Editors of Nyugat, a prominent cosmopolitan literary journal, had offices here in the building. Alexander Korda and Bela Lugosi were regulars. Nowadays, whether you’re a local celebrity or an ordinary traveler, you are served with an impeccable flourish befitting your glamorous surroundings.
Our “grand breakfast Budapest style” felt so opulent in these surroundings. To be honest, we didn’t really concentrate on the food as much as we did the ornamental details. From table to ceiling, each element of our experience was designed to complement this beautiful space. Smiling faces, a bit scarce on every day Budapest residents going about their daily business, on guests and staff alike attested: you can’t not like the New York Cafe.
Coming from Vienna, we’d seen pomp and grandeur, but it had felt lofty and out of reach. In the New York Cafe, we felt welcomed and encouraged to enjoy the lavish atmosphere as a thing of beauty, rather than importance. Truly the best breakfast Budapest may offer.
Tips: The cafe is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, culminating in an International Gastronomy Conference with confections contest, and a Grand Ball in October. Located at Erzsébet körút 9-11, the Boscolo Budapest building is one block up from the M2 Blaha Lujza stop on Rakoczi utca. Its location is also quite walkable from the Keleti train station. If you’re staying on the Pest side in one of the major hotels, the Grand Boulevard is a wonderful stroll (open map). While the New York Cafe is rated by some as expensive, we felt our breakfast was fairly priced, coming in at less than $40 at the time of this writing, including champagne.