Take Five: Historical Budapest Cafes

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Take Five: Historical Budapest Cafes

In recent years, Budapest, Hungary, has become notorious for its vibrant nightlife. The city’s clubs, bars and now-signature ruin pubs earns the city a reputation as a one of Europe’s best party destinations. However, there are also tamer amusements in the Hungarian capital, such as a thriving café culture, which has a tumultuous history stretching back to long before ruin bars, DJs or night clubs even existed.

It’s said that before World War II, there may have been as many as 500 cafés and coffee houses in Budapest. By the end of the war, many of these had been destroyed, and those that remained had a hard time operating under the newly established communist government. Since 1989, when the communist regime came to an end, many of the largest coffee shops and restaurants reopened, once again allowing locals and foreign visitors to exchange their ideas over espresso, wine or dessert cakes.

For those looking for a more leisurely way to enjoy the warm Hungarian summer, here are some the Budapest’s greatest restored cafés.

Dillon Thompson is a travel intern with Paste and a student at the University of Georgia.

1. Ruszwurm

Opened in 1827, Ruszwurm is easily the city's oldest café. Although closed for a period of time during the mid 20th century, much of the building's original interior—famously made of a smooth cherry wood—remains intact. The quaint pastry house is smaller than most, although both city residents and tourists consider it to be one of the best spots to grab some cake and coffee. The menu is relatively cheap as well, with most cakes costing less than 600 forints—just a little more than $2 USD. Located on the Buda side of the Danube River, Ruszwurm is well within walking distance of many of the town's most attractive sightseeing destinations, with highlights such as Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion only a few blocks away. Additionally, Buda Castle is only about ten minutes away on foot, positioning this café as a convenient resting place after a long day of exploring. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Stephen

2. Gerbeaud Café

Gerbeaud was originally founded in 1858, in the area that is now part ofVörösmarty Square, one of Pest's most central and heavily-trafficked areas. During the 19th century, it was one of Europe's most beloved confectionaries, and even members of the ruling Hapsburg family would drop in from time to time. Since the Gerbeaud family bought the business back from the government in 1984, the café has become a major tourist attraction, with visitors from all over the world flocking to its expansive outdoor patio, its grandiose exterior and its expensive-yet-worth-it macaroons and chocolates. For those looking to acquaint themselves with local culture, the Gerbeaud bistro serves many Hungarian classics such as traditional goulash and chicken paprika stew—in addition to a large menu of wine offerings from the surrounding regions. For dessert, take a slice of cake to go if you're looking to save some money, as Hungarian pastry shops traditionally grant a 50 percent discount for take-away. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Edinburgh David

3. Central Café

While most of Budapest's other confectionaries are reminiscent of the coffee house heyday of the early 1900s, Central has made a goal out of embracing the future. After becoming the first classically styled café to reopen after the end of communism in Hungary, the coffee shop and bakery has rallied around a mission statement of operating "without the clumsiness of the so-called Hungarian restaurants, the rigor of the gourmet restaurants and the boredom of the pastry factories." Despite the restaurant's focus on modernization, the interior still remains almost identical to its original 19th century décor, and the menu still features a number of typical Hungarian dishes, such as dumplings, gundel pancackes and of course goulash. The prices are somewhat steep for main dishes, but you can get breakfast for less than 2900 forints (around $10 USD). If you're not too hungry, the drink selection has just about anything you could want—from coffee and wine to lemonade and even milkshakes. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Simon Q

4. Auguszt Coffee House

Unlike many of Budapest's other large coffee houses, Auguszt is a pastry shop first and a café second. The confectionary, originally established in 1870, is known primarily for its cakes and dessert items, which earn rave reviews from almost any visitor who has taken the time to describe their experience on TripAdvisor. There are three Auguszt locations, each of which in its own corner of Budapest, meaning you never have to walk too far to find this famous patisserie. The prices aren't cheap, but they aren't too expensive either—even though one look at some of Auguszt's enticing sweets will make the cost seem irrelevant. The City Center location is the most conveniently located for those looking to do some sight seeing before or after stopping in for some coffee and cake, however be sure to check the café's hours before heading there, as the shop closes early and opens late on certain days. Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Verive

5. New York Café

Located inside of Pest's Boscolo hotel, New York Café may in fact be the city's most opulent and extravagantly decorated coffee shop. After surviving the communist era under an alternate name, the restaurant and bakery was returned to its former glory in 2006, once again becoming one of the most popular destinations in town. In addition to the interior, which gleams with mirrors, ceiling paintings and bright golden lighting from wall to wall, the café's menu may be its biggest draw. The diversity alone is overwhelming—patrons can order anything from burgers and pasta to schnitzel and roasted duck. The bistro's only true drawback is its accessibility, as dining in often requires a reservation or some careful planning, as the room is sometimes used for weddings and special events as well. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Henrik Becker