20 February 2024

Coffee and culture in Budapest’s N.Y Cafe

In 1894, during Budapest's golden fin-de-siècle era, a grandiose fa­cility was built in the city centre. Al­­­ajos Hauszmann was comm­is­s­ioned to plan the design and along with Flóris Korb and Kálmán Gier­gl, he created a lavish, 4 st­or­ey­ed palace with a ground-floor café. The New York Café soon be­came the centre of Hung­ar­ian cultural his­t­ory, the favourite meeting place of art­ists, writers and poets. 
Front of NY Cafe, Pinterest
Tables surrounded by marbled columns, ceiling frescoes and crystal chandeliers.

The site’s history, closely entwined with lit­er­ature, lived through different eras and his­torical ch­anges, always providing com­fort for artists. There is no literature without a Café, said C20th writer Sándor Márai who frequented this historical building for in­s­piration.

There has always been live gypsy music in N.Y Café, but since 1995 the musicians have played every day until 5 PM. Mus­ic accomp­an­ies the del­ights of a good coffee, delic­ious food and atmosphere. The Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band’s huge repertoire means they can play many pieces by heart, clas­sical as well as modern music, with traditional Hun­garian gypsy instr­u­ments. The band interprets Hung­arian folk and gypsy music, plus music by Brahms, Kodály, Bartók or Liszt.

When it comes to an elegant event venue in Budapest, NY Coffee House is unbeatable. Its his­tory and heritage, this “most beautiful coffee house in the world” greatly raises its prestige and makes it more ap­pealing for guests. The building will dazzle all its guests as soon as they arrive in the street, the exclusive interior and the spec­ial­ly qualified staff ensures that formal events go through with no complications.

The opulent, roomy interior has en­joyed the spotlight since the early years of the building. The interior spaces are separated by spiralled marble columns. The ornamental brass statues on the Café's exterior are the 14 sinister fauns, created by Károly Senyei, as the symbols of sensuality and mockery. The figure of El Asmodai can also be found here, as the representation of the spirit of coffee and thinking, so as to provide inspiration for the artists dropping in. 

Full decoration continues around the stairs

The presence of history can be felt when entering the building. Several famous Hungarian writers and poets spent their time here. The iconic Hungarian work of “Pál utcai fiúk” was also written in the Café by Zsigmond Móricz.

The site was the gathering place of many famous Hungarian writers of distinction, such as Mihály Babits, Géza Gárdonyi, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Gyula Illyes and Sándor Weöres. No wonder, since the central placement of the building and the mentality that promoted arts provided the young artists with an atmosphere in which they could exert their creative potential to the fullest. Back then, the not so well-known and often poor writers could get access to the Writers’ Bowl at a small expense, thanks to the innovation of the Harsányi brothers.

The Nyugat Bar upstairs, with its dim light, is one of the cosiest places in the cafe. It offers a view of the Salon Restaurant and the lobby of the hotel while sipping coffee and enjoying the piano music

Nyugat Bar upstairs

Originally the building was the head office of the N.Y Life Insur­an­ce Company, but it soon became an important public venue. The café was estab­lish­ed on the ground floor, and the Company offices were on the first floor.

The cultural scene needed a central venue. The fact that the ceremonial opening in Oct 1894 was attended by the best literary and art stars proves how real this need was. Without advertising, the N.Y became a literary café.

While other cafés were established in existing buildings, it was not a secret that the aim was to create a venue that could represent the Insurance Company appropriately and could fascinate whoever enters the building. This is why the N.Y Café was extraordinarily ornate and polish­ed, and the café became the main attraction of the build­ing: it wanted to captivate visitors and demonstrate the Com­pany’s unlimited wealth. First-hand accounts about the opening event talked in superlatives about the grand interiors.

In 1918, Miksa Aczél and Co. took over the café. Not all the remodelling was univers­ally liked, especially critical were the artists and members of the press. In the Deepwater Room, the bill­iard room was turned into a restaurant, and the rooms behind the up­per balcony were con­v­erted into a bar. But a few years later, af­ter more remodelling, the cosy space was called Mahogany Bar, much loved

In 1927, the restaurant was ex­panded in major reconstr­uction. Immed­iately the locals and famous guests loved the Mahogany Bar: built sym­metrically to the marble hall over the door­way. Guests were thr­illed ab­out the hid­­den lights and the alabaster columns that emitted a delicate opals­cent light. Built in Renaiss­ance/Art Nouveau style, with marble columns, sparkling chandeliers, stuccoed angels, amazing frescoes and gilding, the cafe takes visitors back to another era. The exclusive bar soon bec­ame the centre of Budapest nightlife. A few years later, Budapest artists were given desks and furniture.

Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band

The café suffered very badly during WW1 and WW2, and the N.Y Café was briefly turned into a sports goods store in the 1950s. But it rose from its ashes in 1954, and was renamed Hungária Café. The real revival came in 2006 when a major renovation allowed the New York Café to regain its former gilded glamour. The café is open Mon–Sun 8 AM–midnight.

New York Cafe is just a short walk from the popular Jewish District where my in-laws once lived, and Andrassy Ave. 
Thank you to New York Cafe for the history and photos.


Teresa said...

I still spoke Hungarian when we visited the elegant cafe, so they treated us very nicely. But it was not cheap.

roentare said...

The whole place looks so extravagant!

Joe said...

The Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band is the key contribution to Hung­arian atmosphere. They were terrific playing the music of Bartók and Liszt.

jabblog said...

It is opulent, almost decadent.

Hels said...


agreed. But people go there for the coffee, architecture, decorative arts, music and to be seen in a very cultivated site! Did you have a great time?

Hels said...


Brill says in the political setup of the Dual Monarchy, major cultural institutions were founded, and a distinct urban culture was born in Budapest. The normal patrons were receptive audiences of the arts, which in turn led the city to also become a magnet for artists. The cultivation of personal relationships was encouraged between artists, patrons and mediators in the arts. So of course it was built to be fabulous back in the 1890s and on.

But the question we need to ask is: is the extravagance still acceptable now?

Hels said...


decadent is probably an understatement :) The marble columns, chandeliers, frescoes and gilding decorated the space so richly, I think the NY Cafe may have denuded Hungary of its gold, crystal and marble.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The N.Y. Cafe is certainly a splendid space, and I can see why artists, writers and other creative types would want to congregate there. But it makes me wonder--you have mentioned many of these creative gathering places. In how many of these was the popularity aided by such exotic surroundings, versus in how many such hang-outs was the atmosphere created mainly by the presence of many talented people.

DUTA said...

The presence of the Insurance Company explains it all- the extravagance of the building was to impress and captivate visitors into its own interests.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Wow what a place so much history such a grand looking place

Hels said...


Not only did the N.Y Life Insur­an­ce Company in Budapest want their head office to have a wonderful ground floor facility, but that is where the name New York Café came from.

Hels said...


for fin-de-siècle Budapest, the gorgeous art and architecture definitely were the most important elements. And the New York Cafe was opened to all middle class customers, both locals and visitors - compare this to British literary clubs where everyone was excluded except for the elite.

By the way my mother in law, who lived in Czechoslovakia until the border with Hungary moved and she had to learn Hungarian quickly, guaranteed that Budapest was the most cultured city in the world. And she would never have exaggerated :)

Hels said...


The _entire_ city is grand looking! This is even more amazing since some 60% of buildings in Budapest were either completely destroyed or left in very dangerous conditions by bombs in WW2, especially in 1944 and 1945.

diane b said...

What a beautiful building and cafe. I wish we had been told about this place when we visited Budapest on a tour. It is so decorative and with a fascinating history. It really makes me happy when I see buildings have been restored to their original beauty especially after the wars.

hels said...


It is impossible to visit all the treasures in a city overseas, so we all plan ahead to fit it in as best as possible. Thank goodness for blogs, I say :)

Margaret D said...

What a wonderful place, it's just beautiful, and the history of it mind boggling. Isn't it great that is was restored back to it's former glory - love to hear about that Hels. Thanks for sharing such a beauty.

Hels said...


We Australians are constantly debating which 19th century sites to destroy, in order to make our cities more modern Vs which ones to protect and restore. I know why it happens eg pouring money into a city building in Federation architecture Vs pulling it down and building a block of 120 expensive flats. You may remember when the 1878 Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne was proposed to be destroyed for Melbourne’s first casino. The Hotel was only saved by thousands of people protesting publicly and unions boycotting the planned new project.

The good citizens of Budapest were very fortunate.

Andrew said...

Our English friends Jane and Lance Hattat live just off Andrassy Avenue. I think this is the beautiful cafe they took us to, just to look at its magnificence.

Budapest is not for everyone and with the terrible Hungarian government and perhaps a hard life for the poor, Budapest is a magnificent city to visit. I feel rather privileged to have visited the city.

Hels said...


German forces occupied Hungary in early 1944 and the Germans installed General Dome Sztojay as prime minister. Sztojay, ex-Hungarian minister to Berlin, was fanatically pro-German. He cooperated with his allies, the Germans, in their efforts to deport the Hungarian Jews. Of the 825,000 Jews living in Hungary then, 440,000 were deported in huge trains, largely deported to Auschwitz in Poland.

The fact that a nation may have had amazing cultural eras in its past did not protect its own citizens from slaughter in other eras. Look at the 1956 Hungarian Revolution as well.

CherryPie said...

It looks like a fabulous place to visit for a special occasion.

hels said...

When the beloved and I lived in Britain, we travelled over to France on long weekends and holiday breaks as much as possible. Now I envy you. If I wanted to go to Budapest or Prague from Australia, I would have to book/pay/plan a year ahead.

River said...

It's a lovely building inside and out.

Hels said...


Even though the community's ideas of beauty changes from one generation to the next, it is important for us to see, feel and understand ideas of beauty from our grandparents' generation. Of course some people find Art Nouveau style, with crystal chandeliers, angels and frescoes, uber feminine and old fashioned, but the experience of N.Y Cafe is very valuable.

Handmade in Israel said...

Such a gorgeous building. Unfortunately we didn't go in to see it when we visited Budapest. It was on my list but there was simply too much to do! Thank you for sharing these pictures.

Hels said...


My mother in law was not Hungarian but she survived the last two years of the war in Budapest. So it was very important, in her older age, that she went back to explore "her" Budapest in 1993. She passed away that year, so I was very grateful she could she all the important places she remembered so fondly. Budapest is still a beautiful city.

bazza said...

We have actually had afternoon tea in this fabulous place. The tea and cakes were very nice but the real experience was the building itself! A remarkable experience.

Hels said...


Yes, yes yes! Despite living in London for a few years in the early 1970s, I had never heard of the NY Coffee House until my mother in law wanted to revisit Budapest in the early 1990s. The architecture from the front looks amazing and the decorative arts inside are breath-taking; the coffee is perfect and the gypsy music is special.