Budapest’s Top Five Cafes (4/11)

 Blue Wings, April 2011

Gerbeaud. Founded in 1870 by renowned Henrik Kugler, this Budapest institution, which anchors pedestrianized Vörösmarty tér, has been a fulcrum of the Hungarian’s life ever since. Admire the lustrous interior and glittering chandeliers while sipping a cherry cognac, a Gerbeaud invention. Or seat yourself at one of the umbrella-shaded tables outside and watch the world go by. Expensive, but worth it.

Vörösmarty tér 7. Open 9 am to 9 pm. 429-9000.

Central Kávéház. The slightly older (est. 1887) intellectual cousin of the Gerbeaud, this Golden Age landmark stands virtually as it was during the first two decades of the 20th century, when such titans of Hungarian fiction as Gyula Krudy, author of Sinbad’s Youth, Zsigmond Móricz, and Mihály Babits and other local scribes scratched away in the window. Order mint tea with lemon and honey, a house specialty, sit in the window and start writing your own.

Károlyi Mihály utca 9. Open 8 am to midnight. 266-2110.

Café Csiga. Interested in finding a great café not listed in all the guidebooks? Catch the buzz of Pest’s resurgent District 8 at this trendy sun-lit, plant-filled, art-filled cafe-cum-bar located just off the once seedy Rákóczi tér. During the day aspring writers nibble on the excellent raspberry pancakes, and sip capuccino while exchanging flirtatious looks over their laptops. By night the bar djs spin mellow tunes.

Vásár utca 2. Open 11 to 1 am, Mon to Sat, 4 pm to 1 am Sun. 210-0885.

New York Café. No coffee lover’s tour of Budapest is complete without a stop at this beautifully restored, palatial café, on the ground floor of the five star New York Palace. Founded in 1894 on the ground floor of what was then the New York Life Insurance Company, this soaring temple to caffeine was a favorite with the city’s theater and film crowd during the early 1900s. Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, used to hang out here, as did producer Alexander Korda. Legend has it that playwright Ferenc Molnár stole the keys to the café and threw them into the Danube so it would always stay open. It did, but only just barely, falling into disrepair during the Communist era, like so many other Golden Age stand bys, before springing back to life in 2006. Splash out on the nine layered Dobos cake with cacao cream.

Erzsébet körút 9-11. Open 7 pm to 4 am, Mon to Sat. 886-6167.

Müvész. One of Budapest’s great survivors, this elegant emporium, established in 1898 and still going strong is located on Andrássy út, diagonally opposite that other great survivor, the Opera House. The most famous of the city’s old-style coffeehouses, the Müvész is a fantastic place to watch the madding Andrassy crowd breeze by, as well as to catch the latest theater gossip. With its slightly faded chairs, and ancient floor to ceiling mirrors, the Müvész (which stands for artist in Hungarian) has the air of an old lady with just a bit too much rouge. But you love her nonetheless.

Andrássy út 29. Open 9 am to midnight daily. 352-1337.