If you are a literature lover with a penchant for the historical (and the Hungarian), Budapest’s Central Café and Restaurant 1887 is for you.
Much like the cobblestoned streets of the city outside, the elongated dining hall feels is frozen in time, specifically, a time of ornate moldings framing a 40-foot ceiling, white table cloths, and flashy marble columns. Large windows highlight the fact that it was the place to see but, more importantly, be seen in late 19th-century Budapest. Sandwiched with a library on one side and a printing press on the other, it became the perfect spot for the intellectual elite to kill time and engage in esoteric debates while waiting for their works to be pressed and printed. From its opening in 1887 to 1944, the café attracted a who’s who of Hungarian poets, artists, scientists, and authors.
The café shuttered in late 1944 when Soviet and Romanian forces laid siege to Budapest. At the war’s end, the building required much reconstruction. Repairs sought to restore the café to its original glory, demanding a brick-by-brick rebuilding of the entire interior based on old photographs. The original furniture was salvaged and displayed in the café, including the chandeliers, grand piano, and marble-countertop bar. Black-and-white photographs of Hungarian luminaries cover the walls, including writers and philosophers who sat for hours in the café, composing some of the country’s most influential works and theories. Legend has it that Frigyes Karinthy devised the theory of “six degrees of separation” and that Gyula Krúdy wrote his Sindbad tales inside. Don’t mind the portraits of famous Hungarian intellectuals looking down as you sip coffee and indulge in a menu of Hungarian classics, from goulash to red wine beef cheeks to chicken paprikash stew.
However, Central Café is not satisfied with simply sitting on its laurels. The café actively pushes modern visitors to channel their creative minds to engage and be engaged. The bars are stocked with new and old newspapers. The waiters have interactive roles, encouraged by management to spend as long as possible conversing with customers. On each place setting is a card that reads “Be a Poet!” along with a titbit about a famous writer who likely sat in that very seat at one point. There’s also a wooden pencil for your use, daring customers to create something of their own.
Update as of February 2022: The cafe is closed indefinitely.
Update as of June 2022: The cafe is open again.