Cafe New York in New York Palace Hotel, Budapest

Café New York (New York kávéház) is in the recently renovated opulent five-star hotel, in the New York Palace, in a busy part of Budapest (easily reached by the red line metro at Blaha tér, or the trams 4 and 6).

It was a historical venue where the big names of Hungarian literature and movie making used to get together, but today it’s a luxury coffee house and bar – one of the oldest grand cafés of the fin de siecle Budapest. Both smoking and non-smoking parts. For your coffee, I suggest trying the Tiramisu in real Italian style, or just sipping a glass of Tokaj aszú – according to totally unscientific studies it helps to feel the grandeur of the café.

New York Cafe in Budapest New York Palace Boscolo Hotel

Opening hours: from 9am to 1am
Address: Erzsébet körút 9-11., Budapest district VII. 1073
Phone: 00-36-1-886-6111
Wifi: yes

See its location on the Budapest tourist map Check the yellow House icon in the middle standing for the New York Palace and Cafe, and click on Cup icons to get further info on good /Best Cafes in Budapest or the knife and fork icon for good / Best Restaurants in Budapest.


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The History of New York Cafe Budapest

The four-floor New York Palace was built in 1894 in eclectic style by a New York-based life insurance company: of course, not as a palace but as an elegant office complex. It re-opened as New York Palace Boscolo Budapest Hotel, a five star hotel of the Italian Boscolo group managed by Antonio Delpin, in May 2006. Its café, the New York, or rather, The New York in Budapest lingo (opened by Sándor Steuer a member of a famous coffee-family in 1894)

New York Cafe, Literature and Film art

The cafe became one of the most popular iconic cafés of fin-de-siécle Budapest, especially amongst Budapest literati: writers frequented the café for its inspirational atmosphere and company as well as for good coffees and meals. Waiters treated authors with due respect, even providing ink, paper, or aspirin for them. Special discount Writers’ Plates with generous portions of ham, cheese and rolls were given to artists just for a few cents (writing rarely has been a lucrative living). Writers of the first professional mainstream periodical of Hungarian progressive literature called Nyugat (West) were regularly coming together in New York Café. The managers (Harsányi brothers) loved the talented authors who aimed to elevate Hungarian literature to international standards – with great success. Can you imagine that there were 400 different journals and papers in the café to read at the turn of the 20th century? According to Noémi Saly, a Budapest café expert, in addition to Hungarian dailies and periodicals, Czech, Spanish, French and English journals were on display.

Moreover, in the 1910’s theatrical and movie intellectuals found their home in the café. “Indeed, this is where Sir Alexander Korda – director of films such as The Private Life of Henry VIII & The Thief of Baghdad – started out for his world award winning career, just as Michael Curtis, Oscar winning director of Casablanca did too,” according to the hotel’s official website. Yes, the café is undoubtedly deeply rooted in Hungarian cultural history.

In 1920 Vilmos Tarján put together his capital (half a million gained through gambling as District VII local government’s website points out) and took over the management of the café, which became the center of Budapest night life up until 1936. Once it was even visited by a circus seal to the amazement of the audience.

New York Cafe as a Warehouse?

In 1945 the palace was bombarded, the café had to close down in 1947 and was turned into a warehouse. What a beautiful warehouse it must have been…. It opened again in 1954 renamed as ‘Hungaria’ (New York was too capitalist for the then communist Hungary, and it was not a café any more just a buffet and restaurant). Two years later, the 1956 revolution left its marks on the building. After World War II there were plans to turn the palace into a fashionable mall, then in the communist era it functioned as the headquarters of a national publishing group (Pallas).

New York Cafe in the Modern era

After the change of regime in 1989, there were several bidders for the palace who wished to transform the property into a shopping center, and some suggested it as the venue for the new national theater.

But in 2001, Boscolo Hotels, the Italian hotel chain, purchased New York Palace from the Hungarian government with the promise of a full restoration of the famous New York Café. The café indeed got back its former pomp and the magical mixture of styles. “What will be done to bring back the poets and the painters?” posed the question Eve M. Kahn in the New York Times to Gilles Stellardo, the marketing director for Boscolo in North America. And the answer is elusive ”We will do something special for the writers and artists; we’re figuring that out right now.” Well, even if you don’t meet artists (there are no discount artist rates any more), you will surely enjoy the painstakingly restored café with rich marbles, friezes and gilt, the Murano glass chandeliers as well as high quality Italian coffees.

New York Cafe – Interior Design

The opulent splendor of New York Palace is characterized by the heavy influence of Italian renaissance with elegant but lavishly furnished interiors in marble, gilt, velvet, crystal, silk, bronze, enlivened by mythological figures, vigorous fresco scenes, baroque ornaments, bright red and blue chandeliers, and a likewise marvelous facade with carved statues, marble spires, wrought iron balconies. To mention but a few, there are 16 winged and horned devilish fauns dramatizing the windows of the café, several nude female statues and figurines to hint at lust, and in the royal suite there is a bronze horse with its leg sunken into the furniture as if it got trapped.

The New York Palace Boscolo is literally eclectic and full of aesthetic surprises to the eye. Tom Otley on Business Traveller compares the design to Kubrick’s film interiors: “Inside the New York Palace it is a strange mix. There is the extremely fashionable and good-looking design: both the breakfast room and the VIP room are some of the most attractive modern designs I’ve seen, a kind of Stanley Kubrick version of the future (a cross between the Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange and something from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Then there is the carefully renovated grand, turn-of-the-(last)-century style of the café, one of Budapest’s most famous, with its marble, bronze, frescoes and Murano chandeliers. Finally there are the frankly odd touches, like the presidential suite with its turquoise Murano chandelier.”

So as you can see, eclecticism is clear. Be prepared to gape at its blended beauty.
The second phase of the hotel development on Osvát street is scheduled to be finished by 2009.

Imagining Budapest: Billy Collins’ Poem

Billy Collins, a popular award-winning American poet (teaching in Bronx, and poet laureate) has dedicated an enchanting poem to Budapest, or rather, an imaginary stay in Budapest, or elsewhere – travelling in mind.
Here’s the poem on video and the ‘lyrics’

My pen moves along the page like the snout of a strange animal, shaped like a human arm and dressed in the sleeve of a loose green sweater. I watch it sniffing the paper ceaselessly, intent as any forager that has nothing on its mind but the grubs and insects that will allow it to live another day. It wants only to be here tomorrow, dressed perhaps in a sleeve of a plaid shirt, nose pressed against the page, writing a few more dutiful lines while I gaze out the window and imagine Budapest, or some other city where I have never been.

I quite like this Budapest poem as well as the animation by Julian Grey/ Head Gear. The reflected building you can see at the end of the clip is the Parliament in Budapest. While one “part of the speaker’s body” (i.e. The Pen) becomes an independent adventurer (sniffing around the paper like an animal), another body-part (i.e. The Head) gets similarly free of rein, foraging amongst the cities, feeding the imagination, and at the same time, both the hand and the head reflecting themselves and one another (sort of criss-cross observational poems). Billy once said of his writing style:

“I write two lines or three lines. I will immediately stop and turn into a reader instead of a writer, and I’ll read those lines as if I had never seen them before and as if I had never written them. And if they still make sense and if they still have good cadence and if there’s something interesting going on there, then I’ll go forward, turn back into the writer, and write another two or three or six lines, and then go back and bring the reader out and see what he thinks of it.”

(Guernica Magazine)

More animated poems by Billy Collins can be found here.