Historical guided tour in the „Most Beautiful Café of the World”
Despite experiencing many ages and historical changes, the New York Café, which dates back more than 125 years, awaits its guests with unbroken enthusiasm even today. Its popularity and beauty is evidenced by the fact that in 2011 it was elected the most beautiful café in the world, and in 2013 the hotel won the Hotel of the Year award. In our review, you can read the history of the café, the legends associated with it, and it also sheds light on what the “dog tongue” might be.
Café New York on the Grand Boulevard of Budapest – Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum CC BY-NC-ND
We can thank the legendary café to Max Aufricht and to his perseverance, aptitude and knowledge. The Hungarian teacher arrived in Budapest in the 19th century, where, owing to his ambition, he learned the lawyer profession and the French language. Then, he soon travelled to Paris, where he met the director of the New York insurance company. The meeting eventually turned into a business, and as a result, Miksa Arányi (his Hungarianised name) was charged with building the company's network in Hungary, so they needed a headquarter as well. Based on the plans of Alajos Hauszmann, the eclectic-style building was completed in 1894, and it still stands out as the most elegant gem of the Grand Boulevard. Every little detail was taken into account in its design. The interior spaces were separated by twisted marble columns, and thanks to sculptor Károly Senyey, exterior sculptures complete the splendour of the building. During the following 100 years, the building was ripe for renovation, so it was closed for a long time in 1990, and then the new owner (the Boscolo Group) started the reconstruction in 2000. After almost 6 years of reconstruction, the building was reborn according to the plans of Maurizio Papiri and D. Ádám Tihany, and it opened its doors again in 2006.
Legends about the New York
According to some, at the opening in 1894, Ferenc Molnár and his colleagues were so impressed by the palace that they threw its key into the Danube, so that it could never be closed. However, this could hardly happen, since in the opening year, Ferenc Molnár was still a schoolboy. It is unlikely that he was moving in such social circles to be there at such a high-quality event. That is why the representatives of the café treat the story as a legend mostly in the absence of evidence. Interestingly, rethinking this, the management threw the keys into the Danube in 2014, saying that “even if not permanently open, but for at least another 120 years”.
Next to the front door, there is the most famous mural of the café, on which the Statue of Liberty appears, to which a legend is also attached. Some thought the mural had been completed before the statue appeared in New York. Although it would be surprising and unbelievable, the reality is far from the assumption, as the statue had been erected almost 10 years before the café was opened.
The New York and arts
The café created an atmosphere where aristocrats entered with the same mood as common people did, where everyone had a place and what everyone could feel it was their own. Nevertheless, the literary and artistic world was already represented in large numbers at the opening. It became a literary café under the leadership of the Harsányi brothers. This was due to Adolf Harsányi's love of literature on one hand and on the other hand to Gyula Reisz, who had a good relationship with many young writers and poets, so when he contracted from the Fiume café, his friends simply followed him.
The New York hosted, among others, the editorial office of the Pesti Napló, and it was also home to the magazine Nyugat. Everyone had a place, critics settled around the ‘kidney table’, and “Nyehó”, as they called the café, was a common place for the artists as well.
However, it often happened that the artists did not have money to order food, so Harsányi introduced the “writers’ plate”, also known as “small literary” that included cold meat, cheese and bread that the writers could get cheaply or even on credit. They were also helped by the “dog tongue” (slip) that came with the coffee, which was an elongated foolscap with ink. Later, this service was ceased – according to Krúdy, because “Karinthy poured ink on the grey sofa”. Jenő Heltai put it this way in connection with the New York Café:
"In the lavish Newyork cafe, they cleaned your shoes, ironed your clothes, shaved you and trimmed your hair even late at night, and cut your nails (...) the café was a workshop and a desk; it was also an apartment and a night's accommodation in misfortune, as you didn't have to go out from dawn till dawn. There was always a vacant game room, in which one could sleep for an hour or two on two reed chairs covered with newspapers."
Student at ELTE Budapest Institute of Libraryand Information Science
Translated by Zita Aknai