The founder of Mátyás Cellar was a hard-working man, born in the Vas County village of Borostyánkő in 1873. After finishing the then compulsory six grades, Mátyás Baldauf left home at the age of 13 to work in the restaurant of Friedrich Oberschützen's hotel near his home village in Burgenland and learn the basics of the restaurant trade. He climbed the ladder of success, first serving and then learning the basics of butchery from kitchen preparation. When he had completed his compulsory internship, he went first to Vienna, then to Graz, before ending up in the fast-growing Hungarian capital. Here, he worked first at the Zöldfa restaurant in Krisztinaváros and then at the Kis Piszkos restaurant. The latter he later operated with his wife, Terézia Antunovits, "Tercsike".
After many years of hard work, they decided to buy the pub, but the owner of Kis Piszkos, Mr Bittrich, did not want to sell his successful beer house, so the Baldaufs had to look for a new location. This is how they found the tenement house built by the Dreher brewers on Eskü Square, and this is how the Mátyás Cellar finally opened in January 1904, which, contrary to legend, was named not after King Matthias, but after Mátyás Baldauf himself.
Of course, the menu was initially more like that of the Kis Piszkos than that of a restaurant that world-famous actors and politicians frequented later. With only four employees when it opened, Mátyás served nine hectolitres of beer, but within ten years, the business had grown so much that the cellar of the house next door was rented out as well. Former regulars were happy to follow the couple to the new location, as not only was the beer fresh, but interesting table companions were also mingling under the arches. One such group was the "Kolomposok", which had no members under the age of 70. Legend has it that the name of the "Van hely" table (There is room) was given by Baldauf's wife, who used to say, "There is room, please".
She never turned away a guest, and no matter how crowded the place was, eventually there was room, if not otherwise than two rows of people sat around one table. Another notable table was known as the "Roosters" because of a member who repeatedly "crowed" in good humour during dinner. This company had a morning group (made up mainly of retired army officers who had free time in the morning) and there were the 'Evening Roosters', who, “surprisingly”, came from the company of 'Downtown Youngsters'. The 'Relatives' table, on the other hand, was a group of middle-class gentlemen drinking merrily together.
In 1927, Mátyás Baldauf bought the entire tenement with a small subsidy - Mátyás Baldauf's alliance with the breweries was a major weapon in his armoury - and two years later the restaurant was expanded with the Halász and Jubileumi rooms. During this period, many well-known politicians, celebrities and artists visited the Mátyás Cellar, including Dezső Szabó, Gyula Krúdy and Zsigmond Móricz.
The most spectacular development was the change of image launched in 1932. However, in 1934, other changes were made, following the habits of the time, Baldauf changed his surname to Borostyánkői, after the name of his birthplace. In 1937, a complete interior redecoration was carried out. At the suggestion of his regulars, the owner chose the events of King Matthias' life as the theme for the restaurant interior. The murals and stained glasses were created with the help of architect Károly Dávid and painter Jenő Haranghy. The founder could not see the work completed, as Mátyás (Baldauf) Borostyánkői died in 1937.
The post-World War II era of Mátyás Cellar is connected to the Papp family, one of the most famous Hungarian catering dynasties. Thanks to Endre Papp, the restaurant enjoyed a new heyday, becoming a regular haunt for foreigners, where Papp used his own recipes to introduce Hungarian yet light cuisine that was considered modern in the period. Under Papp's leadership, the restaurant welcomed such illustrious guests as Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Alain Delon, Ferenc Puskás.
The restaurant was forced to close in 1964, but this period was used for making some timely interior renovations. It finally reopened in 1971 in all its glory. After 2008, the Mátyás underwent another renovation: the 100 million HUF investment resulted in the replacement of covers, the murals regained their original colours and the kitchen was also modernised. However, the new golden age is still to come, as the restaurant has been closed since 2020 unfortunately.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Gundel Imre, Harmath Judit: A Vendéglátás emlékei, Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 1982.
Borostyánkői Mátyás: A Mátyás pincéje - Egy unoka a Mátyás Pincéről és az alapító Baldauf Mátyásról. Magyar Szemle, XXIII. évf. 11–12. sz.