One could find garden-restaurants usually around big parks or in the suburbs, because the inner city was densely built-in. Just like today’s taverns, which are also on internal courtyards mainly or bomb-sites that remained after demolished buildings. Let’s start our journey in the past in the middle of the Danube, in one of the best public parks, on Margaret Island.
The two legendary inns of the island are the Upper-Island and the Lower-Island Restaurants.
First the Lower-Island Restaurant was built near the southern edge. The terraced, pillared building was designed by Miklós Ybl at the request of Archduke Joseph Karl of Austria. A coffee house and a confectionary were also running besides the restaurant. Later, the Grand Hotel was built on the northern part of the island with the Upper-Island Restaurant, also with a large garden. The island was accessible for tourists only by boat or ship until 1900, and after the construction of Margaret Bridge, crowds of people could enjoy one of the most beautiful parks of Budapest and its catering places. A large patio was added to the Grand Restaurant after the turn of the century and later functions and owners of the building were changed several times, and its Ybl-like character almost disappeared.
The City Park (Városliget) was an area with the most taverns in the capital probably. As early as in 1795, János Boráros’s proposal mentioned that the ‘City Forest’ should be transformed into an entertainment quarter and resort area besides further afforestation. The first inn was built next to the lake. Sebestyén Rumbach bought a sandy area in 1800 to grow grapes on it, but ferrous water was found during well-sinking, so he changed his plan and built the first thermal bath of Pest with a hotel and an inn. In 1832, an omnibus line was launched into the City Park, owing to restaurant owner János Kratochwill, who ran a coffee house there.
The Hungarian National Millennium Exhibition of 1896 was held there and masses of visitors needed food and drink obviously. The Capital City Pavilion building and garden were able to seat 2500 people at the same time. The building of the Gundel Restaurant was also constructed then. In 1899, the restaurant – owned by Ferenc Wampetits – was frequented by (since then) famous people like Rippl-Rónai, Csók, and János Thorma, who could pay by their paintings in lack of money. Mikszáth, Podmaniczky and Ede Újházy were also habitus there. Is the name Újházy familiar to you? It is not surprising, as we can owe the recipe of hen soup Újházy style to him.
The Wampetits restaurant was taken over by the family Gundel in 1910 and was renamed to Gundel. It managed to achieve huge popularity with excellent services and cuisine; Károly Gundel did his best in order to satisfy his guests. 52 waiters, 13 cooks, 40 further employees and most of the family members worked on their every-day appreciation. Sponge cake Somló style and Palóc soup were born here, but their most famous dish Gundel pancake was not: it was first made by Lola, Sándor Márai’s wife, and after their emigration the name Márai was rewritten to Gundel in the menu. The Gundel Restaurant gained international fame; when it was the official restaurant in the Hungarian pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, The New York Times praised its expertise in a separate article.
Not far from there in front of Széchenyi Bath, the Ezerjó Restaurant was founded by Károly Marth, and 29 years later it moved directly next to the bath. You could hardly get a free table at the tavern that had typical checked tablecloths. It remained popular after nationalisation as well; it has been running under the name Széchenyi Garden since 1996.
Still in the City Park, a very odd inn made of barrels was built for the National Expo of 1885. At the corner of Hermina Road and Erzsébet királyné Street, the popular Hungária Restaurant had a covered skittle-ground and a large garden that reached Hungária Boulevard. The favourite night-club of middle-class people, the Jardin de Paris, was famous for its high trees and good champagne.
There were some restaurants in the other large park not far from here, in the People’s Park (Népliget).
It was livelier than it is today, with a cinema, a fun-fair, a circus, a puppet theatre and even with car and motor racings. Thus it was natural to open restaurants to serve visitors’ comfort. The most famous of them was the Grand Restaurant (Nagyvendéglő) alias Grand Beer Hall (Nagy Sörcsarnok) with an enormous garden. The romanticist-style building was inaugurated in 1895 with hundreds of seats. It had three tenants during the first 15 years, but there were some problems with it: high rental fees, an unpredictable attendance and drainage failures. After nationalisation, the park became empty, many buildings were pulled down; the beer hall was taken over by the Eastern Pest Catering Company and the restaurant folded up soon. The building was used as a storehouse for a while; now it is empty, ruined and due to its listed status it has not been demolished (yet).
Beer-gardens were opened in the downtown of Pest as well – just think about the Danube Promenade – but they were not classical garden-restaurants under large shady trees, like the ones on the side of Buda. Although there were some insulated courtyards with special atmosphere, where one could hide away from the city noise. For example, the Munich Beer Hall in Nagymező Street, József Élő’s restaurant in an internal yard of Thököly Street, the Kedves Café in Váci Street or the Beer Catacomb at today’s 6 Puskin Street – later Pannonia Hotel and Restaurant. All in all, everybody could find the right amusement places or hideaways according to their spirits, moods and demands, just like nowadays.
Translated by Zita Aknai