There is no literature without a Café – stated Sándor Márai, a Hungarian writer from the 20th century, who himself frequently visited the historical building of New York Café to get inspiration.
The history of the more than 120-year-old building is closely intertwined with literature. Even though it endured different eras, systems and major historical changes, the place known as “The Most Beautiful Café” has always revived and eagerly waited to provide comfort and cosyness not only for artists, but also for commoner people. It is not any different these days, as the tarnished building still has the same significance as it once had in a world more sensitive for beauty; The Most Beautiful Café in Budapest.
The stately building in Nagykörút had once been the hall of an insurance company, but it also had a culture-historical significance. Its history started when Max Aufrich, a Hungarian teacher, came to Budapest. Thanks to his ambitions, he soon became a successful jurist and travelled to Paris, where accompanied by the director of New York Insurance Company, he established the Hungarian network of the company. Soon after the process, the newly created department needed a hall.
The concept was a grandiose, eclectic style building in the center of the city. Alajos Hauszmann was commissioned to plan the design and with the assistance of Flóris Korb and Kálmán Giergl, he designed the lavish, four storied palace with the Café on the ground floor. After its 1894 rendition, the luxurious New York Café soon became the center of literary and artistic life, as it went down in Hungarian culture-history as the favorite place of rendezvous of artists, writers and poets.
The opulent, roomy interior has enjoyed the spotlight since the early years of the building. The spaces within the interior are separated by spiraled marble columns. The ornamental brass statues on the exterior of the Café are the fourteen sinister fauns, that were created by Károly Senyei, as the symbols of sensuality and mockery.
The figure of “El Asmodai” can also be found here, as the representation of the spirit of coffee and thinking, so as to provide inspiration for the artists dropping in.
The presence of history can be felt when entering the building. Several famous Hungarian writers and poets spent their time here. The iconic Hungarian work of “Pál utcai fiúk” was also written in the Café by Zsigmond Móricz.
The shop was the gathering place of many famous Hungarian writers of distinction, such as Mihály Babits, Géza Gárdonyi, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Gyula Illyes and Sándor Weöres. No wonder, since the central placement of the building and the mentality that promoted arts provided the young artists with an atmosphere in which they could exert their creative potential to the fullest. Back then, the not so well-known and often poor writers could get access to the “writers’ bowl” at a small expense, thanks to the innovation of the Harsányi brothers.
Eventually everybody could ask for pen, ink and the so-called “dog tongue”. It was prohibited later; the cause of which was, according to Krúdy, that “Karinthy spilled the ink on the grey sofa”.
The long and austere history of the Café has always been involved with the patronage of literature and arts. Following the footsteps of our writers and poets, we would like to show our support by remaining faithful to this endeavor in the 21st century. As an example, we are proud to present the annual New York Artist Lodge series within the walls of New York.