Even though I live quite nearby, and love classic old cafés, until last night it had been quite a while since I’d stopped in at the Művész Kávéház, one of Budapest’s handful of genuine “landmark” cafés.
At some point within the last year or so, the café got a “light” renovation, meaning no major structural work. Still, there are some big changes. First of all, they seem to have finally figured out how much better the atmosphere can be if you just dim the lights a bit. They also moved the cake window to a less conspicuous corner spot in the back room, meaning the front area is now all glorious wrap-around bar and banquettes. Romantic!
But here’s where it gets weird. The pale gold damask walls now feature lots of black and white photos of obviously non-Hungarian singers, mostly African-American and Latin stars from way back. And at least last night the music oscillated between classic jazz and Latin and more modern stuff perilously close to disco. There is also a pair of candelabra-like lamps in the front windows with deep red lampshades, sort of like what you’d expect to see in a play about a Paris whorehouse circa 1929, and some jarring red neon under the front bar. None of it is terribly bad, just sort of strange, given how hopped-up many Hungarians get whenever a piece of living Hungarian history gets culture jammed like this.
Happily, at least judging from what I tried (a slice each of rich chocolate-orange cake and Esterházy torta) the cakes seemed better than ever. And all that hipping-up seems to have only added 15% or 20% to the prices. Best of all, there wasn’t a giant plastic chef to be seen. Give it a try.