An elegant experience to be slowly savored
We know and love the café culture of Paris and France and we’ve tried and enjoyed many of the special coffee cafes in Vienna, such as Café Centraal and Café Sperl.
So, when we heard that Budapest too enjoys a café culture and has some very special cafés we were determined to visit one of them—as many other tourists do.
Budapest’s café culture was booming by the late 19th century, with as many as 600 cafes. The kavehaz (coffee house) had become a local institution, where the local urban dwellers could go to escape their tiny apartments (which were often unheated) and find companionship, warmth and newspapers to read. Soon after they took over, the communists realized that these neighborhood cafes could become breeding grounds for dissidents. So they closed most of the cafes or converted them into sterile eateries with no seating.
But, the kavehaz culture has been coming back all over the city. One can get coffee and cake at all of the cafes, some serve light meals too, and a few have full meals.
We decided on Gerbeaud, which although not ranked as one of Budapest’s top three cafes, is certainly a 150-year-old landmark and the most famous gathering place in Budapest that captures Budapest’s early 19th-century ambience. It has an interesting history—see here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Café_Gerbeaud
We’re glad we made the effort to get here as it’s a grand, if a little faded, place (with rather grand prices to match), and is a wonderful Hungarian version of an imposing Viennese Café, even using some of the same types of names for their cakes.
It’s on Vorosmarty Ter (Square) in a lovely old building, close to the beginning of the famous shopping street, Vaci Utca.
There are tables outside, which are good for people watching, but the weather was so hot that we opted to sit inside. The wait staff were friendly and attentive and we never felt that we were being hurried in any way. People wander in and out, just to look and it didn’t appear to bother the staff. The décor is mainly greens and reds, one of high, rococo-style ceilings, plenty of chandeliers and mirrors, huge draperies held with large tasseled bands, embossed wallpaper, fancy light sconces, and tall wooden cases with glass doors.
The array of cakes, pastries and sweet treats is enormous and we had trouble choosing. A decadent chocolate confection? Or a fruity one with plenty of cream? Or yummy-looking maccarons?
We had a double espresso, a cappuccino, a fruit tea, a sparkling wine concoction (Malna-Pezsgo), a fruit sundae, an Alma torte, and an Esterhazy cake. All very good and elegantly served. Total 16, 181 forint, or 60 euros with tip. Interesting that some fancy places here will take euros. Light meals are served, but they didn’t seem to be such good value, so we didn’t try any.
Gerbeaud also has a cellar pub, and a separate restaurant
called Onyx on the side.
Would we return? For sure, perhaps in slightly cooler weather so we could sit outside, but maybe not, as then we’d miss the sumptuous interior.