Cafe Central (Central Kávéház) in Budapest

Café Central, which is a coffee house and a restaurant from the 19th century, has a good central location on Ferenciek tere, and it is also spacious and bright. Insert it in your Váci utca shopping spree, or on the way to the Central Market Hall. There are marble tables (for four and eight), normal chairs or comfy armchairs and lots of lots of big windows. You can have Italian, Viennese or gourmet coffees, Esterhazy, Dobos cakes and Flodni, soups, pastas, hot meals, kid menus, etc. You can also choose the cafe as an alternative breakfast place (e.g. sausages, sandwiches or fried eggs from 1000-1500 HUF).

Address: Károlyi Mihály utca 9. Budapest 1053
Phone: 00-36-1-266-2110
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 7am-12am
Prices (coffee): from 420 HUF

See its location on the Budapest tourist map (check the Cup icon in the middle):

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Read more about the Best Cafes in Budapest or the Best Restaurants in Budapest.

History of Cafe Centrál

Café Central established in 1887 was one of the great coffee houses of old Budapest – similarly to the old Cafe New York, it was a hub, an artistic and thinking academy, a center of networking, news making and breaking, and in general, making progress. “The Central was a unique institution of its kind, something like an open university but more than that, because it was more fruitful” claimed Emil Kolozsvári Grandpierre writer. Its location was central in the 19th century too: very close to universities, libraries, etc.

Once Dezső Kosztolányi, one of the most talented Hungarian writers (and poets) paraphrased the saying ‘My Home is my Castle’ as ‘My Cafe is my Castle’ and it was no exaggeration, journalists, artists, etc. spent far more time in the cafe than at home. In the 1890s, at the Round Table of the Central Café, which consisted of multiple round tables rather than one single table, the newspaper ‘A Hét’ (Week) was edited by suspicious looking progressive writers invigorated by the atmosphere of the smoky cafe. This Hungarian periodical was easily available in all the 400 (!) cafes in Budapest. A few years later, the highly progressive and best quality periodical named Nyugat (West) was also started here, revolutionizing the Hungarian literature. Although editors of Nyugat moved away to Cafe New York for a good while, they came back here in 1920.

In the 1910s, Győző Mészáros, the head of the cafe has two big challenges: the growing worker’s strike (including the strike of the waiters), and the growing competition posed by more modern coffee houses built with American elegance (mirrors, marbles, games, etc.). Mészáros copes with both challenges successfully: he becomes an active member of the waiter’s movement and contributes to the development of free apprenticeship programs, and in 1913 he decides to close down the cafe for a temporary refurbishment. He fights in the First World War, and survives it.

In the 1920s a Hungarian newspaper sarcastically writes: “There are so many real and fake writers in Cafe Centrál that Mészáros has started to build a new gallery – closer to Olympus – for them. It may make more room and comfort for respectful citizens too.” But Mészáros liked the intellectual atmosphere of his cafe and even lent money to young writers. Later on another outstanding literary periodical, Újhold (New Moon) found its inspirational home in Cafe Central.

Unfortunately, in 1949, in the year of nationalization when precious lands, manors, palaces, etc. were confiscated from the pre-war aristocracy, and taken into state ownership, Cafe Centrál was closed down, then turned into a diner for construction workers of the underground… In the 1960s it became the Eötvös Club of the ELTE University. In the 1990’s it was used as an amusement arcade – causing heartache for many people.

In other words, Cafe Central was an abused sleeping beauty for more than 50 years. Thanks to Imre Somody the place is a coffee house again: and we may never know when a really talented new literary group turns up in this noble cafe.

Source (in Hungarian): Bogáta Sárossi: “A Centrál kávéház tükörcserepei”