Café Gerbeaud is a few minutes walk from the Gresham Palace at the Chain Bridge: it is one of the most elegant historical cafes in Budapest (on Vorosmarty ter on the yellow metro line). The café was founded by Henrik Kugler in 1858 in Viennese style during the high times of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and expanded by its later owner, Emil Gerbeaud. Sumptuous interior with graceful chandeliers, marble-topped tables, lavish fine wood paneling, gold-plasters and statuettes, etc. The cafe can take up about 330 people inside and another 300 outside on the terrace, if weather allows. As Frommer’s Travel Guide writes: “Whether you sit inside amid the splendor of the late-19th-century furnishings, or outside on one of Pest’s liveliest pedestrian-only squares, you will surely enjoy the fine pastries that made the name Gerbeaud famous; we especially recommend their moist plum pies (szilvás lepény)”
It is also a restaurant and a bar. Great place to ‘people watch’. By the way, the name ‘gerbeaud’ or zserbó in Hungarian is used for a type of layer cake (with fruit spread, loads of nuts, chocolate, etc.).
Address: Vörösmarty tér 7. Budapest 1051
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 9am-9pm
Take a virtual tour here. A good photo of the facade and part of the square (Vörösmarty) where the Gerbeaud is located. See its location on the Budapest tourist map (check the Cup icon in the middle and click on icons to get further info). Read more about the Best Restaurants in Budapest or the Best Cafes in Budapest.
History of Cafe Gerbeaud
The café was founded by Henrik Kugler a world traveler confectioner, who has been working all over Europe gathering experience of the coffee house and confectionery lore. Although the original coffee house was established in 1858, it was not the same building what you see today as it stood on another square (József Nádor tér). Cafe Gerbeaud moved to Vorosmarty square in 1870, and soon became a prestige place where ‘to be seen’ meant a difference.
Owing to Kugler’s rich European confectionery studies, the cafe was the best in Budapest in the 19th century: not surprisingly selling all kinds of exquisite products from China to Russia, as well as house made specialties like Kugler’s frothy coffee with chocolate, Kugler’s special liqueurs and Kugler’s bon-bons. Cafe Gerbeaud also boasted about the title “the best ice-creams in Pest” at that time.
The musician and composer Franz Liszt, and the ‘wise of Hungary’ Ferenc Deák politician were among the patrons of the café. In 1881, Kugler’s was called “the meeting point of six elegant worlds.”
Henrik Kugler met Emil Gerbeaud in Paris in 1882. He invited him a year later to Budapest in order to make him his business partner, and he became the cafe’s later owner. Emil Gerbeaud did not change the name of the cafe to his own name, but decided to use the well-known name of his predecessor, Henrik Kugler for several decades. He expanded the cafe, so today it can house about 330 people and the terrace can host an additional 300 guests. Soon he was making the take-away services of the cafe flourish with good tastes: good pastries and beautifully decorated artistic paper boxes of his own design. Gerbeaud was presented with numerous awards at various fairs and exhibitions. At the 1898 World Fair in Brussels and the 1900 Paris Exposition, he was invited to be a member of the jury, and was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
Over time, the interior decoration of the café underwent improvements: Henrik Darilek made new designs emphasizing fine woods, marble and bronze features in the 1910s. He used the examples of the French and Austrian royal palaces: for instance, the ceilings were decorated with rococo plaster work in Louis XIV style, the chandeliers and wall lamps were created in Maria Theresa Style. In addition, Cafe Gerbeaud got secessionist style tables to be sent from the Paris World Fair. Emil Gerbeaud survives the awful years of the First World War, sees the deterioration of his beautiful coffee house, then dies on November 8, 1919.
The nice history of the cafe suddenly stops: world wars and communist rules mean severe obstacles. Gerbeaud’s name is not welcome by the western-hating communists, so the cafe is renamed after the Hungarian poet Mihály Vorosmarty (yes, like the square). From 1950 to 1984, Café Gerbeaud is known as Cafe Vörösmarty. With the loosening ties of the goulash communism, the cafe gets back its name in March 1984, and about ten years later the cafe is bought by the German businessman Erwin Müller. The new owner makes sure that the café regains its old glory: the rich plaster work, the brocade wall coverings, etc. of the cafe were renovated in 1997.
(sources: the official website of Cafe Gerbeaud, and Budapest Lexikon)