Café Hadik in Buda’s Bartók Béla út is not a typical such establishment – at the beginning of the past century it was an institution of the Budapest literary community. Equally popular among artists, ordinary citizens and noble society, it was predominantly a second home for the most famous Hungarian writers. Hadik has a new design now but has not lost the charm of the old days. Since the reopening in September, literature and coffee culture are in harmony again.
Men in suits are turning newspaper pages, fashionable ladies in hats are discussing the theatre play of yesterday (“Szerelem” (Love) by Zsigmond Móricz), waiters in tailcoats with bow ties are serving the first drinks of the evening. Piano music, clinking glasses, upholstered chairs, crackling newspapers, heated debates and boisterous laughs are the typical background noises in the café. The writer Frigyes Karinthy is in the middle of things, working on his book “Tanár úr, kérem” (Mr. Teacher, please). He orders another beer, lights another cigarette and goes on writing sitting at his regular place on the first floor, putting down the last lines for the day. After that he wishes the others, including some close friends and colleagues such as the poet Dezső Kosztolányi, a nice evening and goes home to his place, only two blocks away. Tomorrow morning he will be back, just like every day.
This fictive scene from 1915 could have actually happened at Café Hadik. Many interesting and exciting personalities, including renowned writers, artists, musicians, actors, directors and screenwriters visited regularly back then.
The café opened in 1906 and got its present name in 1922, named after the nearby Hadik apartment house where soldiers used to live. It was one of the most popular meeting points for the cream of Budapest social life already before World War I, and was one of the legendary cafés of the era, just like Múzeum, Centrál and New York on the Pest side.
Café Hadik had its golden years in the 1920s. Famous writers such as Frigyes Karinthy and Dezső Kosztolányi, their wives Aranka Böhm and Ilona Harmos, and Tibor Déry, Sándor Hunyady, Sándor Márai and Zsigmond Móricz were constant visitors.
They were the regulars who decisively influenced Hadik’s image and gave it the flair of a literature salon. For Karinthy, his friends and fellow writers the establishment was where they spent most of their time and worked on their literary projects.
Many others came to experience the bohemian lifestyle, to have an interesting conversation with like-minded people, to forget the everyday worries of the post-war years with the help of a strong pálinka shot or simply to see and be seen.
Some came because the heating was better than in their own apartment – in the same way Jean-Paul Sartre did at the Café de Flore in Paris, where he liked to work next to the fireplace. One thing is for sure: few came to Hadik to drink coffee. It was so poor that more beer and wine were consumed.
Reopening stays loyal to history
Anna Ott, the café’s art director, knows similar anecdotes from Hadik’s history, and likes to tell them in abundance. For example, Karinthy once wanted to learn how fast news was spreading between Buda and Pest. So he told a joke at Hadik then went to Centrál one hour later, where a man was already telling the same joke with resounding laughter.
Numerous other legends are connected to the golden age of Hadik, which closed its gates during World War II and only opened them in 2010. However, many of these legends are in fact historical truths, Ott emphasises.
To stay loyal to the heritage of the legendary café, including the redecoration this year, they wanted to be as authentic as possible and so worked together with a historian who specialises in the history of venerable Budapest cafés. Their joint concept combines the old elements and flair from Hadik with a modern urbanity.
Thus the old corner seat with the heavy brown leather armchairs fits in well with the concept of an urban loft. The interior has brick walls, a bar made of rugged, untreated wood and chairs from the old café. The centre of the room is dominated by a large, elegant chandelier – the other areas are illuminated by simple factory bulbs.
Lovingly selected details such as framed manuscripts and letters that were written at Hadik hang on the walls. Even a touch of Hollywood is on display: an excerpt from the script of “Son of Saul”, dedicated to Ott and her team. The director and author of the Academy Award-winning film, László Nemes, enjoyed Café Hadik so much that he wrote part of his script there.
Cultural offer for 21st-century regulars
Some of the former famous guests look down from the walls in life-size, giving the impression that they are still in their regular places. Frigyes Karinthy’s facial outline and signature comprise the logo of the reopened café after Márton Karinthy, his grandson, gave his approval. The successful writer and award-winning theatre director was involved in the redesign process too. He plays an important role in Hadik’s cultural life and likes to organise readings at the café.
To preserve the mood of the old times, literary and cultural events are regularly organised, including modern slam poetry, literary salons, discussion of current affairs and literary brunches. Ott wants a colourful and diverse cultural program for the new generation of regulars, so the tradition and spirit of Hadik might live on in the 21st century.
However, you don’t have to denounce culinary delights: at the monthly literary brunch gastronomy and literature are in perfect harmony. The “literary menu” is always put together by the chef to match the actual topic of the brunch.
Sometimes they offer a menu that is mentioned in the literary work under discussion, sometimes the author compiles the recipes himself; literature that you can taste.
At the last literary brunch, the café’s chef conjured a very hearty menu with the assistance of Hungarian publicist and university professor András Kepes. The offering included pork chop strips cooked in paprika sauce served with a cucumber tartar, a selection of Hungarian sausages with mustard and cucumber salad, and a honey-oatmeal with fruits as a dessert. You wonder: why is the cucumber so important for András Kepes?
When there is no literary brunch in progress, the menu offers a small but refined selection of appetisers and main dishes. In addition to the caesar salad, a hot chili-mango salad with crayfish, and the mozzarella salad with grilled duck-breast stripes, there are some typical Hungarian dishes, such as the traditional paprika chicken, red curry with vegetables or Sztrapacska with sheep cheese.
All are affordable even for people with an unprofitable profession, such as a writer.
In the evenings they have literary cocktails, such as the “Ernest Hemingway“. He spent years in Havana, finding that rum was a very pleasant drink, so it’s not really surprising that actually a Daiquiri is hiding behind this name.
And coffee at today’s Hadik has shown a distinct improvement on the old days.
36 Bartók Béla út, District XI
Reservations: (+36-1) 279-0290
Open Monday to Sunday noon-1am