Even though it wasn’t primarily built as a café - originally it was the head office of the New York Life Insurance Company -, it soon became an important public venue. The café was established on the ground floor, and the offices of the insurance company were on the first floor.
As it turned out, the cultural scene needed a central venue. The fact that the ceremonial opening on 23 October 1894 was attended by the best of the literary and art scene proves how real this need was. Without meaning to, the New York became a literary café.
The aim: to fascinate
While other cafés were established in existing buildings, the New York Café was located here in the original plans already. It was not a secret that the aim was to create a venue that can represent the insurance company appropriately and can fascinate whoever enters the building. This is why it was extraordinarily ornate and polished, and the café became the main attraction of the building: it strived to enthral everyone that came in and to demonstrate the unlimited wealth of the company. It undoubtedly achieved that goal. First-hand accounts and reports about the opening event and later descriptions all talked in superlatives about the uniquely rich and grand interiors.
The birth of the bar
In 1918, Miksa Aczél and co. took over the helm at the café. Some of the remodeling they did was not universally liked, it was especially artists and members of the press that were critical. In the Deepwater Room, the billiard room was turned into a restaurant, and the rooms behind the upper balcony were converted into a bar. Guest were not too impressed by this, but a few years later, during another remodeling, the cosy little place was given a name: it became the Mahogany Bar.
An exclusive nightlife venue
In the autumn of 1927, in a major reconstruction project, the restaurant was expanded, which was met with acclaim. In 1928, the audience loved the Mahogany Bar: built symmetrically to the marble hall across the doorway in Miksa utca, the bar was met with enthusiasm. Guests were ecstatic about the special light effects, the hidden lights and the alabaster columns that emitted a delicate opalescent light. The exclusive bar soon became the center of the Budapest nightlife, with world-renowned guests.
Five years later, it was refurbished again: the furnishing was changed, boxes and booths were added, and the guests, i.e. the artists of Budapest, were provided with desks and furniture suitable for playing rummy.
The Most Beautiful Café in the World in times of war
Life at the café suffered a great deal during the first and second world wars, but the final blow came when - even though just for a short period - the New York Café was turned into a sports goods store in the 1950s. It rose from its ashes in 1954, and was renamed Hungária Café. The real revival, however, didn’t come until the political transition after the fall of Socialism.