Judit Pecák is the owner of and the engine behind Massolit, a beloved bookstore café inside Budapest’s old Jewish Quarter in District 7. Massolit is a neighborhood gem, the type of place where you can unearth anything from an Agatha Christie mystery to a Philip Roth novel to translated works of Hungarian writers like Péter Nádas and Magda Szabó while sipping a steaming cup of coffee. The café’s charming nooks and crannies are usually filled to capacity with a mix of locals and tourists and expats.
Which neighborhood do you like to hang out in?
District 1 in Buda now that I get around the city with a baby and a dog on my side. There are many parks, including Tabán, Horváth-kert, Vérmező, and even Városmajor and Millenáris are within walking distance. A good bakery, a neighborhood bar, a pastry shop, a library, a movie theater, and art galleries are all nearby. Up on the Castle Hill, I most enjoy the Tóth Árpád promenade and the National Gallery. It’s like a village here — there are many familiar faces, a strong local community, and most parts of Budapest are reachable by bicycle. It’s a pity they’re currently destroying the Castle Hill with needless constructions and the cutting of trees.
Where do you usually go for a drink?
From the bookstore, I might go to Kisüzem or Fekete kutya. From home, when there’s time, I’ll drop in to Illúzió, a local’s drinking joint on Attila út. During the outdoor season, Csendes Társ by Károlyi kert is very enjoyable; there’s no music, only bird songs, the sounds of the park, and good wine.
Is there a lowkey restaurant you like to drop in for a quick meal?
For lunch near the bookstore, I usually go to Kőleves for the lunch prix fixe, to Kisüzem, or to Metropolitan, the diner on the ground floor of the office building on Kéthly Anna Square. The service staff at all three places are kind and the food is fresh and tasty. There’s also Bangla Büfé on Akácfa Street (serving Bangladeshi and Indian food) and Im-oon, a family-owned Thai takeout on Klauzál Square.
How about for a sitdown dinner?
We rarely go out for elaborate meals these days. Most recently I was at Arirang, a Korean restaurant on the Buda side. I can recommend it to anyone open to places where different cultures meet — here the authentic Korean dishes are served inside a space that has retained the traditional Hungarian vibes of the restaurant that had been there.
What are some places you visit to see local art?
We usually go see the temporary exhibits at the National Galley and at the Mai Mano House of Photography. On a smaller scale, there are surprisingly good events at the Virág Benedek Ház and at Tér-Kép Gallery near us in District 1. There’s currently a show in Szentendre I look forward to seeing: ÚjMűhely Gallery present the drawings of Gábor Karátson for Goethe’s Faust.
Who’s your favorite Hungarian writer and which book of his/hers would you recommend?
I’m a fan of Géza Ottlik, especially Hajnali háztetők, one of his shorter novels. I’d recommend anything by Antal Szerb, Iván Mándy, Jenő Rejtő, János Háy, and Péter Esterházy. From Péter Nádas, I’m partial to The End of a Family Story (Egy családregény vége). I’d suggest Magda Szabó’s books for people who love engaging family stories. László Krasznahorkai can also be interesting, and many of his books are available in English. I think I’ll stop here.
What tip would you give for Budapest visitors to get the most out of their time in the city?
It depends on how long they’re in the city for. I’d suggest a long visit to the Ottoman-era Rudas Baths in the winter (Tuesdays are reserved for women only) and to the wonderful roofdeck at Lukács Baths in the outdoor season. I think it’s worth strolling down the Danube’s bank on the Pest side or further up at Római-part. I wouldn’t miss a concert at one of the alternative venues like Gólya, Turbina, Gödör, and Hunnia, or, for classical music, the Liszt Academy. Shopping at the Bosnyák tér market offers an immersive local experience (or at the Czakó-kert farmer’s market, which is closer to the city center). Otherwise, I’d just roam around by foot or bicycle.