Café Astoria

Budapest’s oldest hotel, the Astoria (1914), has been a close witness of history: the short-lived first Hungarian Republic was proclaimed from its balcony in 1918; the Gestapo headquartered here during the occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944-1945; the Revolution of 1956 nearly knocked down the building. Thou glorious 20th century.

There's a grand coffeehouse on the hotel's ground floor with public access. Somehow the owners haven't spent any money on maintaining the premises, so an emphatic pallor sits over the lavish and gilded surroundings. In our age of all things sleek and polished, perhaps not such a bad thing.

So many details to take in! The Borrominesque ceiling stuccoes. The Baroque mirror frames. The giant windows that snake around the block (a pity they overlook a five-lane highway – or is it six? – instead of the people-filled promenade Kossuth Lajos utca once was). The longtime waiters and their adorably uncommercial attitudes. It's a miracle that Cafe Astoria hasn't yet morphed into a squeaky clean cash-cow aimed at tourists – enjoy while you can.

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