Drinking by the Synagogue

Dohány u. [map]
Pest Centre, VII, Astoria (M2), 3 min

Rating: 7.3/10 (Overall)

At the Astoria end of Dohány utca, a cluster of bars compete for the passing trade. They’re an odd bunch but provide an opportunity to either take in the Synagogue over a coffee or indeed, take part in a 100-metre pub crawl.

On the corner is Katapult Kávéház (Rating: 6.4/10) quirky underground chic, taken from the same litter as the Szimplas, Kuplungs and Szódas of this world. Toy ladybirds litter the window-ledge, colourful original artworks compete for wall-space, while rainbow lampshades and fairy lights complete the low-technicholor vision. “My sea...g...a..hol....it!” The music’s too loud for a bar that’s too small for a dancefloor. My seat’s got a hole in it too.

There is, however, something that disappoints about Katapult. There’s no table service, which isn’t in itself a problem, but I would, then, expect to be served at the bar. At its best, service is surly, at worst, the wait will test your patience. Prices aren’t rising as quickly as elsewhere, and this probably helps to preserve the local contingent, which has a tendency to turn its collective head as you enter but ignore you thereafter. Come on, drink up, let’s try...

Actually let’s not. Café Zenit (Rating: 4/10) has plenty of window space for Synagogue browsing but is itself all varnish and no character. Perhaps the management knew this would happen. Perhaps this explains their bizarre decision to make the bar in the shape of a boat. (Presumably, the barman pretends that he’s the captain of a ship when nobody’s looking.) Anything to wish himself away from the reality.

Mister Söröző (Rating: 4.5/10), on the other hand, is yellow and basic, like all Mister Sörözős. “Korsó: 145Ft!” it shouts from the window. A pint for 145Ft might be enough to lure you in depending on whether you’re doing a pub crawl. Probably not though.

Haverok (Rating: 6.6/10) or “mates”, in English, is a safe option but pleasant enough. It looks very new, and whoever designed it made an effort with the lighting and the photography: kids hanging out, playing baseball; a happy old man sits with his dogs. They’ve thought about the image, even if it doesn’t quite work. It’s a shame about the wood-look tables (they must have been on a budget) and a shame too that the garden at the back is inaccessible. Points for trying.

Turiszt Büfé
(Rating: 8.2/10), then, is the unlikely gem. Now, you might consider that they’ve got the name wrong: at first glance, it looks about as tourist-friendly as Mister Söröző. But dare to walk in and you’ll find a small slice of times-gone-by. Plates painted with stags, a little collection of pots above the door, the ends of wine-barrels advertising Tokaji Aszű and Egri Bikaver.

It sounds like chintz and it is chintz. But it’s genuine chintz. I think that the old lady behind the bar puts them there because she thinks they look nice. There’s a wall clock in the shape of an over-sized watch – there’s no way this place has been designed. It’s 15 minutes fast, or perhaps 30 years slow. Either way, the idea that this kind of place can exist in downtown Budapest for much longer is doubtful.

In just a short stretch of road, you can get a good idea about what Budapest is: a multifaceted city, moving awkwardly into the 21st century. From moody-cool, through tourist-tat to old-time remnants, the variety might not include the perfect customer experience but it’s definitely worth a look, while all sides are still there to see.

From Astoria, walk up Károly körút, and turn right at the synagogue. Catapult, turist, tourist, buffet
Andy Sz.



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