A MAGNIFICENT café and A FAMOUS MOVIE
Kathleen Bittner Roth
Having lived in beautiful Budapest, Hungary for the past six plus years, I have yet to grow weary of this incredible city. I am in awe of its architecture, where even the most seemingly insignificant building is festooned with cherubs and angels. Coffee houses abound here, and frequenting them is a way of life. One of my favorites is the baroque, palace-like New York Café. Built in the mid-1800s, not only is this work of art a part of the history of Budapest and Hungarian literary life, incidents that took place there became an inspiration for Michael Curtiz’s iconic movie Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Once a meeting place for artists and poets, Michael Curtiz, an up and coming writer and producer of film, became a regular. It’s a historical fact that these imaginative types wanted the café open at their discretion. After all, creativity did not run by a clock, and many of them got their inspiration in the middle of the night. One evening, near closing time, the lot of these rowdy patrons stole the key to the front door from the owner, and ceremoniously raced to the Danube and tossed it in!
New York Café (the building was so named because it was built by the New York Insurance Company) became a popular home away from home at all hours. That is, until the Nazis arrived. The film Casablanca was actually adapted from a play, but there were no Germans in Morocco. The SS officer featured in the film was an adaption of one leather-coated officer who roamed the New York Café ferreting out dissidents. Artists were the first to be singled out by Hitler, ahead of the Jews and Gypsies and were considered dangerous to his movement.
Michael Curtiz was both a Jew and a liberal artist. Soon, he and his dissidents were in danger of being plucked out of the café and loaded onto trains to Auschwitz. Curtiz escaped to America, as did many of his fellow artists, where Hollywood became an enclave for Hungarian talent. Not only were most of the founding fathers of film Hungarians, so were many of the actors, including Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, and the Gabor sisters (Tony Curtis and Peter Falk, both Hungarians came along later).
The end of WWII meant the dividing up of countries. Unfortunately, Hungary was handed to Stalin. The communists moved in, closed down gathering places like the iconic New York Café, and used it as a warehouse! Perhaps doing so wasn’t so bad during that nasty era because the original interior, which earned its fame as being the finest coffee house in the world, was saved. Although photographs cannot begin to capture the ambiance and grandeur of this awesome place, look closely, and you can make out the intricate detail of the original paintings on the ceilings and walls. If the coffee and food are not enough to satisfy, the precious Venetian lamp shades, intricately designed gold-plated columns, and abundant frescoes are a feast for the eyes and soul.
Stepping inside the New York Café never fails to take me back in time, to the magnificent era of sophistication when Budapest was the wealthiest city in the world. I even enjoy watching the first timers ogling the splendor that abounds. I sip cappuccino here, revel in the exquisiteness of the place, and write stories in my head.
If visiting Europe is on your agenda, do consider a trip to Budapest. And to the New York Café. You won’t regret it. I’ve included this YouTube link to a visual tour. Enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_sEkMl6Nfc
He marries for her dowry. She marries to escape a hanging. HIS LORDSHIP’S WILD HIGHLAND BRIDE.
Kathleen Bittner Roth creates evocative stories featuring characters forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love. Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. A PAN member of Romance Writers of America®, Kathleen was a finalist in the prestigious Golden Heart® contest.
You can find Kathleen at:
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzWQNWFHvhU