A different kind of “Jewish” cafe in Budapest

Thanks to CEU professor Daniel Monterescu for introducing me to the Mazel Tov cafe in Budapest's 13th district. On first look, it seems similar to the “Jewish style” cafes in Krakow and elsewhere in eastern Europe, where sepia-colored shtetl nostalgia is the norm….But at Mazel Tov the decor is actually very different.

Inside Mazel Tov. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Outside, the cafe's name is written in Hebrew-style letters, and inside, its walls are covered by pictures — as at the “Jewish-style” cafes elsewhere that I have visited and written so much about in the past.

But these are not the “usual” pictures of bearded sages, rabbis, antique-style Jewish genre scenes and the like.

In the Ariel Cafe, Krakow. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Instead, Mazel Tov's walls are covered by pictures of living Jews —  Jewish celebrities — from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to Woody Allen to Barbra Streisland, Leonard Bernstein and even the Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller.

On the surface, it looks similar. But the focus is totally different from the other places. (Though in Krakow my favorite Jewish-style cafe, Klezmer Hois, does also include a lot of pictures of real, live Jews on its walls — most if not all of whom have been patrons of the establishment.)


Judaica for sale in Mazel Tov. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber


Mazel Tov is located in what was a modern Jewish neighborhood (pre-WW2) and on a street where there is a small synagogue that still operates. It is run by a Jewish woman, there are some Judaica items on sale, Israeli pop music was playing, and  there is a mezuzah at the door.

But it's not kosher — on the menu are ham and cheese sandwiches. (But this is also typically secular Budapest Jewishness…..)


Me in Mazel Tov cafe. Photo: Dan Monterescu