Cocktails at the Gresham Palace, Budapest
reviewed by Matthew Dyson
Chilli Martini | 2400 HUF
Coriander Fizz | 2300 HUF
Elderflower Martini | 2400 HUF
1051 Budapest Széchenyi István tér 5, Hungary
Tel: 06 1 268-6000
“Darlings, I’m home”, he said, breezing through the opulent foyer and parading through the bar like a returning war hero. Dressed in a cricket blazer with dramatic gestures wafting in every direction, he took time to shake each and every hand of the attentive bar tenders. He slumped into an enormous leather chair. Behind him towered a wall of exotic spirits. Champagne was ordered by the bucket and a tray of Technicolor Hungarian sweets were soon presented. Each sugary delight tantalizingly lit under chandeliers.
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Sat in the open cocktail bar of the Gresham Palace hotel, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had been transported back into a 1920s London bohemian melodrama. Yet, our hero, one of the ‘regulars’, is just one of many diverse patrons drawn to this oasis of regal splendor in one of Budapest’s most lavish hotel bars. Originally a neoclassical palace, the site was bought by the Gresham Life Insurance Company in 1880 as way to legally invest the winnings from the London Stock Exchange .
With some of the most dramatic Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe, it soon became the place to be seen for wealthy British aristocrats. Later falling into decline during the Cold War, the Four Season’s bought and lovingly restored the interior in 2001 to make it beautifully out of step with the modern world.
These days, the bar is open to guests and awestruck tourists lured from the main squares. Walking through an expanse of white marble flooring and imposing raised ceiling, you are almost compelled to bow at the front desk. The bar itself is tucked at the end of the ground floor, behind frosted glass. Unlike counterparts of decadence in other major European cities you are nether met with alarming thoughts of impending bankruptcy or a hefty ejection through the nearest window. Priced reasonably, comparable to chain bars in London, you are free to sample a range of traditional old world cocktails and house specialties.
The chilli martini, a particular favorite, comes replete with a blood red chilli served in weighty glasses with sharp designs. Lifting the drink from the table feels like you are beholding a modern masterpiece. Alcohol and lime slip down as lips tingle with spice and the heat builds pleasantly with every sip – And with table service you never need to do more than extend an arm to replenish your system with luxury blends of booze, always accompanied by complimentary stocks of olives and doughy bar snacks.
The best thing about the bar is the chance to lose yourself. Just sit back and happily seep into the furniture as conversation weave across the room. Tonight a distraught stunt man curses Bruce Willis’ name and the the filming of Die Hard 5. An Australian banker tries to impress his PA with iPhone apps. And our hero is joined by a Spanish countess.
“Darling , how can you say I’m not fat?”, he says leaping to the floor and spinning around. “Look at me. I might look fine now but I’m holding in my stomach and one simply can’t do that for a lifetime. Helga! Bring me the soufflé!”
Patrons clap and raise glasses. Someone cheers. And everyone loosens their belt for the evening. After all, it is the roaring ‘20s and we can go on a health plan when we return to the 21st century.