Cintányéros — A Canadian Hungarian’s wine tavern in Budapest’s 8th District

Here’s the story behind one of the most endearing wine taverns in Budapest. Imre Balázs Molnár is a Hungarian Canadian, born in Montreal, lived in the same Laval suburb that I grew up in, and ended up in Ottawa much like me. As it happens, he was born at Montreal’s St. Mary’s Hospital, and probably around the same year as the author of this piece. Hungary is small enough, that when you dig just a little below the surface, you quickly uncover multiple points of connection with so many people you meet along the way. Imre studied political science and law at university, worked for European multinationals, and then threw caution to the wind, by giving up a stable existence to open a wine tavern in one of the most difficult and disadvantaged areas of Budapest–the 8th District.

Imre Molnár of Cintányéros. Photo: Christopher Adam

Cintányéros is a no-nonsense sort of place, which gets back to the basics. They serve a handful of thoughtfully selected Hungarian wines, beer from a local microbrewery in the Budapest area, Hungarian spirits, Hungarian cured ham, cheese, and you can order a bowl of roasted walnuts to accompany your drink. You won’t find Coca Cola products here, but you can taste a handful of Hungarian flavoured sodas. But forget about sipping pretentious and pricey cocktails. This isn’t that sort of place. Instead, at Cintányéros you can delve into the world of Hungarian fröccs (spritzers), including a fröccs flavoured with elderflower or lavender, and you can get a wealth of information from Imre and his wife on the wines, beers and cured ham that they serve.

Imre Molnár in Cintányéros. Photo: Christopher Adam 

Cintányéros opened in August 2016 and it has since attracted a crowd of young, local Hungarians, workers who stop in at 5 pm for a quick drink on their way home and the occasional tourist. I stopped in twice so far during my stay this week in Budapest–once on Saturday evening, when the place was buzzing with life and welcomed a group of French speakers visiting Budapest, and then again on a quieter Monday evening. I was keen to introduce HFP contributor György Lázár and his wife Maggie to Cintányéros. Monday evening provided as good a time as ever, especially as we had the opportunity to chat at length with Imre. After a couple of hours at Cintányéros, I met up nearby with a local friend, Szilárd Kalmár, who is a prominent social worker in the 8th District and a passionate activist. As it turns out, he knows Imre well and often frequents Cintányéros too.

György Lázár and his wife Maggie at Cintányéros. Photo: C. Adam

You can detect owner’s pride in everything that Cintányéros does, and that’s one of the advantages of frequenting locally owned small businesses, rather than large, impersonal chains. Imre is passionate about showcasing quality Hungarian products and eschewed serving Prosciutto for authentic, cured Hungarian ham, which is hard to come by even in Budapest. The décor is simple, but clearly carefully selected. An old upright piano sits in the corner, adorned with photographs from the early twentieth century and a lonely pengő paper note, from the forties, just before the era of hyperinflation in Hungary. The piano becomes the focal point on some nights, when Cintányéros offers live music. If you grab a seat in the gallery, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of this friendly corner in a still struggling 8th District.

Cintányéros from above. Photo: C. Adam.

From the exterior, the building fits in perfectly into the 8th District’s scruffy image. Like so many apartment buildings in the area, this one too is crumbling, with exposed bricks and decades of neglect when it comes to preserving the neighbourhood’s potentially charming nineteenth century buildings. The space occupied by Cintányéros, howevever, has a history. It used to serve as the local party offices of the now defunct Hungarian Democratic Forum–the party that formed Hungary’s first democratic government in 1990.

The neighbourhood haunt is located at the intersection of two worlds: the truly battered and poverty-stricken areas of the 8th District, home to one of the largest Roma communities in Budapest and much of the urban poor, and then half a dozen city blocks that were bulldozed to the ground over the last ten years to make way for a glitzy shopping mall, modern condos and office towers. When you walk out the door of Cintányéros, turn to your left, and you’ll find yourself on a dusty, frayed street of Józsefváros, the other name for the 8th District. Then turn to your right, and you are a block away from yuppie gentrification.

Cintányéros seems to be precisely what the 8th District needs: a very reasonably priced, unpretentious local business, in stark contrast to the sterile world of multinational chains or the embarrassing tourist traps of central Budapest. But most importantly, Cintányéros is owned by people who genuinely care about their neighbourhood and want to give back to their local community.

If you’re in Budapest, you can visit Cintányéros (Bókay János utca 52) starting at 5 pm every day except Sunday. Check out Cintányéros’ Facebook page here. 

11 Comments

  1. I raise my glass, on my balcony in Montreal’s Little Italy, to the Canadian-Hungarian proprietor’s health and well being in Budapest’s 8th District.

  2. Would be interesting if HFP mentioned as was this article a ‘compensated advertisement’ for the advancement of this ‘kocsma”?
    That is what it looks like on a ‘nickel and dime’ level.
    I sure wish the proprietors absolute success.
    Need reports on the chances of the average people, not just of the ‘big shots’.

    May be more Hungarians need to do that, go back and help the country make it better,instead of dragging it down.

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      Bendeguz, obviously no. If we ever published content that was a paid promotional, basic journalistic ethics would dictate that we label it as paid content. Recently this same wine tavern was featured in HVG, and that was a review (a positive one) like this one.

  3. Dear Mr. Hungarian Free Press;

    I was awaiting that kind of an answer.

    So you did not have the journalistic guts to say it openly that just wanted to help the business of an old friend.

    So, even covertly, I hope it would.

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      Why don’t you read the article more carefully next time…you will see from the first paragraph that the owner is not an old friend, but someone I was fortunate to meet for the first time, along the way during my stay in Budapest.

  4. Dear Hungarian Free Press;

    I have happened to read the article.
    Did you assume that perhaps I am a mind reader instead?
    May be you have a strange way to describe events, but you stated that you two were born the same place, lived the same place, studied and worked the same place.
    Now you claim it does not give the simplest basic explanation that you two have not been old friends?
    Than you really have a strange way of describing events.
    May be you need to make more clear in your descriptions of you past experiences Sir !

    • Hungarian Free Press says:

      Laval is a city of 400,000, Ottawa is a city of 900,000. I did not indicate that we worked or studied in the same workplace or school. You have rather poor comprehension skills in English and Hungarian alike.

  5. Dear Hungarian Free Press;
    Beside giving population datas, and your ‘polite’ personal remark, yet have not made it clear what might have been the motivation of your article.
    As made it clear before, that it was NOt a commercial interest. Was it just a strange coincident you happen to run into the “Cintanyeros” during your visit to Budapest?
    Anything is possible, so just why not clear the air?

  6. I have a great fondness for the 8th and look forward to visiting Cintányéros on my next visit!

  7. It sounds like exactly the sort of place that I would love to try! I like the 8th too–it has amazing character. I’m so glad that this young man chose to set up shop there.

  8. We will visit to. The place sounds great. Thank you for letting people know about it

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