I say a little prayer for the good, old Papucs (Pécs, Hungary)
I haven’t made any pub crawl in Pécs, in the fifth biggest city of Hungary (145.000 inhabitants) until few weeks ago. My journey there came like a bolt from the blue, after one of my old class mates, who lived there before, sent me this article about the closure of the famous, very traditional Papucs wine bar: http://okpecs.hu/sirjatok-vegleg-bezar-papucs-borozo-pecsen/ (<google translate it!)
(Papucs means slippers)
Does a historic tavern really close up in Pécs? Personally it doesn’t mean anything to me, because I haven’t even heard about Papucs wine bar before. In my adult life I went to Pécs only 3 times, but as you know (or at least guess), I really appreciate these kind of venues so I started to go after the case.
First of all I asked around among my friends. – Barbi, do you know Papucs wine bar in Pécs? – I kinda grew up there – she answered – Oh, no! Will they close?
Her mother expressed herself a little bit tougher: – Yes, my daughter, you had been rotting in that place all the time – but she said it with a smile on her face. I decided to make a pilgrimage. I wanted to see the place before the possible closure and explore, what can be and what can’t be done against it.
Papucs, even today is a popular wine bar among locals, in Pécs. As I asked around, for some reason the mention of the place made everyone smile, because most of them have memories in connection with it. We can say, this is an iconic pub of the city.
It has a great location, at Saint Stephen square, next to the Cathedral, opposite the Csontváry (famous Hungarian painter) Museum.
That’s how the entrance looks like:
The interior’s appearance is exactly as it was portrayed by the locals and even more „antique” than I have imagined before.
I can’t even find any competitors to it on my list. The past pulsates within the walls, which are covered with black and white personal and family portraits, that gives charm and the atmosphere of the early years of last century to the place.
Fortunately I encountered decades old guests at the table next to the counter. The sophisticated intermezzo of two elegant, elderly gentlemen completely filled the cavernous space. In the past when they were university students, they spent time here together on these square meters quite often. Life led them on two separate road, but since they live in the same city again, they intentionally meet here time to time to taste the whole wine palette. And that is exactly what they did in these moments gentle and leisurely – You know if a man just sipping the wine slowly – said one of them turning to me – he has right enough time to fall in love with the barmaid.
He was very funny man, who almost recited his ornate style sentences. I really enjoyed their fast fading company with many laughs and appreciative smiles. It was like a movie, in which the lost sentences of Hungarian authors, Gyula Krúdy, Sándor Márai or Iván Bächer would have been recorded. (<they used to write more or less about the Hungarian pub scene either) It seemed that they rather were the typical and not the eccentric guests of the Papucs, because during the one and half hours I spent there I saw only intelligent, cultured companies, likable faces, and heard only interesting conversation fragments. The only detail who didn’t fit to my friendly and welcoming picture completely, was me the barmaid herself.
I don’t believe necessarily that the willingness and politeness makes the good barman and especially not the case, when someone accidentally gives an unconscious interview for my blog. Just being natural, being themselves, and being somehow enjoyable for the guests (one way or the other), is enough for me. And I can’t say that it failed here completely. Anikó joked („I put the beer foam even in the middle of the beer mug, if that is what the dear guest is asking for.”), made funny gestures and she has always been polite in every edgy situation. But she was very uncommunicative with me. She reportedly didn’t know anything about the background, since when Papucs does exist, why it is called that way, who the black and white faces are on the wall, etc. In her short confession even her actual role stayed obscure, but it rather sounded to me as if she were the owner of the company. Since when and how much – she treated as a private matter.
In a while I accepted this and stopped questioning her. After this ran aground conversation, as plan B, I revealed a bit of my identity. I told her that I came to Pécs intentionally because of Papucs, but I didn’t explain more. She didn’t really care about this either. The closure of Papucs must a sensitive topic around Pécs. Rumors, theories and different viewpoints circulate in the air. But is not the sensations what I go after…
It’s just a pleasant historical place for first sight and as such is inimitable, irreplaceable and it can’t be restored.
If it is lost for once, it is lost forever. My only personal sorrow about it was not seeing anybody really fighting for it and feeling committed towards this traditional wine bar. Based on my impressions and the few words of Anikó, she gave up, „it will be as it will be”. I didn’t feel that she has gone till her limits in order to save this unit, and I didn’t feel that she would. But if this place will be lost, not only she will get involved – I thought – it will be lost for the whole city and its visitors, there will be one treasure less in Pécs.
I couldn’t make any progress. I left the place sadly and this sorrow woke up with me next morning.
I ate my lunch in Tettye (townpart of Pécs, in the beautiful hillside), in the beloved Semiramis Garden Panorama. During the order I asked the bar crew, what do they think about Papucs. One of them, Aliz remarkably knew a lot about it and it quickly turned out that she and her ex boyfriend took over the place ca. two years ago and they started to renovate it – We even found lyukas kétfilléres (“holey penny”, an old kind of Hungarian coin with a hole in the middle from the 1950’s) in the gaps of the floor – she said. They tried to do their best, but the removal of the also cultic Rózsakert (=Rose garden) outdoor restaurant and beer garden, that situated above Papucs, had a negative impact on the internal space. From that moment the building of the wine bar became more and more wet and moldy. The whitewash couldn’t solve the problem and it is obvious that the building needs a serious renovation.
Aliz helped me to fill the missing parts of the legend: the Papucs (slipper) name came from the distant past when one of the guest always visited the place in slippers and left one of them behind them very often.
The story that, they as newest owners loved the old atmosphere, and tried to preserve it for posterity as it was, is very honorable to me. Of course they made some innovations, for example it’s not strictly a wine bar anymore, thanks to good relations with the famous Pécsi brewery you can get their draft beers as well. The fact of selling beer divides people’s attitutde. Beer lovers are happy, but the orthodox wine lovers estimated this purity of the former profile and now they mind losing it. By the way bottled beer was already available for years, before the “attack” of draft beers. But wine is still available in wide range from the surrounding wine regions, 18 kind from Pécs and the near Villány, Siklós and Szekszárd.
There are some new elements of the decoration and the supply: a „curtain” from lost and found keys on the left side of the counter,
the peasant tequila (Hungarian pálinka with onion and salt – innovation of the guests) – and „Papucs fröccs for ladies”: 1 deciliter of wine, 1 deciliter of grape must, 1 deci liter or sodawater.
There was only a small chance to get answers and the next clue from one the first people whom I ask spontaneously, but it happened. Aliz also redirected me to Salibár (Salad bar), a cozy little restaurant between Barbakán bastion and Mecsek mountain. The manager of this place is the man who took over Papucs with Aliz two years ago.
I went to Salibár on that evening, before the closure and met Richárd. I found out that he’s still in charge. Anikó got most of the operational management duties but she is an employee, so Papucs doesn’t have to be her labor of love. I was relieved to find out, that Richárd has already done, tried and asked many things in order to save this treasure trove. But currently there are no news yet. He has a very positive hospitable attitude. He consciously saw the opportunity in Papucs, because he likes its milieu and he would like to continue to operate it, but on the other hand he faced a strong uncertainty from the beginning. That’s why he didn’t put his heart and soul in it, as much as into Salibár.
I’ve read and heard, but he confirmed once again, that the building was owned by the Bishopric from the beginning. Since its foundation, the already closed up long cellar of Papucs has been used for storing wine, and for at least 80-90 years it worked as a wine bar. According to other sources it has been a Prebendal Wine Bar during the Franz Joseph era (1867-1916) already. The exact history of this premise is not so clear for the public and nobody could tell me a proper date.
„…in addition to the personal objectives of the diocese the renewal, the high standard and the quality is especially important.” – I read in the article. The game is not fully played yet. Who knows, maybe there is a way for this honored heritage of Pécs to stay on its feet. Young people have declared, that it’s nice to sit here and know that my father used to drink here too, when he was a university student. – It is an inter-generational space – says Richárd. It’s impossible to get it back, once it is closed. Even if I’m an outsider, I saw it right away.
It would be worth to patronize it from above and vote for its future with a non-destructive renovation and update, by bringing back the elements of the golden age (for example permanent fatty bread as pub food). It has a point indeed to keep it alive and restart it even better. I really can’t see either, what can be done against the closure, if that will be final decision at the end of December. Anyone – who have any idea what can provide a future to this the venue – can come up with an a rescue plan and represent it till the above-mentioned date. For the meantime I recall to the farewell words of the satirist lady, who I met in the most likable chapel of my life, on Havihegy (hillside of Pécs): “I say a little prayer for the good, old Papucs.”
Address: 7621, Pécs, Janus Pannonius street 10.
Opening hours: Monday-Thursday, 10:00 AM-10:00 PM, Friday-Saturday: 10:00 PM-12:00 PM, Sunday: 10:00 PM-8:00 PM