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It is no coincidence that locals waiting for Veszprém-Balaton 2023, European Capital of Culture, are on tenterhooks, because the city’s attractions have become a hot topic. The project is not big on major infrastructural investment, rather community building, volunteering, involving the suburbs and the region, thinking and interweaving together. One particular initiative is designed to restore the rustically dilapidated streets here and there.
And one particular shop, Veranda, at the gateway to the Castle District, looks striking from the outside, on the showcase square of Szabadság tér that narrows into a downtown street. Since the beginning of 2020, this has been home to a place called Papírkutya. We say ‘place’ because it’s difficult to categorise it in the context of others in the Lake Balaton region... Paper Dog is a ruin bar, an elegant drinkery, a rum mecca, a Mediterranean restaurant, a modern bistro, an exhibition space and a concert venue. Anything else have we might have missed?
The couple responsible for the whole thing are Attila Pék and Bernadett Rétfalvi. The aforementioned Veranda was a home furnishings store that was eventually supplemented with a coffee shop. They decided to close about two years ago, and since then, the space has been empty. The pair moved from Budapest into the area three years ago and already looked at this house on Szabadság tér. They were thinking about a restaurant from the start, but “the rent would have been pretty tight for a start-up here,” frowns Bernadett.
In the end, interestingly, it wasn’t them, but the ECC 2023 team that sorted out the storefront as part of its street refurbishment programme and, before yet another bakery operated here, the ECC put the business out to tender. According to Bernadett, their goal was to “create a business here that, as an official event venue for ECC 2023, they can make use of”. An open tender followed, where the couple was able to present their previous hospitality activity in Budapest, which is to say the Csiga, the Hivatal and the Fecske, all successful. Not all their bridges in Budapest have been burned, and Attila even returned to work at Csiga.
Last summer, they found out that they had won the tender in Veszprém, “We got the keys in September, then everything stopped stopped for the great renovation”. Utilities were upgraded, new toilets built, the back of the floor was made into a gallery – there is also an unusual footbridge over the corridor leading to it – and the interior was conceived by Bernadett herself. “We were definitely thinking of a hot kitchen, we didn’t want to go into another pub.” Attila also revisited a few initial ideas.
They finally opened on 26 February – only to close on 16 March by emergency order.
If music be the food of love
In the beginning, they didn’t have a hot kitchen, but concerts were programmed. UK singer-guitarist Ian Segal performed in late winter. Collaborating with the ECC team – hence Segal – Papírkutya is open to most things, “especially unplugged”. Though not set up for big rock shows, the place aims to give talented, possibly foreign, youngsters the chance to perform. Jazz-blues will be the focus, but there are no genre restrictions, DJs have already made appearances, providing background music.
Going back to the story, the enforced closure, according to Attila, came in handy, as “a lot of things had been left behind due to the sudden opening”. They had already had the name Paper Dog for some time, after one of their favourite films, the Hungarian crime caper Papírkutya. Attila also mentions their revered dog Bodza, honoured after its passing with a small plaque in the room. The Papírkutya mascot, a dog’s head made by Ecohunt composed of polygons and 3D lines, can be admired indoors for now. but will soon welcome visitors from the street.
There will also be smaller exhibitions – works by Máté Takács (aka Koromgyerek) are on view until mid-July. Pictures will change regularly, provided they suit the spirit of the place. Their goal is to bring a new, fresh patch of colour to the city, new flavours, new moods. Bernadett is from Veszprém and wants to see her home town burst into life. According to them, one of the aims of the ECC project is to offer more non-weekend events under the heading “Why be bored on weekday evenings?”.
Anyone who still wants to hide away can find a spot in the backyard, which reminded us of an alleyway in Mediterranean Italy with its chairs, tables and plants.
Rum, shakshouka and the rest
À propos drinks, they use Caribou, Colombian coffee roasted in Budapest, along with organic, fair-trade teas. For beer, they wanted to move away from the standards – hence Monyó, Hübris and San Miguel on draught. Among the many wineries at Lake Balaton, the wines of the a’Capella Grape Estate in Badacsony are stocked. “I really like rum,” Attila replied simply to the question why there is a preponderance of it among the short drinks. Plus it seems to be popular among Veszprém’s many artisans.
They also try to take advantage of local opportunities on the food front. You can count on a bistro selection, concise, savvy and constantly changing on Szabadság tér. The plan is to have breakfast as well, thus filling a gap in Veszprém. Starting the kitchen hasn’t been easy, in fact, “we opened it twice in three months”. Vegans get their own menu, you can eat pho soup, hummus and shakshouka, nourishing for non meat-eater and carnivore alike.
Currently, of course, pandemic rules are in place. “We’re looking forward to getting back to normal,” hopes Bernadett. Until then, the bar piano and tango accordion will prevail, and there may even be musical literary evenings.
Papírkutya is finally on the map of the European Capital of Culture.
Veszprém, Szabadság tér 9
Open: Mon-Fri, Sun 9am-midnight, Fri-Sat 9am-1am