Capşa House

More than a coffee lounge, more than a meeting place for artists, poets and politicians, more than a hotel, Casa Capşa is a real symbol of Bucharest.

The building that was to become "Casa Capşa", situated in the center of Bucharest, on Calea Victoriei (Victoria Avenue), at the crossroad with Edgar Quinet Street, was built in 1852 by justice of peace Slătineanu and bore the name of Slătineanu House until 1874, when the building became the possession of the members of Capşa family, who made history, gaining European fame and appreciation of the place. The history of Casa Capşa is closely connected to the destiny of a Macedo-Romanian family, descendants of furrier Dumitru Capşa. His coming to our parts was connected with one of the most dramatic episodes in the Balkan history: the complete destruction, in 1788, of the town Moscopole, the beautiful capital of the Macedo-Romanians, completely demolished by the Ottoman artillery.

In 1852, Anton and Vasile Capşa founded the first confectionery shop on Calea Victoriei, somewhat north of the present Casa Capşa, which was founded by their younger brother Grigore Capşa (1841-1902) in 1868. Anton and Vasile had financed Grigore through four years of courses at the renowned Boissier in Paris, where he turned down an opportunity to become the supplier for the French Imperial Court. The French-inspired confectionery of Casa Capşa soon established a continent-wide reputation. The business expanded in 1881 to a full-service restaurant, at a time when quality restaurants along Western European lines were still quite a rarity in Romania. Casa Capşa invented the all-chocolate Joffre cake in honor of a visit to Romania by Joseph Joffre after World War I, and they were the first to introduce ice cream in Romania.

The coffee house, established 1891, was an important literary and artistic gathering place, but never turned a profit, "because the writers and artists who went there usually ordered mineral water and coffee and made them last for hours on end." In contrast to the elegant restaurant and confectioner, the coffee house had simple, uncovered wooden tables. Tudor Arghezi referred to it as an "Academy"; one could make a literary reputation by reading one's texts there. Actors also were among the regulars: at the time the Romanian National Theatre was nearly across the street, adjacent to the Oteteleşanu Terrace, now the site of the Telephone Palace. When the Romanian Communist Party took power in 1948, they closed Casa Capşa. The restaurant operated during most of the communist era as the "Bucharest Restaurant", regaining the Capşa name in 1984. It was at the Capşa that the poet Nicolae Labiş stood up in November 1956 and loudly recited Mihai Eminescu's banned patriotic poem "Doina"; a few weeks later, after spending some time at the Capşa, Labiş was fatally hit by a tram, just a short distance away.

The enterprise was expanded in 1886 to include the Capşa Hotel, initially a guest house for members of parliament from out of town. The French manager had formerly managed the Hôtel Café Anglais in Paris. In 1908, the British magazine John Bull ranked it "among the best hotels in the world". According to the revived hotel's web site, "It was considered for a long time the only suitable residence of the artists, rich and aristocratic families or high rank politiciens [sic] and diplomats visiting Romania," a role it would eventually yield to the Athénée Palace. Among the hotel's guests in its heyday were German Kaisers Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II; Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef I; several members of the Imperial Russian royal family, including Tsar Alexander II; all four Romanian monarchs and their queens consort; kings of Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria; and such other notables as Josephine Baker, Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso, George Enescu, W. Averell Harriman, Józef Piłsudski, and Raymond Poincaré.

The In Your Pocket guide series describes it as having been "…the chosen venue for the beautiful people at the turn of the [19th] century… it degenerated into a Communist party haunt for the illiterate and intellectually unendowed party bosses". Mioara Ioniţă writes, "Its fame remains, but it has lost some of its pre-war glamour. It exists as such, but the spirit that animated it has vanished". "Capşa is the heart of the town, topographical and ethical. (…) Capşa is the tympan of this big ear that is Bucharest" (Paul Morand).