Will it still be there next time: Memories of the Pipetorium in Budapest Hungary


Blog by Steve Laug

When I got opportunity to return to Budapest for work I was excited to revisit several of the pipe shops that I had “found” the last time I was there in October 2010. By far the one that I wanted to visit the most was the one where the owner and I had communicated through broken English and lots of gestures. I had come away with a Hungarian made pipe and some good tobaccos to sample. To me it was the epitome of the old European Tobacco Shop. It was small and packed with all kinds of pipes and pipe accessories. The back walls behind the counter were packed with tins and pouches of tobaccos and pipe cleaners and tampers and… the list could go on. Everything one needed for smoking – pipes, tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, even books for teaching how to use your pipe lined the shelves. The owner was a hobbitlike fellow that obviously enjoyed his shop and had a keen eye for all things pipe. If you could not figure out what you needed he was a master at it. Along the walls and in the display window were pieces of pipe history from a far removed time period that gave you a glimpse of the way things once were. It was the oldest independent pipe shop in Hungary founded in 1933 and still in operation when I was there in 2010. It was located at József krt. 38, Budapest, Hungary 1085 and was open from 10am to 6pm during the week. My hope was that the shop would still be there.

I arrived in Budapest and worked hard all week until Friday afternoon. Finally I had time to go and check out the Pipetorium. One of my Hungarian colleagues, who is also a pipe smoker was working with me and I asked him if the shop still existed. He said of course – it was his favourite pipe shop. It turned out to be a short walk from where our meetings were held. I could not wait to get to the shop and this time I was armed with my own Hungarian interpreter so we would have a great visit. For me this shop will always be a sweet memory to me of my last visit to Budapest. As we walked along I kept pestering my friend with questions about the shop and the owner. I had already had the disappointment of visiting the Galwitz Pipe Shop and seeing that the memories I had of that shop dashed as it was a mere shell of its previous glory. I was hoping that the unique little shop with its hobbit like shop keeper had not changed. The following three photos are pictures of what the shop looked like the last time I visited Budapest.

The building was cut stone and the arched doorway had the words Dohanybolt over the door. There was an awning that had flowers and copper tiles. When I had been there the first time in October 2010 the awning looked as it is in the first photo below. Before I left Budapest I went back for a visit and it was more like the second photo but still had the garland of flowers. The door itself occupied the right side of the archway and had the words PIPA painted on the glass. The left side of the archway was a display window that I spoke of above. There were pipes and racks, old tins and pouches and pipes from days gone by that I had never seen the likes of. There were old meerschaum and briars and decorative tins and jars of tobacco that no longer was sold. To the left side of the door on there was a rich red sign with a pipe in an oval that had the words Pipetorium across the bottom.Pipetorium3

Pipetorium1

Pipetorium4 Above the Pipetorium sign on the wall was an elaborate sign that stood out from the wall on wrought iron braces. It was in Hungarian but left little doubt as to its meaning. The pipe in the middle made it clear that it was a pipe shop and the date at the bottom made clear the date it had been established. To me that sign became the singular memory that stuck in my mind of the outside of the shop. I was hoping it would still be there. My friend would not confirm that it was still there. All he said was that the owner had been going through a lot of struggles with is shop in light of the new laws regarding the sale of tobacco and the signage and frontage of tobacco shops. That made me wonder all the more as I had already visited several of the government sanitized shops and I was hoping that somehow this landmark spot for me still existed.Pipetorium2Pipetorium5 We turned the corner on József krt came to the location of the shop. I was surprised. If I had come by myself hunting for the shop I would easily have walked right by without knowing that I had missed it. All of the unique, classic pipe signage was gone. The circular pipe sign and the rich red Pipetorium sign had been removed and in their place was the circular government tobacco shop sign. The display window to the left of the door and the window on the door itself had been painted over. The front of the shop looked like the photo below.Pipetorium6I don’t know about you but the sanitized look was lacking all of the previous charm of the original shop. From the outside there was no reason to believe that the shop of my memories was still there. Everything I loved about the curb appeal of the place had been removed and in its place was this cold sanitized looking frontage. Even the awning had been removed and in its place above the door a motorized metal shutter had been installed so that when the shop was closed even the door disappeared and in its place was a steel door that made the place not only “safe” in the eyes of the government but also made it disappear. I just paused and shook my head trying to fathom the loss of another of my memories. All that I had been hoping for was shaken. I wondered what was behind the door. My friend just looked at me pushed open the door so we could enter.

Honestly, I was expecting the worst. Would the inside of the shop be but a memory of my last visit, like the Gallwitz shop? Would the sanitizing hand of governmental bureaucracy have even stripped away the inside of the shop too? I was not sure. The painted windows and door had darkened the inside but thankfully the rest of the shop remained much the same. I breathed a sigh of relief as my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit interior of what had once been a bright hobbit hole of a shop. I looked at the wall to the right of the counter – yes, it still had the display cases packed full of pipes. I looked at the one to the right and saw that the shelves of older pipes and museum like pieces were still present.

The hobbitlike owner who I had met previously still sat behind his counter. The difference this time is that I had a Hungarian with me so we could actually visit. The previous time we had managed with few words. This time we visited and talked about the state of his shop. He told me that he was saddened by the changes that had been forced upon him by the government regulations. He said that he was still surviving. I shared with him my memories of the way the shop had looked when I had been there previously and the special place it occupied in my mind from that first visit. I could tell that he too missed those days. Sitting in the darkened shop with none of the charm that drew people like me into it interior must have been very difficult. There was really nothing on the outside that said it was a pipe shop. He told me he had expanded onto the web and sold pipes and accessories there and that helped him keep the shop open. He was manufacturing pipe cleaners now so I purchased some pipe some of them to replenish my supply and I added some tobaccos to pass on to friends when I got home. before leaving the shop.Pipetorium1

Pipetorium2

As I made my way back to the door and out to city beyond I took another look around at the interior of the shop. I took in the displays of pipes and tobaccos and wondered if this would be the last time I came to this shop. If things continued as they had in the previous five years then who could truly say if the marvelous Pipetorium would be here the next time I came to Budapest. Time would tell.

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