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From the History of Pálinka to Sweets and Selfies

History

Whether you like it or not, selfies are a thing. Hardly anyone who has a smartphone is spared and, for many, it seems it can become a daily routine. People’s fascination with their self-portraits has created a new fad – selfie museums. And since the beginning of this year, Budapest has one, too.

Museum Of Sweets and Selfies.

Co-founder, co-owner Balázs Koltai, who opened the museum with his partner and co-owner Lilla Gangel, has already a few successful businesses under his belt. He is the creator and owner of PániQ-Room, live room escape games which now number 15 sites.  

The Museum Of Sweets and Selfies seems to be a winner; three months after it opened in January, the HUF 35 million investment had already been recovered, he says.  

“I am always on the lookout for experiences/services that are popular. I am following foreign markets, what’s on, and try and establish them in Hungary,” Koltai tells the Budapest Business Journal.  

He is also fast to react. Though PániQ-Room was the second of its genre in Hungary, it was early enough to take advantage of an unsaturated market. The same goes for the selfie museum – there are a handful around the globe, but none in Europe, apart from the one in Budapest.  

The location of the facility (close to the Opera House) and its uniqueness attracts a lot of foreigners. For the first time in June, foreign visitors surpassed those of Hungarians. This, and the unexpected popularity of the museum may be the reason why Koltai is planning to open another one abroad.  

He won’t disclose too much at this stage, but it is going to be much larger-scale. So much so that for the very first time, the creators will involve an investor. “We could finance it ourselves next year but we want to take advantage of the current hype that may fade with time.”

The second selfie museum is also targeting the young Instagram community and is expected to be ready by the end of this year. Until then, keen selfie-makers can enjoy the vividly-painted rooms and trendy elements such as unicorns, flamingoes or bananas in Budapest.   

Taste of Hungary

Not far away, opposite the main entrance of Gozsdu Court, a quite different museum awaits tourists and locals. It offers a taste of something truly Hungarian: the traditional fruit brandy pálinka.

Founder and owner Gábor Almási says he had long been toying with the idea when he finally opened the place last fall.   

“It was around 2010 when the pálinka ‘revolution’ started to become more visible,” he recalls. On the one hand, new legislation favoring quality pálinka helped the drink find fresh markets and customers. “It was also when Rézangyal, a pálinka brand, made a strong appearance at festivals and at franchise partners.”  

In parallel, ever better distilleries appeared with high quality spirits at upper class locations. The limited selection of previous years was gradually replaced by a range of quality pálinka in a variety of flavors. “One could [now] drink good pálinka,” Almási says. “Drinking it also became more chic.”

This was when Almási started to think about the potential in pálinka. “I realized that pálinka is world famous – in Hungary. We are so proud of being the only nation to be able to produce it. No other Hungarikum is like that. Still, we are unable to appear on global markets equal to its potential and importance,” Almási notes.  

As he researched the topic more thoroughly, he decided what was needed was education. For some, pálinka tends to have a pejorative notion recalling bad memories of home-made spirits of inferior quality. For most foreigners, it is utterly unknown.  

The idea of making it popular by exporting it abroad is wrong according to Almási as the “essence” of pálinka is that is made from fruits grown in Hungary, which is limited. Hence Almási’s idea of “reverse export” and the Pálinka Museum.  

“Hungary, or rather Budapest, has seen more tourists in the past five years than ever before. So instead of trying to put pálinka on the world map, we should first put it on the Budapest map, riding the momentum of the large number of curious tourists. Tasting pálinka is on their bucket list, and if they can taste something good, they will keep coming back for more,” Almási adds.

The Pálinka Museum is combination of a bar and an events location, an actual museum and a shop. Beyond the traditional bar, which offers different flights of pálinka selected by Almási, who regularly visits distilleries in the country, guests can go over the history of the spirit, entering a truly original museum.  

Interactive and digital displays guide visitors through the evolution of the drink from the beginning. “The history of pálinka runs parallel with the history of Hungary, from medieval times to bourgeoisie, to communism, allowing visitors to get to know the country a bit better.”

Pálinka Museum.

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