Café Cultura

24/Noviembre/2011 | 16:54


Laszlo Karolyi, owner and creator of Cafe Cultura, Quito's first boutique hotel, says that people from all over the world have one thing in common: drinking coffee. 

"Coffee is an international word.  [When you say coffee] everybody will imagine sitting around the table talking about politics, falling in and out of love, talking about literature, and of course, drinking coffee.   That is culture," he says.  So it is not surprising to discover that Cafe Cultura attracts travelers from all over the world.

Occupying a large, Republican style house in the Mariscal District of Quito, the Cafe Cultura mansion became     Ecuador's first boutique hotel twenty years ago.  It boasts 26 rooms with social areas and secluded garden seating outside, adding to  the intimate charm that permeates the interior of the hotel.

Karolyi  recognizes the uniqueness of what he has built over the past two decades.  "We are an original product of Quito," he says. "We were the first boutique hotel in Ecuador and the first time in Ecuador that a listed building from the city's patrimony was restored to become a hotel. We are not the creation of a designer's whim and imagination but a consequence of what a listed building can offer and integrate with all of those features into the life of a hotel, including original works of art throughout the whole operation."

From the antique lamps to the original black and white photos of old town Quito lining the walls, Karolyi says, "Everything is part of the history of Quito, somehow."  For Karolyi restoring the house  was and continues to be  more than just rebuilding.  "Everything is a process here." 

Acquiring the contents and furnishings is what helps give Cafe Cultura its character.  As you tour the hotel you cannot help but marvel at the knick knacks, the artwork, and the books.  The hotel is full of great "stuff," virtually all of which can be purchased (making it a true boutique hotel).

Though Cafe Cultura has now been operating for twenty years, Karolyi does not sit idly by.  "A bicycle that stops peddling falls over," he says, as he discusses projects past and present.

Cafe Cultura founded the Exclusive Hotels and Haciendas of Ecuador several years ago, a group of high-end lodgings throughout the country, which Karolyi promotes even more than his own hotel.

Karolyi is also two and half years into a five year restoration of another historic house, which will eventually become the new, and larger, Cafe Cultura. 

Located only a few blocks from his present location, on the corner of Washington and Paez, Karolyi will offer the same kind of experience visitors find at  today's Cafe Cultura.  "Visitors are looking for an original experience.  They want to integrate their visit with history and society."  And doing so means more than just staying in a restored house.

An intergral part of traveling is trying the local cuisine, so Karolyi offers a diverse menu and though the recipes are a collection from around the world, the food is not.  "We use only local ingredients.  I think Ecuador has fantastic ingredients."  Using fresh seafood he creates a local ceviche and lemon fish in white wine sauce which he describes as "out of this world."  He offers curry chicken, pastas, and a cayenne peppered filet -  recipes which he has gathered during his lifelong travels.  

For breakfast, among the various "continental" options, is a unique dish: Shasshuka, a Tunisian breakfast of eggs cooked with pepper, onions, tomato sauce, and paprika, served with toast, juice, and of course, coffee (unless you desire tea).

He says the recipes are part of his menu because, "I have made trips to Europe at large and these recipes brought me experiences."  He talks about how food combined with a location creates a particular memory.  "It is a feeling that prevails. What I wanted was to bring those experiences along and integrate them into the hotel so other travelers in their journeys can have the same [kind of] experience here."

But it is not just the international recipes or the local ingredients that make the hotel restaurant special.  Cafe Cultura bakes their own breads, makes their own pastas, prepares homemade jams, and uses locally made cheeses and organic products as much as possible, something you can find in other places, but Karolyi says they were doing it first.   "Today this is called slow food process, but we have been doing it for 20 years.  Everything, to be at the table, has a different process."  That even includes the coffee.

Ecuadorian coffee is some of the best in the region if not the world, but it must be prepared with good water.  Karolyi brags, "The hotel water is filtered and ionized several times before it reaches you.  You can drink in the shower if you wish."

Though Cafe Cultura serves world travelers, local visitors are welcome.  The restaurant is  open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year.  "This is a well-kept secret," says Karolyi and he seems content to keep it that way, but he invites anyone who enjoys the simple pleasures of conversation and the world's number one cultural libation:"We all drink coffee.  We all have that thing in common."

The Cafe Cultura is located at Robles 513 and Reina Victoria. Overnight rates range from $89-149 plus taxes.  Meals  average $10-12.  Contact them at 222-4271 or visit or