In 1902, architect Ferenc Sztarill (1859-1943) started the construction of a two-storey house at the intersection of the King Ferdinand I Square with the Theatre Street.
In a neo-gothic style with secession elements, with high pediments and curved contours, the Sztarill Palace accommodated apartments for rent on the floors, and the EMKE café on the ground floor, that became the
favourite meeting place of writers and journalists of the time.
In 1930 Sztarill Palace was turned into a hotel, taking the name of Astoria Hotel. The hotel only functioned for a few years, because after the World War II it was closed and the rooms at the floors became rentals again. The EMKE café rooms were first used as a dry goods shop, and then as an exhibition space.
In 1975, Hotel Astoria reopened, but the original secession-style furniture was not preserved. The building now houses the Grand Hotel Astoria, and on the ground floor the EMKE café is replaced by the Crown Pub restaurant.
What makes this building architecturally unique is the rhythm of the façade. The same modern and original conception is applied to the curtain-walls, that do not reveal the tectonic volumetry of the interior.
The newspapers of the time tell about the café’s opening event: the café is decorated according to “Jugendstil”, the walls are decorated with murals and mirrors. The interior decorated in secession style is exciting – the press reports, – it seems lush but welcoming. Its specialty was the mezzanine balcony with many booths.
The café’s tenants paid special attention to the customers, which is no wonder, because there was a great competition between cafes in King Ferdinand I Square, each with its own clientele and special offers: Royal, Pannónia, Elite and Astoria.
In addition to the billiard room and the card games room, an exclusive club called the “Owl’s Castle”, a meeting place for the famous was opened on the top floor. The journalists’ club used to function in the same place in the interwar period. The city’s literati and journalists used to meet at the café, on the ground floor. It was the favourite place of poet Ady Endre and the literary association “Holnap” (the “Tomorrow society”) was born on the EMKE terrace, giving a new modern direction to the literature of that time.
In the evening, after the theatre performances, the high society of Oradea used to go to EMKE for a cold snack and a smooth drink, as their buffet was very famous in the city. A soloist would play the violin, the orchestra would sing in front of Astoria, and for those who lived too far away, a car was available for them to return home.