We Love Budapest: Back in 1969, how did your grandfather come to open a magic shop in Újbuda?
István Szabó looks just like any other István Szabó. But perhaps even this is an illusion as all you need to do is blink, and he makes a green scarf turn blue. István Szabó is a magician, just as his father and grandfather were. Since 1969, his family has been running the Figaró Magic Shop on Bartók Béla út which, despite its small size, occupies a unique place in the local performing arts industry. A third-generation professional, István runs Figaró with his two magician friends, Alex Gombkötő and Vince Kiss Szőke. We visited them at Hungary’s oldest magic shop. Abracadabra!
István Szabó: My grandfather travelled all over Europe with his own magic show. He performed in amazing places and in fantastic companies in Hungary and abroad. I could mention the basement the cult Hadik Café opposite, today the Szatyor, where he performed with the famous magicians of the age, Rodolfo and a figure named Paul Potassy. He saw that there were magic shops abroad, but not here. So he made the bold move of creating Hungary’s first magic shop.
The Figaró Magic Shop in numbers
The store stocks 400 magic tricks that appeal to different types of customers.
From the absolute beginner to the professional of 15-20 years' stage
experience, everyone can find something of interest. Some of the merchandise
comes from America, and the team is eager to help with selection and use. Prices
vary enormously. Something as basic as a magic colouring book and a rose bursting out
of a torch cost a few thousand forints but you can also buy a floating table
WLB: Why did that seem like such a brave stunt at the time?
I Sz: If we’re trying to learn a trick in the magic shop today, the necessary accessory can be ordered from England and America in a matter of seconds. This was not possible in Hungary in the 1970s. So my grandfather brought supplies from abroad, and at home he had to find a skilled craftsman who could do use a particular tool, often without even knowing what it was for. Thus, he also preserved his anonymity.
In fact, it took several workmen for a certain prop, and since the work was divided, no one saw the trick for themselves.
WLB: In 52 years, practically everything has changed around this store, as has the profession itself. How do you still manage to maintain a sense of continuity, and what have been the most important changes?
I Sz: It was obviously a good thing that the borders opened. For example, every year we can visit Blackpool for the magic congress where more than 3,000 professionals meet. Even today, British and German magicians remember my father and grandfather. So obviously this community finds strength in its international reach, in addition to the fraternity among domestic magicians. In that sense, I feel very lucky because magicians never feel left out, either 30 years ago, ten years ago and even now.
We also strive to bring this profession and community together in addition to our standard commercial activity.
WLB: How does this actually work in practice?
I Sz: Often magicians meet here in the afternoons and discuss ideas for tricks, which is when the brainstorming process begins. And every two weeks, we hold free workshops where we teach each other tricks. The magic changes, but there are classic things that always look good. Sometimes people come to us who are looking for the specific trick for their grandchild or great-grandchild that they also bought before for their own child.
WLB: How often is the magic profession passed on from generation to generation, and what led you to continue the family tradition?
I Sz: It is relatively rare for a profession to be inherited, and I am very grateful that neither my grandfather nor my father pushed me or insisted that I had to be a magician as well, but I fell in love with this genre myself as a child.
The trusty assistants
Childhood friends Alex Gombkötő and Vince Kiss Szőke showed a passion for their profession when they were young, when Vince received a magic box. He began to perform tricks for a friend, then introduced them at school. There he met Alex, who had been asking his friend for months to teach him. Vince finally agreed. The rest of history. Since then, they have both been working as professional magicians in addition to their studies. Alex gives English-language performances in front of larger crowds at Buda Castle, while Vince excels in close-up magic. Alex has been working at the store for nearly three years, Vince a for few months.
WLB: Your grandfather started the business and even though he hasn’t been with us since 2012, he was actively involved in the life of the store almost until his last day. What motivated him, how did this shop become his passion?
I Sz: He was terribly motivated by the support of magicians, the young
generation of magicians. He was still here in the store a few days before his
death, and his profession and business were part of his everyday life. He
didn’t necessarily sit here at the counter and do magic actively, but at age of
88, he spent three or four hours here every afternoon.
For example, I was practising a manipulation routine with bullets at the time. He was sitting in the corner here, I started showing him the trick and he had such fantastic insights that it was amazing. This is probably why he was revered in the domestic profession.
WLB: The store was later taken over by your father. How did he continue in the family tradition?
I Sz: He was also an important key figure in the shop and in domestic
magic. At first, however he was not interested in the profession, he wanted to
play music. At that time, performances weren’t amplified, but someone started
playing music in the background. And my father had a tango accordion that was
suitable, so from a young age he accompanied the magicians of that time as they
Then he got his hands on book of card tricks from abroad and saw something different from earlier well-known trends. Despite the fact that many at home didn’t think much of them, he liked it. He started doing tricks that no-one in Hungary had seen before, and in the end he was the first to take an official magic exam at the Budapest Metropolitan Circus with a close-up magic trick, unstaged. Close-up magic is a branch of the profession where tricks are often presented to a smaller audience in an interactive way. The trick is said to unfold in the hands of the spectator.
WLB: I think there are several kinds of magicians, everyone loves something else in this art. What motivates you, why did you follow your father and grandfather in this field?
I Sz: I have not experienced a community that is so receptive as that of
magicians, it’s an amazing miracle in itself. The other amazing wonder is when
I see the audience, say, 400 people, reacting at once. There will be a huge
silence all at once, and when the show is over, they will be applauding just
the same. It's a fantastic experience.
We perform to so many kinds of people, from important politicians to ordinary faces, but when a miracle happens, everyone finds the same level, everyone experiences the same thing. I look at magic as a form of self-expression, where I also hand over a piece of myself. I don’t even undertake children’s stage shows because I experience self-expression specifically among adults. Then I don’t have to simplify my thoughts. If I can actually show these things in full, then magic really is magic.
WLB: Can anyone learn this profession just like that?
I Sz: There is no magic university in Hungary. I have already used the
word art, now I also mention science. There are incredible textbooks about
magic, it is constantly being renewed, inspiring as it does so. On the other
hand, the classical forms, which we have to master, surive, and these lead us down
our designated path.
My grandfather taught a bit of everything. But, for example, an older magician in his seventies, Péter Sugár, is the one everyone in the Hungarian profession refers to as their teacher.
WLB: Why Figaró?
I Sz: My grandfather was originally a hairdresser, one of his guests was
a professional magician. He learned his tricks from him. At that time, every
magician developed their own character, and my grandfather went to the world
championships and on tour by inventing the stage name of Figaro, referring to
the hairdresser and using various hairdressing accessories in his show.
He had a ten-minute skit in which the scissors disappeared and combs appeared. In international magic, many did not even have an original profession.
WLB: How much longer do you think this 52-year story will continue? And how? Will there be someone to take over the store from you?
I Sz: I would like my children, if I have any, to perform magic as well. I’m not going to force it on them, but I think if I show them in a proper way the magic of magic, then they should enjoy it too. And we’ve been here for 52 years anyway, I want us to be here for the next 52 years. I want those whom we introduce to magic to appear on the biggest stages and talent shows.
WLB: Could Figaró become a franchise or would it lose its magic?
I Sz: It is our passion for the three of us, and the more people do and
love it, the happier we are. Magic has always been about doing something new
with an ordinary object, and that means that if you have a smartphone, you can
change something else that another person, an average person, can’t think of.
A larger store would change the rules of the game a bit, but not only the trick but it’s also the performance that is interesting. We also see magicians abroad doing the same tricks that we do, but in such creative and different ways that it wouldn’t be a problem if all people were magicians. It would only expand the possibilities.
District XI. Bartók Béla út 31
Current opening hours: Mon-Fri noon-6pm, Sat 10am-2pm