RUIN PUBS (or romkocsma in Hungarian)
Take a city with a shortage of decent pubs, a plethora of abandoned buildings, and some very resourceful people and what do you get? The nightlife motherland: Budapest’s ruin pub culture. The recipe? Keep the buildings exactly how they are, add a bar, and throw in some seriously weird, mangled, and often times creepy thrift store-esque decor and…voila. Achievement unlocked.
The oldest and arguably best ruin pub in the whole city. I don’t know where to begin with this place. Step through the main door and all chaos ensues. This is by far the weirdest and most mind boggling place I have ever been to. Ever. It’s a craft beer bar, a wine bar, a coffee shop, a hookah lounge, a performing arts venue (on the night we went there was a 4-piece didgeridoo ensemble with soprano sax and mouth harp accompaniment), a dance club, a bakery, and a biergarden, among other things. This building was a complete multi use complex at one time and the Szimpla folks took over the entire thing and turned each room into a different and unique part of the whole, making it all things to all people. In addition to the 2 story main area there is also a giant outdoor courtyard with seats and tables made out of things like rusty vintage russian cars. The list of activities hosted here include but are not limited to rotating artist exhibitions throughout the building, Sunday farmer’s market, Sunday night open jam sessions (BYO didgeridoo apparently), monthly bike flea markets, the list goes on and gets more odd. A visit to this page on their website will get you filled in and, if you scroll all the way down, it also lists several really unique suggestions of other great things to do while in Budapest: http://www.szimpla.hu/szimplaguide25
And there’s free wifi! Password is always szimplakert.
If you need good eats to counter balance sampling all the various forms of libations at Szimpla Kert, hop next door to the Karaván food truck courtyard where you’re bound to find something that suits your craving.
For the craft beer lover check out Szimpla Kert’s sister pub. They’ve got 8 beers on tap which is more than most places, and if that isn’t enough they pour out of the backs of bejeweled black armless mannequins.
Aside from draughts, they offer a wide variety of international and local beers so that everyone will find something they like. A Rembrant-esque painting featuring, among others, young Shakespeare, John Legend, and Mother Theresa smoking a pipe. Well, actually, I have no idea who the people in the painting are actually meant to be but I’m guessing it’s probably something you’d find funny if you were Hungarian.
I like to think of this place as the Hungarian version of Nashville’s Melrose Billiards. There’s ping-pong, foosball, pool, graffiti, it’s grungy, it’s smokey, and it’s got the clientele to match. It’s kind of wonderful. This would be an amazing bar in warmer weather. As it is with a lot of these ruin pubs, there is an open air court yard center and this one in particular didn’t do much to insulate, making it a little too chilly to properly enjoy for long in the winter.
If you’re looking for something a little cozier try Csendes. This place is totally weird and in a gorgeous old building (I know they’re all in old buildings but this one in particular brings to mind a history of grandiose days past). Floor to ceiling windows along the front, giant ruinous crown moulding, and an extensive selection of drinks.
It really couldn’t be more eclectic if it tried — not a stick of furniture matches the rest — and to say that the walls were “decorated” by people with wildly industrious imaginations would be a grave understatement. Everything looks just a little bit dingy, but on purpose, so that it adds to the vibe rather than takes away. And if the absurdity of it all should leave you in doubt about whether or not you should visit, just know that we got a draft Guinness and 3 glasses of red wine for less than 7 euro. Boom.
I’m starting to wonder if it’s actually possible to go wrong with the ruin pub scene. Ellato Kert has a tex mex kind of feel with delicious tacos and burritos on the menu and all the bright colors associated with fiesta decor. It’s reminiscent of the Texas open ice house tradition and it’s right around the corner from the fantastic Gozsdu Udvar court which I write about here, along with the rest of my suggestions for experiencing Budapest in style. Make sure to check it out!