This is the first in a series about the one activity I recommend you do in a city. It will represent the feeling of the city and be unique to the local culture.
Budapest is a bit of wacky city. You’ll find strangeness all around. A Peter Falk statue? Sure! Like Prague, the city is a living museum. All round you are beautiful historic buildings and areas of significance during WWII and the Communist era.
After WWII, buildings in the Jewish quarter became derelict and forgotten. By the 1980s, the immigrants from Romania came to the area for the cheap rents and fashion their own section of the city. Fast forward to the 2000s, some entrepreneurial college graduates took advantage of the cheap property and decided to open a bar and arts space. In 2002, Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) was born and quickly gained a following with its garage sale meets dive bar vibe. Picture used lamps, mix-match couches, kitschy art work and a clientele of eccentrics, college students and dudes in ironic t-shirts. By 2004, the bar moved to its current location at Kazinczy u. 14.
Szimpla Kert is the first and best known of all the ruin pubs. It’s the first name that comes up when you read about ruin pubs. Yes, it’s the one the tourists go to, but if you only have time for one, go to the original. At night, the space brims with colored lighting and a movie screen playing odd-ball cult films. Around every corner there’s something new to look at and laugh about. It’s like a TGIFriday with a twisted, Rated-R vibe from the late 60s. If you need a souvenir to go with your fröccs (spritzer), they have a little gift shop so you can impress your friends back in Brooklyn with your Szimpla Kert t-shirt.
Spritzers is basically watered-down wine using sparkling water. White wines or roses are the best for fröccs. Hungarians love their spritzers. I gather so that they can drink longer and not get too drunk fast.
Like any good idea, others followed suit. The VII District is at the center of nightlife activity in Budapest. In the area and within reasonable walking distance are dozens of interesting pubs serving spritzers, craft beer and simple food items.
If you find Szimpla Kert too crowded on a Friday or Saturday night, down the street at No. 4 is Ellátó Kert (Garden Supply) that’s in an equally rundown building. This is where you’ll find the young locals. There you can chain smoke in the large outdoor area, settle in on a couch that was probably left out in the curb and pony up to the main bar areas serving their signature cocktails. For those looking for Mexican food in Hungary, they have you covered. After a few of their pink cocktails, I need something .. anything in my stomach.Being a big craft beer guy, it was worth going for a 30-minute walk from VII district to find Élesztő (Yeast) at Tűzoltó u. 22. You can find 20 draft lines of European and British beers along with local sausages and pretzels. With the large tap list, you’ll always find something unique that you won’t be able to get outside of Eastern Europe. Check out what I had when I was there last year:
- Tuck Barát by Bors Serfőzde
- Alcatraz by Bigfoot Sörfőzde
- Zodiak IPA by BReWdaPeST
I never heard of them either. If you go, just tell the bartender what you like and he or she will recommend them for you. All of them spoke perfect English.
It’s the perfect day-drinking spot with a huge outdoor courtyard. The best thing about the ruin pubs are large spaces for groups to hang out.
That’s why the ruin pubs are a unique experience to Budapest. It takes something from their dark past and shows the progress the city has made since the fall of communism. There are real and fake, run-down bars around the world, but not with the character you can find in Budapest