Exploring Ruin Pubs in Budapest

In October 2013 we travelled to Budapest to meet up with an old friend of mine from uni and his girlfriend. We enjoyed the whole city, visited all the main sights, took a boat tour, went for a splash at the Gellert Spa of James Bond fame, but probably the most fun we had was when we checked out the many so-called ruin pubs.

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Ruin Pubs (‘rom kocsma’ in Hungarian, literally: pub in a ruin) are located in formerly abandoned, derelict buildings in the city (of which there are still plenty as a result of lack of maintenance during the communist era) and are extremely popular hang-outs both for locals and tourists. The first ones sprung up in the early nineties and new pubs join the scene every year. Usually they combine street art with a quirky 1970ies retro-touch, cheap cocktails and live bands and art happenings.

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Szimpla Kert usually features somewhere near the top of any best-ruin-pubs lists, so we went there first. We liked the atmosphere and the fact that – different from many other ruin pubs, which are sometimes crammed into tiny basements – there is a lot of space on its vast two storeys with galleries, balconies and a nice courtyard. The vintage interior decoration is nice and weird, including an East German Trabant car, graffiti, and lots of crazy furniture. How it ended up in the top ten best restaurants of Budapest on Tripadvisor (at least back then) still remains a mystery to us, because the food was absolutely abhorrent and limited to a choice of just four or five meals ranging from hot dog and hamburger to lasagne. Well, we didn’t come for the food, but for the party and we greatly enjoyed ourselves.

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In the very proximity of Szimpla Kert there are several other, lesser-known, but maybe more authentic pubs. We particularly liked one pub just around the corner that was part-vintage clothes shop and part bar, and enjoyed an 85% Russian absinthe there that was so rough that we could not speak for a few minutes, but gotta do what you gotta do.

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After we had done our fair share of ruin pubs, we met up with a local couple we’re friends with from their time living in London and had dinner in a ‘proper’ restaurant: Kazimír Bisztró, just around the corner, still in Kazinczy Street, where the food was delicious and the prices moderate.

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