Budapest is slowly but surely moving up the destination lists of many Australians. It’s not hard to understand why: it’s scenic, historically rich, and cheaper than a lot of its other European counterparts. One piece of the city’s history that’s often overlooked is its diverse and unyielding night life, predominantly in the form of ruin bars. So what exactly are they, and why should travellers prioritise a ruin-tour or two?
You wont get caught in the tourist trap
Ruin bars are generally inconspicuous. They don’t have big fancy signs, are often inaudible from the street, and tend to look like old shopfronts or small houses, because – well – that’s exactly what they once were. At best, while walking past a ruin pub, you might think you’ve stumbled past a small house party or some rowdy knock-off drinks.
That means two things; that you’ll be able and likely to meet locals, and you’ll avoid packed out, tourist-heavy establishments.
They teach you a lot about Budapest’s history
Located on the Pest side of the city in the Seventh District – still referred to as the Jewish Quarter – ruin bars are an excellent way to learn about Hungary’s modern history, specifically in its post-communist state. During and after the Second World War, a huge percentage of Budapest’s Jewish population fled or were deported to other parts of Europe meaning that many shops, houses, and even some government buildings were abandoned.
As time went by, not a lot was done with the properties in the Seventh District as the area became pretty profoundly neglected. Eventually, some very clever locals decided to capitalise on the cheap rent and proximity to other hip areas, and create an ode to the past by making a bar out of the “ruin”.
You’ll see all of Europe in one suburb
Hungary is becoming a melting pot for some of Europe’s budding restauranteurs and bar owners, due in large part to lower rent prices than other happening parts of the Centre of the continent such as Berlin or Prague. While migrant business owners are taking advantage of the bustling Hungarian scene, they’re injecting their own flavours in this incredible part of the city. These days you’ll find Mexican cantinas, German beer halls and a huge American influence in the form of cuisine and food trucks. But don’t worry, the Jewish Quarter hasn’t lost its local charm…yet.
The time capsule effect
Photo: Jev55/ Flickr
Ultimately, if you keep your eyes open, the streets of Budapest are littered with history. Not plaques or statues of far-gone fighters on horses, but rather little clues that serve as indicators of days gone by. A commonality between many of the original ruin bars is their decor, serving as boozy shrines and museums of Hungary’s communist era. Sometimes this memorabilia is outlandish, coming in the form of an entire wall of Communist Party membership cards, while some pubs just hint at the trend’s beginnings with a Soviet-era coaster or wall decal.
You can choose your own adventure
While most ruin bars have a similar ethos in terms of their attitude toward the city they live in and the purpose they serve, no two are ever alike. Regardless of whether you’re after knock-off drinks in a quiet beer garden, or looking to rage on in a six-storey warehouse until the early hours of the morning, there’s something for just about every one and every mood. Be warned though – with low drink prices and staggeringly friendly people, your quiet afternoon wine is likely to turn into a boogie.
Where to go?
Szimpla Kert was the first and is still considered the Mecca of all ruin bars, having opened its doors in 2001 during a boom in re-purposed spaces throughout Europe. Since then countless more have popped up – some temporary, some not – and the area has seen an astronomical boom and huge sway towards everything gentrified.
One of the biggest is Instant, with countless rooms and nooks and little regard for noise restrictions. Instant is a great place to go to hear DJs on the main dancefloor, and small punk bands in side rooms.
For somewhere you could take your mum, visit A’nkert, which has a lovely beer garden and might even serve Pimms.
Ellato Kert is the place to be on a super hot day, with sprinklers in tow and delicious tacos (yes, tacos, I told you it was super multi0cultural!) there’s no better ruin to cool off at.
(Lead image: A’nkert/Facebook)
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