A Brief History of Budapest's Ruin Bars

Szimpla Kert
Szimpla Kert | © Alex Mackintosh
Alex Mackintosh

A new concept 20 years but today they’re a cornerstone of Budapest’s nightlife. We take a look at the history of ruin bars, from their origins in the early 2000s to the wide variety of unique spaces open today.
Located in formerly abandoned buildings, primarily in Budapest’s Jewish District, ruin pubs provide unpretentious spaces in which to grab a drink, bite to eat or dance the night away. It’s almost impossible to write the history of Budapest’s ruin pubs without mentioning Szimpla Kert – the original, the pioneer, and where it all began. Back in 2004, a run down building on Kazinczy Street in District VII was saved from demolition by a group of entrepreneurs looking to open up a bar/community space. Rather than redeveloping they chose to work with the building’s ramshackle state, adding quirky furniture and decorations, creating a mix’n’match aesthetic and making use of a space otherwise destined for ruin.

The venture was a success and provided the template for a new generation of bars. The ruin pub was born, with Budapest’s Jewish District district the focal point for this new nightlife trend. Buildings in varying states of decay were rescued and, rather than being totally renovated, ruin bars worked with their natural surroundings to create quirky and unique spaces. Accessories such as bathtubs, giant owls and even cars were added, with each bar creating their own style.

Szimpla Kert │

Popular as a night out in Budapest, ruin pubs also offer a range of activities during the day, with many functioning as community spaces and live music venues. Szimpla Kert holds a weekly farmer’s market on Sunday mornings, while Anker’t screens films and holds markets.

As the years have gone on and the concept has developed and evolved, ruin pubs are popping up across the city and are taking on varied styles. Mazel Tov, a recently opened ruin bar and restaurant, provides a slightly more sophisticated space and serves up Middle Eastern cuisine. Nearby, Fogas Haz originally opened in 2009 as a cultural space and today caters to party goers almost every night of the week.

Mazel Tov Budapest │© Mazel Tov

Having become emblematic of Budapest, ruin bars show no signs of diminishing in popularity. Where this trend will go in the coming years remains to be seen.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,665 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article