No visit to the Hungarian capital would be complete without at least peeking into one of its temples of beer and bric-à-brac. Ruin bars, or romkocsmák in Hungarian, have in recent years become popular attractions – as intrinsic to Budapest as its thermal baths, bridges and iconic Parliament building.
Most of Budapest’s ruin bars are found in the city’s Seventh District, in what used to be abandoned factories or warehouses. From the outside, these bars look like normal Budapest townhouses; once you walk into the inner courtyard, however, the places are bustling with life and adorned with quirky decor. If you’re up for enjoying a beer in what feels a bit like your local junk shop, be sure to explore Budapest’s best ruin bars.
Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar, stands at the epicentre of the old Jewish quarter and Budapest’s nightlife. Practically an institution, on any given night Szimpla offers a journey into a phantasmagorical land thanks to its high dose of eclectic decor. Legend has it that Szimpla began as an experiment. Set up in an abandoned factory building, it offered affordable drinks for the creative crowd of the city, thus becoming somewhat of a bohemian hub. Today, Szimpla has evolved into much more than a bar and is keenly committed to giving back to the local community – artists included, says Gabor B Bihari, founder of Open Mic Budapest. To this end, Szimpla plays host to regular concerts, performances, design showcases, life-drawing classes and even a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.
After Szimpla, the second wave of purpose-built ruin bars included Instant and Fogásház. While these used to be two separate ruin pubs, in 2017 they united forces to create a 1,200-square-metre (12,900-square-foot) ruin kingdom in the middle of the Seventh District. Despite this significant evolution, neither Instant nor Fogásház has lost their individual character, eccentricity or charm. Today, the huge club consists of two neighbouring buildings and offers a labyrinth of entertainment for young revellers of all musical tastes. The complex is also home to Unterwelt (for smooth R & B), Liebling (for chilled rooftop vibes), Frame (for broken beats and Latin rhythms) and Robot (for rock anthems).
Located on the Buda side of the city, on the elegant Bartók Béla Boulevard, Szatyor emulates the spirit of its Pest counterparts but is undoubtedly shaped by its more upscale location. While it presents itself as an explosion of colourful frescoed walls, vintage lamps and painted furniture, unlike your typical ruin bar, Szatyor offers something a little different to its more discerning clientele. With its impressive selection of Hungarian craft beers and a menu that features grilled salmon gratin and venison steak, its departure from a regular ruin bar repertoire is nothing short of bold.
Doboz, founded in 2011, defines itself as a “ruin club”. It is made up of a range of themed areas playing different musical genres – from Latin pop to hip-hop. At the centre of its courtyard, surrounded by a myriad of doors painted in different colours, a 320-year-old tree is embraced by a muscular gorilla reminiscent of King Kong. The sculpture by Gábor Miklós Szőke is one of three installations, which the Hungarian artist describes as “fictional stops in a mythological underworld”. Another, a bull terrier jumping out from a wall toward guests at the bar, was inspired by the local neighbourhood’s most beloved canine resident.
Csendes can be found tucked away on a quiet side street just off one of Budapest’s main thoroughfares. The high-ceilinged space is adorned with mismatched chairs, bathtubs turned armchairs and hobby horses. Unlike its counterparts in the adjacent party district, the bar offers mellow vibes for a more laid-back clientele who opt for long drinks over shots. Ideal for a sit-down drink and conversation, Csendes is also a popular breakfast and lunchtime venue. “Whenever I have visitors, brunch at Csendes is a must. You can’t replicate its charm,” says Murray Johnson, co-founder of Local Beyond. With random scribbles and drawings adorning everything but the old chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, Csendes is equal parts chaotic and charming.