Imagine a bicycle hanging above your head even as you sip your favourite cocktail lounging in a lopsided couch. Imagine drinking your favorite pálinka sitting in a dentist’s chair together with a bathtub and a gutted Trabant for company. Think private feature films in open-air cinemas and concerts and exhibitions through the day. If you love sports, think of a game of table tennis or golf while holding your beer; if you prefer relaxing, imagine lazing in colourful garden chairs and spinning on a merry-go-round while leisurely sipping on Unicum or Fröccs. Or think of saxophones and radiograms sharing table space with you, and cast iron juice machines, colourful pots and pans posing prettily at the counters. Want to catch a breath? Visualize moving into the courtyard next-door and lying on the hammock staring at the night sky. And if thrift décor is not your style, imagine psychedelic interiors complete with a boar-shaped disco ball, glowing butterflies, humping foxes, and a large shining owl. Now imagine all of this in ruined, dilapidated buildings that are hundreds of years old.
Budapest, the capital city of the Magyars, is seeped in history. With Ottoman invasion, Nazi and Communist occupancies, and the wars and battles of the Astro-Hungarian Empire, it has been in the eye of the storm for centuries and all this is reflected, quite brilliantly, in its ruin pubs.
The concept ruin pubs first came up in Budapest at the turn of the century, around the year 2000, when young people in the city were having a dearth of places to hang out in, and old, decrepit buildings were lying vacant in the centre of the city. A brilliant mind put two and two together, and voila, the famous ruin pubs were born. Today, the 7th district of Budapest, Located in the heart of the city, in the alleys of the Jewish Quarters, most of the buildings that house ruin pubs today, belong to the World War era and were either partially or completely damaged during the bombings. The subsequent Nazi invasion, and communist occupancy damaged them further, and these structures, which were the epitome of Magyars Pride, were reduced to a mere rubble of their magnificent past.
It was only in the 1990s, after the country was freed of the communist occupancy, that some owners returned to the area and rebuilt their homes. The first few ruin pubs were opened in these homes, later they came to occupy empty factories, dingy parking lots, crumbling corridors and stinky stairways. Except these pubs turned the adjectives on their heads – they were no longer empty, dingy, crumbling, or stinky.
If anything the ruin pubs stand out for their décor now – armchairs from the 70’s, old books and pictures from the 60s, brass lanterns, mismatched stools; graffiti laced walls, wrought iron tables, discoloured table lamps, ceiling fans. The ruin pubs are a perfect example of up-cycling with a twist.
“Once upon a time in my young ages I went to those pubs, that time it was more for students from university, a low budget place. Today it has become very popular and is a favorite of Yuppies or generation Y.” Says Jackie, a host at airbnb, who owns an apartment at one of the hotspots of Budapest, Király Street.
Nightlife aside, today the ruin pubs also host exhibitions, movie screenings, concerts and social dos, and are pivotal to the cultural identity of the city even in the day. They are ideal for sharing some gossip over a cup of coffee with friends, or drinking a beer after work, or warming up on a Saturday evening, or cooling down on a Sunday morning. Entwined in the everyday life of the locals, the ruin pubs are a reflection of the beautiful but battered past of a city juxtaposed against the throbbing energy of the present – a classic case of the current generation moving on with life, not holding grudges against its not-so-pleasant past.
Some famous Ruin Pubs of Budapest.
- Winner of this year’s Budapest Nightlife Awards (Ruin Pub Category), “Fogas ház” literally means “house of teeth”. Thankfully it is neither made of teeth, not has dentists going around with pliers, although you will find some eerie teeth-art around the place. Awarded with the Best Ruin Pub in Budapest title recently, Fogas ház has been pioneer in the ruin pub culture; it created a movement for the nightlife genre during its initial years when it functioned as a hub for arts and a hangout for visionaries. Now it is famous for its spunky décor, affordable prices, dance floor, and the adjacent courtyard where you can retreat if the volume gets too high. Contact: 1072 Budapest, Akácfa utca 51. +36 1 783 8820 +36 70 638 504
- The most complex and well-known ruin pub in Budapest, Szimpla Kert is a legend among the ruin pubs. Located at 14 Kazinczy Street, it offers variety engagements: concerts, parties, activities for the elderly, exhibitions, a farmers’ market, and numerous other cultural events. Popular among both – locals and foreigners – the pub is famous for its peculiar interior-design solutions, a mix of styles, and the eclectic vibe of urban life. Contact: 1075 Budapest, Kazinczy utca 14. +36202618669
- Anker’t, touted as the second best Ruin Pub this year, is one of the largest downtown beer hubs. The sprawling pub with two courtyards, and a large projector is a hit with guests. In the evening, the hottest underground DJs spin the records, and slam poetry evenings are a regular feature for those with a greater cultural sensitivity. Unlike its counterparts, Anker’t takes pride in its minimalistic style and décor and welcomes four-legged guests. On Sundays, an antique market awaits treasure hunters in Anker’t with their designer and retro kitsch. Contact: 1061 Budapest, Paulay Ede utca 33. +36303603389
- Once a repair shop, now the Methuselah of the ruin pub scene, Kuplung, has a colorful calendar of a wide range of events. It covers all of popular music from diverse perspectives with concerts such as late-afternoon matinees and album premieres. The outdoor area, vibrant with murals and paintings on the facade, and the concert hall are constant reference points of the nightlife of Budapest irrespective of the season. Contact: 1061 Budapest, Király utca 46. +36307553527
- Relatively new in the scene, Mazel Tov is already making a big impression. Housed in a neglected brick building, turned into a genuine community center with simple design and a charming garden. Here Jewish culture is honored but everyone is welcome (including kids). One of Mazel Tov’s major cultural goals is to provide a space for everyone who believes in an open and inclusive world. Mazel Tov is a full-service restaurant as well as a happening club – cool DJs and live musical performances spice up the night here every evening. Contact: 1074 Budapest, Akácfa utca 47.