As the basis of a nightlife scene, dilapidation might not be an appealing concept at first. But it has been over a decade now since Szimpla*, the pioneer of “ruin pubs” (romkocsma), set up in a disused tenement block in District VII. Crude, rickety, unpolished: just like that, Szimpla created a trend that caught the attention of the international press and drew crowds of tourists to Budapest.
Since then, many others have followed its footsteps, scouting out ramshackle buildings and filling them with eclectic furniture and beer taps. But despite being clustered in the relatively compact old Jewish quarter of District VII, these pubs are not always easy to spot. Not to worry: here we give you the itinerary for a ruin-themed summer pub crawl, and if you stumble across a few other places on the way, all the better.
Anker’t (District VI, Paulay Ede u. 33) is the upgraded version of the traditional “ruin garden” (romkert). In a parallel street to the Opera house, where respite from the crowded indoor bars can be found, the typically randomised furniture of the “ruin pubs” gives place to a more sombre ambience. Besides the minimalist garden with the canvas and white fabric roofing, it has also a dance floor with acts from different DJs every night. Open every day until 4 am, this is a less obvious place to party, while listening to some good music.
Grandio Jungle Bar & Grill (District VII, Nagy Diófa u. 8) is definitely a touristy spot, with a youth hostel operating right upstairs. And whether you call it a garden, jungle or even forest, this pub is as green as it can get. A “bucolic island”, they say, with enormous trees in the courtyard of the ramshackle old tenement block. This is the “ruin garden” experience par excellence: the graffiti covered walls, the rickety chairs, the bohemian ambience, Grandio Bar has it all. Open every day until 2 am, and up to 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays, a half-litre of Hungarian Soproni beer can be purchased for HUF 450 (EUR 1.58). Wine starts at HUF 200 (EUR 0.70) for a decilitre (100 ml) and cocktails go from HUF 1200 (EUR 4.20) up to 2000 (EUR 7.00).
Sufni G’ART’N (District VII, Akácfa u. 47) does not break new ground on the “ruin pub” scene. It does, however, fit perfectly into the concept and for that deserves a place on our route. Open on weekdays until 2 am, and up to 4 am from Friday to Sunday, Sufni has the requisite old TV sets, bicycles, dolls, tennis racquets and even a piano hanging on its walls.
So if it is retro that you seek, lay back in the colourful chairs of this pub, ask for the Hungarian summer favourite, fröccs, and enjoy. Table soccer, or csocsó, is also on hand if you feel like a bit of exercise. As for food, they have a tourist menu for HUF 1,100, a reasonable selection of cheap pizzas, spaghetti or chicken wings. A bonus point for Sufni: they have their own homemade beer for HUF 350 (EUR 1.22).
Fogas kert (District VII, Akácfa u. 49), right next to Sufni, is the new kert to neighbouring ház (house). We’re talking about the popular old-school ruin pub Fogas ház, which opened its own garden last June. And the concept is the same, which is, basically, teeth. The first thing you notice when you go in is the series of giant photos of female mouths hanging on the walls in various poses from toothy grin to a coquettishly bitten bottom lip. Apart from that, the decoration is easier on the eyes comparing to other “ruin pubs”, with little more than colourful chairs to brighten up the mood.
Special cocktails are available here, as well as, for a non-alcoholic option, home made lemonade. Snacks on offer include steak potatoes, chicken thighs and spicy Hungarian sausage, kolbász. Slovakian Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) beer is on tap at HUF 480 the half-litre. And don’t be put off by the “Fogsor javítás” (false teeth repair) sign on the street (which explains the bar’s theme). Go in, get your drink, and enjoy the pub’s arty feel.
Corvintető (District VIII, Blaha Lujza tér 1-2) is a bit easier to spot (main photo). When in Blaha Lujza square, look out for a group of two or three men dressed in yellow, and you have found it (they are security men, by the way). If you feel brave enough to climb up the stairs to the uppermost floor of what used to be a state-owned department store, you won’t regret it (and there is a lift, too, but you’ll have to tip).
From the rooftop terrace you have a panoramic view of the city. It is said to be especially worthwhile hanging around until sunrise, as Corvintetõ is open until the dawn during summer. One floor down there is the cocktail bar, as well as the red light flooded dance floor with music from jazz or reggae to electronic. Some trivia: this was were the children of the former workers of the department store used to spend their kindergarten years.
Gondozó Kert (District VIII, Vajdahunyad u. 4) is probably the most enigmatic of the “ruin gardens” from this route. The building is said to have been a kindergarten home back in the day. This explains the name (gondozó kert means something like “nursery garden”). And the old red pram hanging in one of the trees in the garden seems to back up the theory, at least. In the middle of a large hangar, this garden has the usual “ruin pubs” equipment: the pool table in a room off to the side, the colourful furniture, the graffiti covered walls.
Not so usual is the activity it provides: parapark. The concept is to be locked in a group from two to five people in the basement, where you have 60 minutes to escape by solving brain teasers. And though it sounds a bit like the start of a horror film, the staff promises to let you out of the chamber even if you don’t succeed. If you fancy a go, you can book on www.parapark.hu (in English). You can get a half-litre of beer for HUF 420 (EUR 1.47) and meet more locals than you might in some of the more central kerts.
*Szimpla Kert won the third spot on Lonely Planet’s list – admittedly dubious, Budapest’s A38 came first – of the best bars in the world, in February 2012. It is at Kazinczy u. 14, in the Jewish Quarter of District VII.