Photo: Alexander Stemp

Bygone oddities slowly disappearing

The last laugh – this Joker isn’t funny anymore

Needless to say, but the old invariably gives way to the new. And before anything redundant gets tossed aside, it's also worth noting that one does not always appreciate certain things in life until they have finally gone, regardless of how menial they may be. This is the unexpected occurrence I recently experienced with the Joker corner-shop on the corner of Rottenbiller and Munkás streets near Keleti railway station.
8. September 2021 17:32

Over the years I have wandered through the hectic 24/7 neighbourhood untold times, and this rather outdated and irregular but still remarkably striking feature frequently caught my eye in passing. Ridiculous this matter may be but at least it was reassuring – the jolly Joker was there when needed. That was, until my last visit, when Mr. Joker with his garish grin could no longer render me with anything, as the quirky convenience store had recently closed down. Then, momentarily, this was no joke, as this entity that I had clearly taken for granted and given little thought towards until now, suddenly was no longer a provider and had hindered my routine.

I know this is not a breaking news story. But its virtue, and that of other small-time yesteryear premises which still carry some form of charm, is they work very well for a quick shopping spree, as opposed to the long winding and exhausting supermarkets. But whether he will return to serve the local community again is another matter. If not, the delightfully trashy Joker sign could qualify as a museum exhibit. Hopefully it will not be simply abandoned in shadowy backstreets close by.

Although not for everyone, the reason I have some sentiment for this matter is because some of these stray former Cold War and pre-millennial time-warps remarkably provide a life and soul for the community. Many of the all-familiar and uniform modern-day stalls are often dull in comparison.

But there is also good news – not all retro sightings are vanishing. I can think of three distinguished locales that reassuringly live on, due to their loyal followings. One is the delightful Pingvin Söröző bar on Bocskai utca near District XI’s Móricz Zsigmond körtér. Always, this unique Penguin bar sign and logo, which still stands and outlives many others, brings cheer before entering.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

Judging by the surreal sign, this laid-back locale must have been there for some significant time. Although the Penguin premises have been redecorated, they still carry a simplicity and glow not found in many of the pontifical bars elsewhere.

This is followed by the perhaps better-known Bambi Eszpressó on Frankel Leó utca, also on the Buda side, in District II. The Bambi premises were established during the 1960s and the décor has remained unchanged ever since. It resolutely refuses to commercialise and leave those times behind.

Much can also be said about the rowdier Derby Büfé on District VIII’s Baross tér, which also delivers a similar time setting and still draws in a cult following. It’s reassuring that all these delightful premises continue to be well supported and will hopefully not only stay put but remain exactly with the same appeal.

Then there are the occasional hat shops, such as the elegant one on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky utca, near Nyugati railway station, or the vintage record stalls and antique markets within the city limits. All are relatively easy to find and require minimal explanation.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

Although the search to find more of these curiosities continues, few remain and they are becoming fewer still. The Joker is gone but hopefully the under-rated shop will at least find some provenance within the realms of this article.

Leave a Reply