Thursday, January 7, 2016

Budapest’s Ruin Bars: If You Build It, They Will Drink

Szimpla Ruin Bar Passageway Budapest Hungary

We recently had the chance to visit Budapest, Hungary during a European river cruise with Viking River Cruises.  We would only be in Budapest for 24 hours, which isn’t much time, but we knew we had to squeeze in a couple visits to Budapest’s ruin bars (also known as ruin pubs, or romkocsma in Hungarian).  If you haven’t heard of the ruin bars of Budapest, you’re not alone, but if you’re interested in local bar and drinking culture, a visit to one or more ruin bars should be on your bar bucket list.

What is a Ruin Bar?

Shoes of the Danube Bank Budapest Hungary

A ruin bar is a bar built in an abandoned building or space.  But there is more to the story.  Budapest had a bustling Jewish community before World War II.  During the German occupation, Jews were moved into ghettos and the Arrow Cross Party abused, attacked, and murdered many of the Jews of Budapest.  There is now a memorial, Shoes of the Danube Bank, to the Jews who were lined up along the Danube River, ordered to remove their shoes, shot, and carried away by the river current.  Other Jews died in death marches and labor camps.  A large portion of Budapest’s Jewish community died during the Holocaust.

Jewish Quarter Mural Budapest Hungary

A number of buildings in the Jewish Quarter remained abandoned for decades.  After they were saved from being demolished, somebody had the idea to utilize these neglected spaces and make them something fun and trendy.  In came ruin bars, which helped revitalize Budapest’s seventh district.  Ruin bars are found in what were once abandoned buildings or spaces, and some have outdoor areas with picnic tables and beer taps.  During a Budapest ruin pub crawl, travelers can enjoy the colorful, alternative, and slightly gritty neighborhood with its street art and murals.

Budapest’s Original Ruin Bar

Szimpla Trabant Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Szimpla Kertmozi is Budapest’s original ruin bar.  An old abandoned factory was converted into an open-air pub and reception space when Szimpla opened in 2002.  The opening of Szimpla started an alternative movement and 2003 to 2004 saw the boom of ruin pubs.

Szimpla is the funkiest ruin bar we visited.  It isn’t a one-room bar.  When you walk into Szimpla, natural light streams into the passageway.  To the left and right are separate rooms and cozy alcoves selling wine, beer, and spirits and offering a place to socialize with friends.  Near the back is an open space where concerts, shows, and events can be held.  Beyond that is a garden area with an old communist-era Trabant car that is now used as a seating area.  There are oddities hanging on the walls and from the ceilings, with something new to discover at every turn.

Other Budapest Ruin Bars

Kuplung Outdoor Area Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Kuplung is another ruin bar in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter.  This one used to be an old car repair garage, but now it has a nautical theme with a giant whale in the bar and a whale mural outside.  The main bar is one large open space, but outside there are picnic tables with a view of the whale mural, all reached after passing through a long graffitied alleyway. 

Kőleves Kert Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

While some ruin bars are hidden and not readily apparent, requiring a stroll down an easily ignored alley, you’ll stumble upon others just by wandering through the Jewish Quarter.  During our stroll through the seventh district we happened upon Kőleves kert, which means Stone Soup Garden, an open-air bar.  This is a family-friendly ruin bar where both adults and children are welcome.

Kuplung Alley Entry Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Corvintető, located on the rooftop of an old department store, has a view of the city and is also an underground dance club.  Grandio Bar is a ruin bar in a plant filled garden connected to the Grandio Party Hostel.  Instant is huge, with 26 rooms, seven bars, two gardens, and seven stages.  Other ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest include Dürer Kert, Fogasház, Super8, and Rackskert

What to Drink at a Ruin Bar

Pálinka Ruin Bars Budapest Hungary

When in Hungary, especially at one of Budapest’s ruin bars, be sure to order pálinka.  Pálinka is a traditional fruit brandy served in a shot glass.  If you order pálinka made with grapes, it is customary to drink it straight.  This kind of pálinka is called törköly and is one of the oldest types of pálinka.  It tastes like Italian grappa and can be pretty harsh.  If you order pálinka made with a fruit like apricot, plum, or cherry, you can order it with honey, which makes it a much smoother and more delicious drink.  Other drinks of choice include local Hungarian beer or wine, or a fun cocktail.

Kuplung Strawberry Daiquiri Ruin Bars Budapest Hungary

If traveling to Hungary’s capital city, be sure to visit the Jewish Quarter and one or more of its many ruin bars.  Even if you’re only in the city for one day, set aside time to visit Budapest’s ruin bars as they are unique to this European city.

Thank you to Viking River Cruises for hosting our trip to Budapest and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

A guide to the ruin bars of Budapest, Hungary.

Katherine Belarmino has been traveling for over ten years on a quest to see as much of the world as possible, experience new cultures, and sample other cuisines and libations. She also writes the travel blog Travel the World, which journals her world travels with her husband Romeo and seeks to encourage others to take the time to travel.