I always think that for a trip to be full there should be a balance of a busy sightseeing day and a bustling nightlife. Any trip is defined not just by the sights and monuments you see but also by the places where you hang out after and the people who you spend getting drunk at night with.
During my first trip to Budapest in 2009, I have missed out on the Budapest nightlife – and it somewhat made me think a lot about coming back.
Back then, my host and very good friend, Csenge, lived outside of Budapest, which meant that she can’t stay & drive at night. It was a great trip, don’t get me wrong, as I have seen a lot of Budapest – but by the time we were leaving I felt that there was something missing.
I promised to return to Budapest the minute I left Hungary. But things didn’t work out that easily – and it took me two years to finally make it back! This time, experiencing the nightlife is at the top of my itinerary – and I didn’t fail on it.
We were hosted by my very good Hungarian friend, Daniel, who I met and hosted in Brussels three years ago. It was a long overdue reunion, and I was happy that he’s available to show us the night life of Budapest. I know from all my talks during the past years that Daniel knows a lot about the coolest areas in Budapest – and he didn’t disappoint I may say. 🙂
Budapest nightlife is all about ruin bars.
Ruin bars are called “ruins” simply because they used to be old buildings, apartments etc.
Ruin bars, from the outside, looks similar to most doors in the Pest district. But inside, each ruin bar has a distinct personality that differentiates them from bars I normally see. The look reminded me a lot of a living room of a student flat.
It’s a mish-mash of random things, numerous rooms, blackboards as menu. The interior is decorated with stuff varying from torn-up sofas, dolls, posters, sewing machine tables, zippers on the roof. It was as if an artist decorated the walls and ceilings from things bought from the flea market.
Even if it was eclectic in the eye, it runs like any typical bar. And most of the bars even have free wi-fi (other bars owners, hope you’re reading this)
As good as our guide was, we manage to visit a lot of bars (a given). And here are just a sample of the ones we visited (more likely, the ones I remember. :p)
It was our first stop for the day (day meaning around 2PM) after a visit and some shopping at Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) on Fővám Tér. Trapez is a popular student hangout since its location is close to Hungary’s Corvinus University. A big black board dominates the ground floor with posters and masks accentuating the bohemian feel of the place. Going up the creaky steps gets you into the main hall – which looks like the attic of a mountain cabin – with wooden beams and decorated with road signs, large paintings and other random oddities.
We were there early in the afternoon and on a weekend, so there was no one except us so we didn’t see it in its full life. But it didn’t stop us from order a beer and a shot of palinka – an Eastern European spirit made with plum mixed with flavours such as peach and apricots.
Szimpla Kert prides itself for being the first ruin bar in Budapest having been established in 2001. It has a large open courtyard, a dwarf on a swing and a Trabant, an old communist car, as one of the tables. Definitely, I understand why it remains to be one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest among locals and tourists alike.
Again, we were there in the afternoon – so by far, there was hardly any happening – but Daniel assured me that this place gets busy at night. He explained that it had lost its bohemian touch, given its popularity with tourists, but it’s still worth a visit.
At Szimpla Kert, I had my first try of Froccs – a Hungarian wine spritzer made by mixing white wine and carbonated water. And there are varying names to each mix depending on the ratio of wine and water. Ratio varies from 1 to 1, to 9 parts wine to 1 part water. We got hosszúlépés – a spritzer with 1/3 wine, 2/3 water. It’s worth a try definitely, but I think after spending two years in French Brussels – mixing wine with anything is a bit strange. But hey, in the Philippines – we used to add ice on our wine glasses – so screw it. 😛
Fast forward to late at night after a couple of glasses of Belgian beers, glasses of 1euro Jim Beam whiskey, countless Hungarian beers and wines– we ended up in Corvinteto. Corvinteto stands at the topmost level of a department store. It’s known for its rooftop parties with a grand view of Pest but since it was freezing outside, the rooftop wasn’t open. But with a little help from its killer electro music and dynamic (and hot*) crowd, we continued to party until late at night.
After recovering from a long Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon spent sightseeing – we started Sunday night at Instant. The interior is more close to a flat party – complete with rooms, sofas, tables and people who you don’t know – rather than bar. There are two dance rooms (basement and on the first floor) offering two different kinds of music. At the centre is an interior courtyard with a guy with an owl as an head and a herd of stuffed rabbits (?).One room has sewing machines as tables and furniture glued in the ceiling. It’s pretty much as eclectic as it can be. Crowd is quite good but alcohol is pricier compared to other places.
By the standards of a ruin bar, Anker seems to be less bohemian and eclectic as how I defined it. It is unique (for not being too unique) in a way that it’s a “real” bar with a great crowd of people. Crowd is good, music was so-so and drinks are relatively cheap. And they have some Belgian beers on tap which I think is enough reason to include as a stop.
Csendes is Daniel’s favourite bar and I guess I see how it became so. It’s less of club but more of a place to sit-down and talk kind-of-place (Csendes actually mean silent in Hungarian ).
It still keeps within the description of a ruin bar with its strong ambiance and eclectic-designed roofs, floors, toilets, and ceilings. Ornaments of posters, old photos, and electric fans to a bathtub for a seat, complete the entire picture. We spent a couple of hours at Csendes just trying to chill and talk together with a pint of Soproni (so far, the only Hungarian beer that I liked) before going back to Instant to complete the night.
I definitely do not regret coming to Hungary even for a short week-end. Every minute of our trip counts and I can say that Budapest definitely should pride itself for its amazing nightlife, cheap booze, amazing music atmosphere and friendly people.
Definitely, I think there’s more to ruin bars and Budapest from what I’ve seen – so maybe I’ll calendar in another date to come visit!
Have you been in Budapest? Have you visited any ruin bars? Share your advice and comments on the box below!