Hungary is unlike any other country in Europe, and the enchanting city of Budapest is a center of language, culture and history.
Backpackers head to Budapest to party and to party on the cheap; most head to the one-of-a-kind ruin pubs. The recipe for a ruin pub, or romkocsma, consists of locating an abandoned building, then add a bar, a dance floor and outdoor seating and throw in a mix of art and Communist nostalgia. Some have a few rooms while others occupy entire abandoned apartment complexes; what they share is crumbling buildings, alluring graffiti, makeshift chairs, tables, huge foldable placard menus and rundown walls with a splash of color from a photograph here and a painting there.
These pubs are more than just a place to imbibe. Some have set up pizza parlors as well as Sunday farmers’ markets and artists’ studios and theaters. Many of them are located in the abandoned Jewish ghetto in the 7th District in the Erzsébetváros neighborhood. Pick up a copy of PestiEst in most cafes to locate events for the week.
Beginning in 2002, real estate developers began tearing down buildings to be replaced by upscale restaurants and apartment buildings. Many pubs continue to survive, however, especially those that change as does the neighborhood. One of the most popular ruin pubs in Budapest is Szimpla Kert, or Szimpla, and its open-air courtyard with a maze of decorated rooms. More bars modeled after Szimpla popped up in the narrow alleys of the Jewish quarter. It will be interesting to see if these ruin pubs can operate alongside the more trendy bars opening in the neighborhood. Be sure to try the Hungarian spirit called palinka, a strong drink made with fruit.
Some of the ruin pubs are best experienced during the summer months, as many have outdoor spaces with music and concerts nightly – each with its unique personality. Some pubs open for one summer only and never reopen again. Most offer a limited food menu of traditional Hungarian pizza or salads or sandwiches; many offer hookah pipes. Wi-Fi in the pubs varies in quality and is usually unpredictable (which is part of the adventure, of course).
The most popular ruin bars include the original, Szimpla Kert – although some find it too touristy – and the artsy, less touristy version, Fogas ház, where you don’t have to compete with loud music. The popular Corvintető with its electronic music is located atop a supermarket with a stunning view of Budapest; the Grandio is both a hostel and pub where you can meet other travelers. The more expensive Instant is housed in an entire apartment building and is more club-like than other bars. Duboz is more like a regular bar, minus the King Kong statue in its trendy courtyard.
Book a pub crawl through AllNightCrash! that includes 4 bars and dance hall or disco which includes entrance fees and welcome drink. Bonus: they offer a free post-hangover walking tour in good weather.