Read, Write, Run, Roam

The Ruin Pubs of Budapest


Budapest is the home of ruin pubs, bars that sprung up in dilapidated buildings and courtyards in the Jewish Quarter. While commercial redevelopment lags in this charming part of the city (think tiny streets and quirky stores), enterprising Hungarians have made it a unique part of Budapest nightlife. We decided to show Muz’s parents what happens when bad infrastructure, Hungarian ingenuity, and interesting drinkers get together. So we walked to Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden), one of the best-known ruin pubs in the city.

I was a little worried that the bar would be too slick and commercialized. This concern vanished as we walked up the street to the bar’s front door.

Maybe this ruin is a little too authentic for Muz’s parents, I thought. Yet when we stepped through the doorway and into the courtyard, we knew we had come to the right spot. People of all ages were sitting in the courtyard on haphazard furniture. The decor was mostly scavenged, but not too kitchy as to seem forced.

Besides, people don’t come to ruin pubs for the furniture. They come for the atmosphere. It was lively, but not filled with drunken stag parties. The clientele seemed to be tourists and locals of all ages. And while there are some commercial aspects to Szimpla Kert, like selling t-shirts and coffee mugs, it retains a homegrown feel.

There are quite a few ruin pubs in Budapest. In fact, there are enough of them that a new term, “art pub,” has sprung up. Though I’m not sure how long they’ll have the same atmosphere. That road development probably means that the Jewish Quarter is next on Budapest’s list for gentrification. I’m happy to see the city continually improving (even since our first visit in November), but I’ll be sitting in ruin pubs for our next visit. A life in ruins may be caused by drinking, but drinking in ruins is just delightful.

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