I am no longer of an age where I want to party all night or get horribly drunk and then think that I have had a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging, but it’s not for me anymore. My idea of a bar is usually in a 5 star hotel sipping a champagne cocktail, but when I heard about the ruin bars (romkocsma) in Budapest I had to find out what the fuss was about.
What’s the background to Ruin Bars?
Budapest’s 7th district, on the Pest side of the Danube, or as it is also known as the Jewish Quarter is the home of these wacky bars. After WWII the area was left to decay so it was a perfect place to redevelop. In the late 1990’s ruthless developers started buying up these properties, razing them to the ground and putting up unsightly buildings. Local activists began campaigning to preserve the cultural heritage of the area. They succeeded and the Jewish District was given protective status.
However, they still did not have funds available for restoration purposes. In the summer of 2004, a café and open air cinema opened in the ruins of an old factory called Szimpla Kert. This was the birth of ruin bars in Budapest. Most of the bars can be found in or around the streets behind the Great Synagogue. All of these bars have their own quirky style. Essentially they need an abandoned building, space to serve drinks and an area to party in. Many of them have DJs or live music, some offer food while others have accommodation available.
Hidden Ruin Bars
As you walk through the streets there is little evidence of what lies behind the doors. The buildings still appear to be abandoned and the windows are boarded up. It is hard to believe the amount of creativity that has gone into the bars behind the doors.
I visited Szimpla Kert (kert means garden in Hungarian) in the late afternoon, just in time for a sundowner. It was a Saturday and I really wanted to avoid the crowds that frequent it. It’s difficult to describe what lay behind the simple door. If you like kitsch then you will be in heaven.
I was intrigued by the eclectic collection of “stuff” or more appropriately flea market furniture and bric-a-brac, Iron Curtain memorabilia (including a Trabant) and graffiti washed brick walls.
I made my way to the bar and wondered if a G & T would be a bit ridiculous considering the surrounds. Should I rather order a beer? I looked around and surprisingly enough people were drinking all sorts, much like a normal bar. Gin & tonic in hand I wandered out into the courtyard.
I was faced with exposed pipes, plants all over and brightly coloured furniture. Looking up I saw another floor to explore. The upstairs rooms were definitely my favourite for a quiet chat.
I can see the appeal and the charm of Szimpla. It is unique.
Sunday Breakfast anyone?
Furthermore on a Sunday Szimpla is the venue for one of the cities best farmer’s markets. If you are passing the aroma of hot bread and pastries will draw you in. You will find jams, artisanal cheese and of course fresh fruit and vegetables. There is often live music as well. The breakfast served is made from fresh market ingredients and is amazing. What a great way to spend a Sunday morning!
I must mention in passing that this bar has also made the list of the top 100 bars in the world.
In order to explore additional ruin bars in the area here are some great recommendations.
It is wonderful to see what has been done with the 7th district. The art galleries, design stores, restaurants and pubs make this a fabulous area to spend some time in. There is still an edgy hipster feel to it. I was also delighted to find out that it is part of the Unesco World Heritage Sites of Budapest. I really could not think of a more fitting acknowledgement for what has been achieved in the preservation of the district. Go and visit! I am sure that you will be surprised at what you find.
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