Shabby-chic bars in dilapidated old ruins make for wonderfully atmospheric nights out
Budapest’s Ruin bars were born a little more than a decade ago out of the gentrifying urban decay of the city’s 7th District. These creative and cobbled-together spaces quite literally hijack ruins – abandoned warehouses, empty parking lots, historic buildings – and call them home.
Within the sprawling interiors and courtyards, you’ll find colourful kitsch fairy lights, mismatched vintage furniture and peeling paint, and, for those looking for a good time, lively crowds, international DJs and beer for pocket change. From the famous Szimpla Kert to the more low-key Csendes Létterem and Köleves Kert, an evening in ruins is certainly something to aspire to.
The granddaddy of Budapest’s modern ruin bars, Szimpla Kert was one of the first to set up shop in the hip 7th District, all the way back in the early 2000s. These days, its reputation precedes it and the crowd is often more international than local. But features like a large plant-filled patio, art installations, an open-air cinema and free concerts every week make it well worth a visit.
A balmy garden by summer and a heated grotto in winter, trendy Anker’t falls on the less ruinous end of the spectrum with its chic minimalist – but still industrial – connected courtyard spaces within a former factory complex. Head to the thumping main space for the bar and dance floor, while the surreal beach-themed square is better suited to down-tempo chatting and snacking. Once a month, the bar plays host to a lively vegan market, complete with tasty artisan treats and cookery classes.
Riotous Corvin Club is the middle ground where clubbing and retro urbanism meet. Occupying the top levels of a 1920s department store, the venue draws hoards in the summer to its rooftop terrace. In the winter months, head one floor down to a graffiti-scrawled hall where dancers can move to thumping electronic beats. The elevator from street level, serving spirits and beers to new arrivals, is a quirky touch.
In clued-up circles, Ellátó Kert is revered as much for its vibrant open courtyard as it is its…tacos? Unlikely as it sounds, the kitchen here turns out authentic Mexican fare, which makes for a surprisingly good accompaniment to the live music, art shows, table football, and myriad additional distractions – beer included. Their shot of pink grapefruit infused vodka (ask for a “Pinky”) is locally (in)famous.
Behind a nondescript street sign printed “Fogsor Javítás”– marking the site of an old dental practice – sprawls this spacious nightlife complex. Visitors can choose from various integrated venues spread across two floors including electronic club LÄRM, with its stylish all-black interior; Liebling, a softly-lit wine bar and restaurant with a rooftop terrace; and garden bar Kert, a wonderland of sparkling fairy-lights, giant suspended statues and a roofed area vaulted and striped like an upside-down circus tent.
With its terrace twinkling with colourful jellyfish-shaped lights, an under-the-sea mural across one wall, and a giant paper whale skeleton hung from the ceiling, Kuplung has certainly undergone a (nautically-oriented) transformation since its greasy days as an auto repair shop. Live concerts and table tennis make for early evening relaxation, while DJs take centre stage after dark.
Unlike many of the ruin bars in Budapest’s 7th District, the aptly named Mazel Tov actively engages with the neighbourhood’s Jewish history. One part arts centre, one part accomplished eatery (don’t miss the homemade hummus or impressive selection of flavoured lemonades), and one part nightly garden party, this is a stylish spot for informal gatherings.
A studio theatre, art gallery, and cultural space adjoined to a Michelin-starred restaurant, the cheerful interiors of the lovely Púder will have your eyes swimming. Painted from floor to ceiling in bright murals, and featuring regularly changing installations from local artists, it’s as showy as ruin bars in Budapest get. Speaking of making a show, grab one of the seats in the window if you’re after an audience.
Occupying the grounds of a former kosher meat plant, Köleves Inn is a relaxed choice for visitors to the 7th District. The leafy white gravel courtyard, popular with families during the day, features a substantial bar and is dotted with colourful hammocks and bright furniture. The restaurant inside serves a mixture of Jewish and Hungarian cuisine and, in keeping with the eclectic, offbeat interiors characteristic of ruin bars, bronze cheese graters mounted on the walls serve as lamps.
Its chaotic walls might be printed with sprawling murals and covered in a surreal compilation of vintage objects, but Csendes (translating as “quiet”) lives up to its name. A laidback café that transforms into a civilised bar in the evening, Csendes Létterem dishes up hearty food, a long list of alcoholic beverages and a varied music and cultural programme.