One of the upsides to being an independent writer is that I’m my own boss. There are no deadlines, no one to pester me, and no outside burdens. I get to write about what I want when I want — the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, since the stories on this blog are based on what I see and do, I have no one to say things like, “Matt! There’s a cool new trend in this city. Here’s a plane ticket; go check it out and report back right away!”
And I never wished for that more than when I went in Budapest.
Because no one ever mentioned the “ruin bars” to me. It wasn’t until my second visit that I got to know what these bars were. Now, I visit them whenever I visit the city.
Ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest and have been around since the founding of Szimpla Kert, the mecca of all ruin bars. These bars are built in Budapest’s old District VII neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter) in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores, or lots. This neighborhood was left to decay after World War II, so it was a perfect place to develop an underground bar scene. (Not so underground anymore, though.)
From outside, these bars look like normal homes. They don’t have large signs pointing the way, you don’t hear any loud noise, and there’s no line of people waiting to get in. But once you walk in and enter the inner courtyard, you find yourself in the middle of a hip, artsy, and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Large bouncers inside, along with posted signs, ensure that people are quiet on their way out, so as to not disturb the neighbors.
Each of these ruin bars has its own personality, but they all follow a few basic principles: find an old abandoned place, rent it out (maybe?), set up a bar, fill it with flea market furniture, have a few artists come in to leave their mark on the walls and ceiling, add in some weird antiques, serve alcohol, and watch people flock in. Since all these bars are in abandoned buildings, they open, close, and move frequently depending on whether the neighbors find out, the patrons get too loud, or an investor comes and buys the property to renovate it.
When you’re in these bars, you feel like you’re drinking at your local thrift store. None of the furniture matches. It’s all old. It’s eclectic. It feels like they just ransacked your grandmother’s house. The ceilings are all designed differently. For example, Instant has a room where the furniture is on the ceiling, and Fogasház has bikes hanging from its ceiling. The places haven’t been repaired or fixed up, and there are still holes in the walls and visible pipes everywhere.
But it all adds to the “underground” feeling each ruin bar has. If these places hadn’t been pointed out to me, I never would have found them.
Though the ruin bar movement has become mainstream and less underground than it was when it started (or even a few years ago), many of the bars have done a good job of keeping their character and staying true to their roots – even as they fill up with more tourists.
Here is a list of the best ruin bars of Budapest:
This was the original ruin bar. It opened in 2001 and starting this trend. It’s one of the biggest ruin bars and still one of the most popular. Once an abandoned factory, here you’ll find a large open courtyard, a top floor filled with eclectic furniture, cocktail bars, music, and even an old, stripped-down Trabant (a communist car) to have a drink in. All the rooms have a different theme. They also sell pizza, which, after a few drinks, makes for the perfect walking-home snack.
Kazinczy u. 14, +36 20 261 8669, szimpla.hu. Open 12pm-4am on weekdays, 9am-4am on Saturdays, and 9am-5am on Sundays.
Instant is located in an entire apartment building and the biggest ruin bar in the city. There are over twenty rooms here. It’s one of the more club-like ruin bars. In Instant, you can sit in what were once individual apartments and relax on furniture that looks like it was found on the street. They’ve knocked down many of the walls to connect the apartments and make space for the DJs and dancing. Given its popularity and the fact that it’s more “clubby,” drinks here are a little more expensive than in other ruin bars. But the vibe is still good.
Akácfa u. 49-51, +36 70 638 5040, instant.co.hu/en. Open daily from 10pm-6am.
Fogasház is smaller, lower-key, and less touristy than popular Instant and Szimpla Kert. The “House of Teeth” got its name from an old dentist’s office sign they found when they were building the bar. This bar has bicycles and glasses hanging from the ceiling and is artsier than the other ruin bars. Small tables dot the inner courtyard, and you don’t have loud music drowning out the conversation. They often host art exhibits here. They also have a ping-pong table. It’s a hipster’s paradise here.
Akácfa u. 49-51, +36 1 783 8820. Open daily from 4pm-6am.
I’m not entirely sure if this place fits into the ruin bar culture. It was much fancier and trendier than the other bars I visited. It was like being in a “real” bar. However, I was taken there as part of a ruin bar tour, and, regardless, I love this place. You walk into the courtyard and are greeted by a tree with a red-eyed robot attached to it. It looks like a Transformer is about to attack you. There are two main rooms: one red, the other blue. They play a lot of dance music, and this place fills up toward the end of the night.
Klauzál u. 10, +36 20 449 4801, doboz.co.hu/en. Open Tu (5pm-2am), W-Th (5pm-5am), F-Su (5pm-6am), and closed on Mondays.
Located on top of a supermarket, Corvin Teto is popular due to its huge rooftop terrace, where you can get an expansive view of the hills of Buda and the buildings of Pest. This is another dance-heavy ruin bar, specializing in electronic music. I’d come up here for a drink during sunset and then move on elsewhere.
Blaha Lujza tér 1-2, +36 20 244 7230, corvinclub.hu. Open Thursday to Saturday from 9pm-6am.
Grandio is a ruin bar and hostel in one. It’s famous for its outdoor, tree-filled courtyard but is mostly filled with travelers and people on bar crawls due to the fact that it’s also a hostel. This is a good place to start your night and meet other travelers. However, during the day you can find locals relaxing here with a drink in the garden.
Nagy Diófa u. 8, +36 70 670 0390, grandio.insta-hostel.com.
A former university building, this ruin bar lets you tap into your inner college student as you drink few beers while playing foosball, Ping-Pong, darts, and a French game called pétanque (it’s fun). The courtyard garden is a good spot to enjoy all the live music that happens in this bar.
Ajtósi Dürer sor 19-21, +36 1 789 4444, durerkert.com/hu. Open M-Sa (5pm-5am), Su (5pm-12am).
This is one of Budapest’s newest ruin bars. Mazel Tov (located in the old Jewish quarter) is a community center and restaurant serving traditional Jewish cuisine by day. At night, the courtyard is a party with DJs and live entertainment entertaining guests.
Akácfa u. 47, +36 70 626 4280, mazeltov.hu. Open M-Tu (12pm-1am), W-F (12pm-2am), Sa-Su (10am-2am).
Located in a former factory in downtown Budapest, this minimalist space is made up of large, connecting courtyards, a gigantic dance floor to get your party on, and plenty of couches to lounge on if dancing isn’t your thing. There’s a lot of funky art hanging on the walls and the place is pretty big. The bar also serves some decent food too.