Beautiful Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is made up of the regions of Buda and Pest. Separated by the Danube river, Budapest has one of the most beautiful city skylines off the Danube river I have ever experienced. Made up of two very distinct areas and yet it is still a global city offering the historic and hilly Buda district that dates back to the Ancient Roman and Ottoman Empires and the flat, modern and luxurious Pest district that together is a melting pot of old and new. You can easily fill an entire agenda on the many sites in and around this beautiful city, but the hidden nightlife is an experience unlike any other in the world.
This story starts with a war, World War II, when the Hungarian Jewish Quarter of the 7th district was all but decimated between 1944 and 1945 with continuous battle over Budapest during the German occupation of the city. At the end of the war an estimated 250,000 Jewish died or were evicted leaving the city broken and the Jewish Quarter in ruins.
Fast forward to the new millennium, where once the location of the Jewish ghetto, sat buildings that had become dilapidated in the decades following the War. With the fall of the iron curtain, Budapest was becoming a major destination for travelers with high end shops, restaurants and entertainment. A group of Pest locals came up with an idea for opening a pub within the less desirable area to attract other locals to a place to enjoy a drink inexpensively in a laid back environment and so Szimpla Kert (simple garden) was born.
In 2004 a few blocks from the pub a run-down residential building and former stove factory was scheduled to be demolished by the city. The owners of Szimpla Kert stepped up to save the historical building from its fate and moved their popular pub to this location at 14 Kazinczy Street. The pub was renamed at the time to Szimpla Kertmozi (simple open-air cinema) because of the large courtyard that would be designated as an area to show underground Indie films.
Szimpla Kert set the standard for the romkocsma (ruin pub) that has now become more than just the top location in Budapest for nightlife. It has grown into a major attraction for tourists as well as locals with movie screenings, live music, modern art, a farmers market and a flea market.
What began as a need for a small local pub has grown into a rebirth for the Jewish quarter which is now filled with “ruin pubs”. Every pub provides its own experience and attracts a different crowd. The only similarity between them is that they start with an abandoned building. In most, the decor is not fancy or even modern, like you will find in other parts of Pest, but is built around decor sourced from local flea-markets and the buildings themselves, with the graffiti decor, a visit is 100% hipster and unique with non-conformity.
The most crowded ruin bars are the ones with DJ’s or live music and like Szimpla Kert may include other community based events like film premieres and art exhibitions or convert into daytime dining halls and may even offer accommodations in the form of a hostel.
Today there are many “ruin bars” within the Budapest region, many are transient moving from abandoned building to abandoned building setting up a bar, filling the space with eclectic furnishings and bringing in a band or DJ for music. Other’s may resemble the traditional nightclub or offer a more swanky experience.
But for the visiting tourist, we highly recommend the artsy and unique Szimpla Kert, the inventor of the ruin bar revolution. The largest of the ruin bars offers several rooms each with a different theme, an open-air courtyard central gathering area and a garden. You will find a full bar with wine, beer, spirits, a small dining menu and the popular Hungarian liquor Palinka. Some rooms may have a DJ or live music featuring lesser known and unusual bands in small rooms or large concerts as they can accommodate hundreds of people on any given night. As attractive as the draw to it’s nighttime activity, Szimpla Kert is also a popular locale for daytime activities. Offering a local Farmer’s Market every Sunday, flea market and a community living library.
When visiting Pest, for a night or a weekend, you will want to hit the top romkocsma. Depending on when you visit, will determine how busy, the size of the crowds and what activities are happening.
We visited Budapest while on a river cruise along the Danube river. No we are not the crowd that the Ruin bar was created for but stepping into the experience was a fun adult theme park experience that we will never forget and when times allow, we recommend stopping in day or night to see it for yourself.
If you too would like to visit Budapest by river, find more information at our website.