When you’re in Budapest for a couple days, you’re going to invariably ask … “Where should I go tonight?” budapest szimpla kert
A typical answer in Eastern Europe seems to be …”Let’s go to all the bars in Old Town or <insert specific area name> and do some bar crawling”. In Budapest, the answer will be … “If you’ve never been in Budapest before, we’re going to Szimpla Kert. It’s the definitive ruin pub experience”. budapest szimpla kert
As a Trini, who’s been to most of the Caribbean islands, I can definitely say that we don’t have anything like this on any of the 20+ islands I’ve been to. The idea of having a party in the ruins of an abandoned building wouldn’t fly with the face conscious island people. That being said, ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest and have been around for 10 years since the founding of Szimpla Kert, the mecca of all ruin bars. budapest szimpla kert
What the hell is a “Ruin Bar”?
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.) These bars are unique to the city and unlike anything I’ve seen during my travels. Szimpla Kert is a combo garden/pub/cafe/souvenir shop/farmer’s market/local hangout/shisha bar that is sure to surprise even the most skeptical visitor. As Szimpla Kert is the granddaddy of the ruin pubs, it’s easily the most well-known ruin pub and will have tons of tourists – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit – in fact, I would say that without going there, you’re missing a quintessential Budapest experience. budapest szimpla kert
From the outside, these bars look like normal places. 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.
Known by locals as ‘romkocsma’ (ruin pub in Hungarian), these pubs have been a part of the drinking culture just after the early 2000’s. Every one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colours and unique ambience you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest.
The decor can ridiculously eclectic, but finding your own little nook with your friends seems to be the thing to do at a ruin bar. Personally, I thought it was amazing easy to move around and talk to random people around. There was always new and interesting people to chat with and everyone was super friendly.
If you want to hang out and chill … there were spots for that. If you want to get up and dance, then there were spots for that too!
So each room seemed to have its own vibe, but there was the house DJ setting up the music. It wasn’t overly loud or obnoxious at all … my sense was that it was a meeting place for everyone to hang out prior to going somewhere louder. As someone who isn’t fond of ever doing a club again, this was definitely my type of place to hang out.
The dress code was exceptionally relaxed. There were people who were dressed very well and those who were very comfortable and every manner in between. This also resonates with me because I’m simply to old to care about dressing to the nines every day.
The Story of Szimpla Kert
Szimpla originally opened in 2001 as an indoor cafe but the ruin pub trend didn’t actually begin until the following year when they relocated to their current address at 14 Kazinczy Street. A dilapidated building in the city’s Jewish Quarter was formerly a stove factory before being transformed into one of the coolest, most eclectic bars I have ever been to. It was first opened as Szimpla Kertmozi (kertmozi means garden cinema in Hungarian) and their large courtyard was the place to hangout and watch underground/indie films. While they’re still known to play the occasional outdoor movie, Szimpla Kert has come a long way in the last 13+ years.
What does it look like in the day?
I went back to Szimpla Kert during the afternoon because I had forgotten a phone charger there and because I wanted to see the place during the day.
Other Budapest Ruin Pubs to visit
Szimpla Kert may be the oldest and most well-known of all Budapest ruin pubs but there are plenty of others in the city worth getting to know. It seems this list is ever-changing from year to year but here are some of the places to check out and enjoy the funky bar scene and unique nightlife in Budapest:
- MAZEL TOV
- CORVIN CLUB
- FOGAS HAZ
- DÜRER KERT
- FILTER KLUB
- RED RUIN
- ELLÁTÓ KERT