In the heart of Budapest right next to the city’s swankiest neighborhood sits an area some might deem an eyesore. Their assessment wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate, as the Old Jewish Quarter has definitely seen better days. Peeling plaster, rusty rebar and an air of neglect characterize the abandoned corridor.
Historically speaking, the neighborhood was abandoned during WWII, resettled by roving gypsies during Soviet rule and remained dilapidated even after the Iron Curtain fell. This resulted in a strange juxtaposition of centrally located property and unusually cheap rent. And thus ruin pubs were born. Started in the early 2000s by a group of people looking for a cheap drinking establishment, ruin pubs, or “romkocsma” in Hungarian (literally, a pub in a ruin) are one of the few places where you can get a large beer for less than $2.
While the personality of each establishment varies, a couple features are consistent throughout the businesses: Find an abandoned building, fill it with a haphazard collection of flea market furniture and wait for the hordes to come. They might not have fancy mixologists or hand carved ice, but these social centers have become a favorite place to tip one back for anyone passing through Budapest. Here are a few of our favorites:
The Best Ruin Pub Experience - Szimpla Kert
The neglected exterior exudes an air of disuse, but step inside Szimpla Kert and you’ll find hundreds of happy tourists and locals socializing over drinks. The old factory turned cinema and pub was the first ruin pub in Budapest. Opened in 2002, it’s kept its patrons happy with its airy courtyard, lush houseplants, ramshackle secondhand furniture, and artful graffiti. It’s success has allowed it to expand and today Szimpla Kert not only pulls in a solid drinking crowd, but also puts on theater shows, concerts, live music, and hosts a Farmer’s Market every week.
The Best Food - Koleves Vendeglo
If you find yourself hoping for a meal a bit fancier than simple pub fare, drop by Koleves. The restaurant offers everything fom traditional Hungarian specialties to Jewish delicacies and international fare. Afterwards you can relax in the “kert” (garden), which is open during the summer, in one of the many hammocks strung up around the courtyard.
The Best Party - Instant
This dilapidated former apartment complex houses a ruin pub that features 23 strangely designed rooms, crazy lights and a club-like atmosphere. Between the floating display of stuffed rabbits, furniture hanging upside down from the ceiling, and psychedelic paint job on the staircases, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be short of things to look at.
The Best View - Corvinteto
Quite different from the loud, crowded atmosphere of Instant, Corvinteto allows its visitors to breath a bit more freely. The pub is located on top of an old supermarket and offers stunning views of the skyline and the low-lying Buda Hills. You can access it by climbing several flights of gritty stairs past walls plastered with decals and graffiti or take the elevator. We recommend the latter. After all, it’s not everyday a business allows you to purchase and consume alcoholic drinks while riding up. It also prides itself on its top notch Electronic Dance scene which you can experience once you leave the rooftop and enter the building’s interior.