Sometimes, it is a man’s duty to fly to another country and consume copious amounts of its alcohol– particularly if that country sells cheaper and better alcohol than his own.
I don’t make a habit of travelling for the sake of getting fuddled on foreign liquor, but as an expat with very few opportunities to do so with his oldest of friends, I take my chances.
Last July, I paid a much long-awaited visit to the Hungarian capital of Budapest, with every intention of soaking up the elegant and captivating culture of the so-called ‘Pearl of The Danube’. Now, I did manage a bit of that (see awesome photos in next post ;)), but let’s just say I did most of my soaking up in the more literal sense. Yes, jars of lager, shorts of rum and coke and shots of the local favourite Pálinka flowed freely throughout.
Budapest is a tourist magnet for these sorts of boozy bender weekends, and I know what many of you are probably thinking: are you really one of those pissed-up, insufferable Brits that embarrasses the rest of us horribly? Let me assure you, I am not! But we boys– and girls too –we all need a fun weekend away every once in a while, and as long as we behave ourselves, we are perfectly entitled to drink excessively. So this is exactly what we did.
By day, there are the usual, tourist targeting, and thus terribly steep, bars and cafés to wet your whistle in, but the real hero of Budapest’s out scene is The Ruin Pub. Just to clarify, this isn’t one pub; there are umpteen of them, scattered around town. I took it upon myself to visit as many of these hip Hungarian watering holes as possible over the course of the weekend and, by the end of it all, have picked a winner. But as we all well know, one’s judgement soon becomes quite clouded when among enthusiastic and thirsty drinking companions, so there is every chance that the very last bar on the very last night, despite appearing (and tasting) brilliant, might well have been completely shit.
But in all sober honesty (and honest sobriety), I am quite sure that none of them were, so here are, in my clear memory, the five best ruin pubs of Budapest…
One: Szimpla Kert (Kazinczy utca 14)
The first and probably most popular ruin bar in town, Szimpla had an ambulatory upbringing before finally settling into its home in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest around ten years ago.
It was the one pub that had actually been recommended to me before the trip yet the one that proved to elude us until the small hours of the last night. It was worth waiting for. Trendy and mismatched furniture cluttered the numerous rooms, pop-art and elaborate lanterns adorned the walls and a garden, complete with its very own Trabant motorcar that doubled up as tabes and chairs, buzzed with people out back.
There was a better mix of locals and travellers here too, all of them up for a good time. The icing the cake, at least for me, was a functioning, old-school film projector upstairs. They were showing Disney’s Big Bad Wolf. The place oozed stylishness from top to bottom.
Two: Racskert (Dob utca 40)
Not ten minutes away you’ll find a large, rickety garden bar that has a commandeered a disused car park. This is Racskert, one of the city’s latest additions to its ever increasing directory of ruin pubs. It’s not quite as daring as Szimpla or Instant! but it has managed to nail ‘refreshingly simple’ pretty well.
We didn’t stay long, but we liked what we saw: water cisterns recycled as lamps, funky cartoon artwork on the walls and piping-hot pizzas being served in abundance.
Three: Ellátó Kert (Kazinczy utca 4)
In Ellátó Kert, in the centre of the ever-electric drinking district, there is no discernible crowd; every man, woman and his/her dog comes here, either for the beer, cocktails, spicy-hot Mexican food or just to mong out in the awesome garden. We spent the best part of an afternoon here, and were almost tempted to stay were it not for our pledge to drink in as many ruin pubs as possible.
Other reasons to come here: pool, table football, ping-pong and darts.
Four: Fogasház (Akacfa utca 51)
It’s hard to miss Fogasház if out searching for it, given that there is a giant mouth sitting right on top the doorway. This, however, seems to be in no way pertinent to what goes on inside. The bar is huge, and has quickly won itself a reputation with top reviews on TripAdvisor, so we had it down for one of our must-sees. Thankfully, we didn’t order food when we were there– the Swiss couple sitting next to us were treated to near-frozen goulash I seem to remember– but the atmosphere later into the evening couldn’t have been better. The DJ was on form, the drinks weren’t too pricey, the outdoor area was perfect for a quick escape, we made an untold amount of friends and best of all, it was free to get in!
It’s definitely the place to go for partying, staying open until 4am, and was the only place we went to twice of all the ruin pubs we visited.
Five: Instant (Nagymező utca 38)
If you’re an animal lover you’ll go wild for Instant. This ruin pub/disco comes dangerously close to being pretentious but probably just stops short of the line. Someone has clearly poured a lot of money into this place; there are no less than 23 rooms– all designed to raise the eyebrows –spanning two former tenement buildings, the lighting is superb and big name DJs regularly feature. If the night that we ended up here was anything to go by, the place is usually rammed full of revellers, both Hungarian and internationals, and things don’t settle down until six in the morning.
The choice of Pálinka on sale here is quite staggering, but be warned: this stuff is serious liquor, and the hangovers are absolutely lethal.
Have you ever been to a ruin pub in Budapest? Which? Was it any good?