Budapest may very well have the hippest nightlife in all of Europe. From its music scene like Random Trip to a plethora of funky ruin pubs, this city after dark is completely different than anything you might find back home. (it’s also the perfect city to get engaged).
But what the heck is a ruin pub anyway?
I heard of ruin pubs vaguely from others who had travelled to Budapest before me, but I couldn’t imagine what they would be (or look) like. I’m used to bars back home with glitzy lighting, clean lines, and at the very least, a fresh coat of paint.
Not here. Ruin pubs are an unconventionally unique aspect of social life in Budapest.
After World War II, many buildings on the Pest side – the city is divided into two with Buda on the west side of the Danube river and Pest to the east – were left decaying, empty and neglected. In 2001, a few locals decided to convert old housing blocks and factory buildings doomed for destruction into hip, vibrant hangouts for dancing and cheap drinks. Ruin bars started to spring up in abandoned spaces without doing any renovation. The concept was simple. Collect any rejected, pre-loved furniture you can find, build a bar and sell a few drinks.
On the outside, ruin bars are usually unassuming – there are no club-like queues, no door guy charging cover, or blaring music from the streets (mainly to respect local residents).
Until you step in.
Each ruin pub has its own personality and character but for the most part they are funky, artsy, and eclectic hole-in-the-wall places, bustling with crowds of young people dancing, talking over pub grub, Hungarian fröccs and cheap pivo. Its crumbling brick walls, bare piping that hangs from the ceiling, paint chipping away, graffiti art, and mis-matched furniture makes you feel like you’re part of an underground culture.
Szimpla is where the trend of ruin bars first started. It first opened as an open-air movie theatre but more and more locals started going for the cheap booze instead. The massive projector screen is still there but the hangout has become a maze of bars, rooms, and multiple floors repurposing its furniture from movie theatre couches to cannibalized cars which double as table and chairs, and pieces you might find in your grandmother’s home.
Where to find it: Kazinczy utca 14.
Kuplung is an old auto garage turned into a fun nightlife spot that could be easy to miss if you’re not looking carefully. I found Kuplung the most colourful of all the ruin pubs.
Where to find it: Király utca 46
Instant is probably the largest with 26 rooms, 7 bars, 2 gardens and 7 stages,
Where to find it: Nagymezo 38
Baby dolls, plastic body parts, and bike wheels are just a few of the unusual things pinned to the walls (and sometimes ceiling) of Csendes. You can spend days discovering random new pieces here. What it lacks in rowdy crowds, Csendes makes up for in its decor.
Where to find it: Ferenczy István utca 5
There are plenty more ruin bars in Budapest but these are the best ones I experienced so far during my ruin pub crawl.