Ah, the ruin pub. These dilapidated drinking establishments are as synonymous with Budapest as the Danube and The Széchenyi Chain Bridge. They’re one of the many things that make the city one of the coolest and best nightlife destinations in central Europe. Ruin pubs began to pop up in the Jewish quarter of Budapest over a decade ago, all starting with the granddaddy of them all – Szimpla Kert. Since then, new pubs have sprung up all over the city centre and become somewhat of a Budapest institution.
History of the Ruin Pub
After World War II the Jewish quarter of Budapest was left in a ramshackle state. Parts of the area were fenced off as a ghetto for Hungarian Jews by the Nazis during the war. No one was allowed in or out, waste was not collected and people were left to die of starvation. The cramped conditions lead to the spread of diseases and the dead were left to lie in the street or in the bombed out ruins of tenement blocks. Over half of the people that lived in the ghetto were eventually transported to concentration camps.
What remained of this area after the war was urban decay; tumbledown apartment buildings, abandoned warehouses and wasteland where bombed out buildings once stood.
Back in the early 2000’s a group of local artists started to rent one of these dilapidated buildings, an old factory in the 7th district, in the hope of creating an art space. This was to be a place to screen movies, hold musical performances, art exhibitions and a place to drink. As the building needed extensive renovation and decoration that the tenants couldn’t afford, they set about decorating the walls and rooms with whatever they could find; flea market furniture, junk, getting local artists to graffiti the walls. The ruin pub, and Szimpla bar, was born.
What Are The Best Ruin Pubs?
While in Budapest I took a free walking tour of the Jewish District to try and take in a bit of the fascinating, albeit incredibly horrific, history of the area. The tour ended in one of the many ruin pubs scattered around this part of town. I had heard a lot about these bars before heading to Budapest and I was keen to know which were ‘must visits’ without having to take part in one of the many ruin pub crawls that are put on for tourists. There are over 20 of these establishments in Budapest and there was no way i’d get chance to visit them all. With this in mind I asked our walking tour guide which pubs he frequents, hoping to get the insider info on what are truly the best. This is the list he gave me:
Budapest, Nagy Diófa u. 32, 1072 Hungary
DZZs isn’t a ruin bar of the same scale and size to the others on this list, more a cosy dive bar. However, that’s part of it’s appeal. It is a great antidote to the crowded and touristy atmosphere of it’s neighbours. If you’re after something a little more low key, friendly and local – you can’t go wrong with DZZs.
Budapest, Nagymező u. 38, 1065 Hungary
One of the few ruin pubs located outside of the 7th district, Instant is one of Budapest’s largest. Made up of two joined tenement blocks, this labyrinthine maze of a venue consists of 26 rooms, 7 bars, 2 gardens and 7 stages – all of which you are free to wander through. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole as you come across strange objects, installations and even an ‘upside down room’ where the furnishings hang from the ceiling.
Budapest, Akácfa u. 47, 1072 Hungary
Out of all of the ruin pubs in the 7th district, Mazel Tov is the only one that truly engages with the Jewish Quarter’s history. As I walked in to Mazel Tov I was expecting to be met usual chic mix of retro furniture and ramshackle decor but I was pleasantly surprised. The interior was stylish and clean and the food service was in full swing. This is more of a hip restaurant than a ramshackle bar. Although not kosher, Mazel Tov serves a range of delicious middle eastern cuisine – Felafel, hummus, and kebabs. On an evening the outdoor space turns in to the perfect spot for a garden party and if you look closely you touch the section of the old Budapest ghetto wall at the end of the courtyard.
Ellato Kert & Taqueria
Budapest, Kazinczy u. 48, 1075 Hungary
Ellátó Kert came highly recommended by our guide as a newcomer to the ruin pub scene and his favourite place to drink. A huge open-air drinking area makes up the majority of this place and is apparently packed in the summer (it was freezing when I was in there). If you wander inside you will find Mexican themed decor, table football and the taqueria churning out delicious smelling tacos and nachos. It’s a favourite of locals for good reason.
Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary
The original and granddaddy of all ruin pubs. Szimpla was the first to set up in the 7th district back in the early 2000’s and has gone from strength to strength since then. The owners converted this old factory into a huge open-air cinema, cultural space and pub back in 2002 – As they didn’t have the funds to renovate or decorate, the walls were painted by local artists and the rooms were furnished with whatever items could be scraped together. The modern ruin pub was born.
With this reputation comes a crowd, usually more tourists than locals, but with good reason. The decor and art installations alone make it worth a visit but you can also expect an open-air cinema, huge outdoor garden (complete with a seating area made from an old Trabant car), galleries and live music.
If you head there on a Sunday morning you can wander around the Szimpla farmer’s market where locals will be shopping for fruit and veg or stopping for a quick bite to eat.
Have you been to Budapest and visited the Ruin Pubs? Which was your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.
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