PHOTO: Szimpla Kert, a Ruin Pub in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Worldwide Scott)
Budapest is known for its nightlife with a portfolio of pulsing nightclubs and buzzing bars attracting revelers from all over the globe. Above all others, though, there is one particular type of venue that has come to symbolize the scene in this gorgeous Danube-side city, and it’s called the ‘ruin pub’.
Born around the turn of the millennium, ruin pubs are bars that have been set up in previously abandoned buildings and courtyards. They are mostly located in the historic former Jewish Quarter (District VII), and as they were the brainchild of Budapest’s creative class, they are typically decorated with a mish-mash of vintage furniture, odd artifacts, and artwork that gives them a character unlike anything else in the city.
Most importantly for visitors, ruin pubs are welcoming spots low on attitude where you can blend right in, making no trip to the Hungarian capital complete without raising a glass at one of them. Even if you’re just passing through town on a European river cruise, don’t fret. Many ruin pubs are open during the day, with an afternoon spent in one of their quirky courtyards among the best quintessential Budapest experiences.
The bar that started them all; if you had to choose a single ruin pub in Budapest to visit, this would be the one.
Sprawling Szimpla Kert (the name translates to "simple garden" in Hungarian) stretches out over two U-shaped floors encasing a leafy courtyard—a green space adorned with everything from airborne chairs to an old graffiti-covered car and movie screen. The decor inside is ‘fancy flea market,' with an assortment of rainbow-colored floor tiles and scores of peculiar yet thought-provoking pieces adorning the walls and ceiling.
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In contrast to Szimpla Kert, Mazel Tov is a newer addition to the world of Budapest ruin pubs, and it has brought a slightly more polished style of decor and a focus on culinary delights to the table.
It’s still located in a delightfully dilapidated space to be sure (and has all the rough edges to prove it) but they have been balanced out with loads of soft colors, twinkling lights, and a vibrant pattern of Mediterranean-style tiles. The kitchen here cranks out hummus, falafel, and other mouthwatering Middle Eastern specialities, making Mazel Tov a true trailblazer.
Famous for its ruby red, Rolling Stones-style lips used as decorations (the name of the bar translates to ‘house of teeth’), Fogas Ház is both a cultural hub and a nightlife Mecca. The inside of the venue is bric-a-brac at its best and hosts both art exhibitions and a happening dance floor, while the courtyard—covered in a canopy of lush leaves—has become one of the best places in Budapest for al fresco frolicking.
It was only inevitable that ruin pubs would start popping up outside of District VII, and Pagony has sprung to life directly behind one of Budapest’s famous baths (the Gellert Baths). Open during the summer months, this ruin pub has taken over the former children’s section of the grand bath, meaning the tables are set up inside empty pools, making for a one-of-a-kind ambiance.