Last Updated: 5/3/23 | May 3rd, 2023
One of the upsides to being an independent writer is that I’m my own boss. There are no deadlines, no one to pester me, and no outside burdens. I get to write about what I want when I want — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
However, since the stories on this blog are based on what I see and do, I have no one to say things like, “Matt! There’s a cool new trend in this city. Here’s a plane ticket; go check it out and report back right away!”
Because no one ever mentioned the “ruin bars” to me. It wasn’t until my second visit that I got to know what these bars were. Now, I visit them whenever I visit the city.
Ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest and have been around since the founding of Szimpla Kert, the mecca of all ruin bars. These bars are built in Budapest’s old District VII neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter) in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores, or lots. This neighborhood was left to decay after World War II, so it was a perfect place to develop an underground bar scene. (Not so underground anymore, though.)
From the outside, these bars look like normal buildings. They don’t have large signs pointing the way, you don’t hear any loud noise, and there’s no line of people waiting to get in. But once you walk in and enter the inner courtyard, you find yourself in the middle of a hip, artsy, and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Large bouncers inside, along with posted signs, ensure that people are quiet on their way out so as to not disturb the neighbors.
Each of these ruin bars has its own personality, but they all follow a few basic principles: find an old, abandoned place, rent it out, set up a bar, fill it with flea market furniture, have a few artists come in to leave their mark on the walls and ceiling, add in some weird antiques, serve alcohol, and watch people flock in.
When you’re in these bars, you feel like you’re drinking at your local thrift store. None of the furniture matches. It’s all old. It’s eclectic. It feels like they just ransacked your grandmother’s house. The ceilings are all designed differently and the places haven’t been repaired or fixed up, and there are still holes in the walls and visible pipes everywhere.
But it all adds to the “underground” feeling each ruin bar has. If these places hadn’t been pointed out to me, I never would have found them.
Though the ruin bar movement has become mainstream and less underground than it was when it started (or even a few years ago), many of the bars have done a good job of keeping their character and staying true to their roots — even as they fill up with more tourists.
Here is a list of the best ruin bars of Budapest:
This was the original ruin bar. It opened in 2001, starting this trend. It’s one of the biggest ruin bars and still one of the most popular. Once an abandoned factory, now there’s a large open courtyard, a top floor filled with eclectic furniture, cocktail bars, music, and even an old, stripped-down Trabant (a communist car) to have a drink in. All the rooms have a different theme. They also sell pizza, which, after a few drinks, makes for the perfect walking-home snack.
If you don’t feel like partying but still want to visit and learn about the venue, you can stop here on a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter.
Everyone I take here says it’s one of the coolest bars they’ve ever been to. If you just visit one bar, make it this one.
Kazinczy u. 14, +36 20 261 8669, szimpla.hu. Open Monday-Friday (3pm-4am), Saturday (12pm-4am), and Sunday (9am-3:30am).
Grandio is a ruin bar and hostel in one. It’s famous for its outdoor, tree-filled courtyard but is mostly filled with travelers and people on bar crawls since it’s also a hostel. This is a good place to start your night and meet other travelers. During the day you can find locals relaxing here with a drink in the garden. It’s not quite as rowdy as the other bars and, since it’s smaller, it has a bit more of a laid-back and intimate vibe.
Nagy Diófa u. 8, +36 70 670 0390, grandio.insta-hostel.com. Open daily from 2pm-12am.
A former university building, this ruin bar and music venue lets you tap into your inner college student as you drink a few beers while playing foosball, Ping-Pong, darts, and a French game called pétanque (it’s fun). The courtyard garden is a good spot to enjoy all the live music that happens in this bar.
Öböl u. 1, durerkert.com/en. Open Wednesday (7:30pm-12am), Thursday (4pm-2am), Friday, (4pm-3am), Saturday (1pm-3am), and Sunday (1pm-1am).
The Instant-Fogas Complex is located in an entire apartment building and the biggest ruin bar in the city. There are over 20 rooms, 18 different bars, multiple dance floors, and 2 gardens. It’s one of the more club-like ruin bars. In Instant, you can sit in what were once individual apartments and relax on furniture that looks like it was found on the street. They’ve knocked down many of the walls to connect the apartments and make space for the DJs and dancing. Given its popularity and the fact that it’s more “clubby,” drinks here are a little more expensive than in other ruin bars. But the vibe is still good. If you want to dance away the night, this is the bar for you.
Akácfa u. 49-51, +36 70 638 5040, instant-fogas.com. Open daily from 6pm-6am.
I’m not entirely sure if this place fits into the ruin bar culture. It was much fancier and trendier than the other bars I visited. It was like being in a “real” bar. However, I was taken there as part of a ruin bar tour, and, regardless, I loved this place. You walk into the courtyard and are greeted by a tree with a red-eyed robot attached to it. It looks like a Transformer is about to attack you. There are two main rooms: one red, the other blue. They play a lot of dance music, and this place fills up toward the end of the night. The only downside is that it has more limited opening hours than other bars.
Klauzál u. 10, +36 20 449 4801, doboz.co.hu/en. Open Friday and Saturday from 6:30pm–6am.
This is one of Budapest’s newest ruin bars. Mazel Tov (located in the old Jewish quarter) is a community center and restaurant serving traditional Jewish cuisine by day. At night, the courtyard is a party with DJs and live entertainment entertaining guests. It has a much fancier atmosphere than other places and is definitely a more upscale option.
Akácfa u. 47, +36 70 626 4280, mazeltov.hu. Open daily 12pm-12am.
Csendes Letterem Café & Bar
If you’re looking for a more laid-back vibe to balance out the party atmosphere of some of the other ruin bars but don’t want to sacrifice the cool vintage aesthetic, this is the bar for you. It’s located right in the heart of Budapest and is the perfect place to relax and share drinks with friends or settle in for an evening of conversation. The bar also serves food and has Wi-Fi, so you’ll often find digital nomads mingling here.
Ferenczy István u. 5, +36 30 727 2100. Open daily from 2pm-12am (3pm on Sundays).
Budapest may sell itself on history and thermal baths, but the ruin bars are by far the most unique thing about this city. Even if you don’t drink, come spend time at these ruin bars because they are such a funky way to see a popular and totally unique aspect of life in Budapest (you can even take a self-guided tour of a few bars that includes skip-the-line entry). You’ll meet a lot of locals when you visit too! So, don’t miss them.
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