The Ruin Pubs of Budapest: A Szimpla Story
Tucked away in the winding streets in Budapest’s underbelly lies one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Lingering remnants of a bygone era, The ruin pubs of Budapest are found only by those who know where to look.
Unimposing, ramshackle, and destitute, you could walk right past one without even realizing it. Doing so, however, would mean missing out on one of Europe’s coolest, and most unique, nightlife scenes.
So what are the ruin pubs of Budapest? Perhaps we had better start at the beginning, with the world’s first ruin pub:
Translating as “Simple Garden“, this quintessential ruin pub would unknowingly pave the way for the cult trend that would shape Budapest as we know it today. First Conceived in 2001, Szimpla Kert is and always will be the very first ruin pub.
Despite now having numerous imitators throughout the city, Szimpla remains Budapest’s lasting favorite, according to both locals, travelers, and myself alike.
Before we delve in, I should really mention that Szimpla Kert is really anything BUT Szimpla (haha get it?). Simply calling it a ‘pub’ hardly does this Simple Garden justice; it’s more of a pub/souvenir shop/cafe/shesha bar/lounge/cinema/garden/farmer’s market/local hangout. Got all that?
It’s really what ever you want it to be.
Beginning as a modest indoor cafe in early 2000, Szimpla wouldn’t achieve it’s lasting fame until the following year when it relocated to it’s current address of 14 Kazinczy Street.
Occupying a former stove factory in the city’s war torn Jewish district, Szimpla would change the face of Budapest forever when it took what was once an abandoned, ruined, bombed out factory and turn it into one of the most unique, eccentric bars in all of Europe.
But what destroyed the ruin bars in the first place? For that story, we have to jump back to the fierce battle that nearly wiped Budapest off the map.
The Siege of Budapest
Budapest has a remarkably sordid history going back millennia, but this past century alone has been truly tremulous for the city. Towards the end of World War 2, the Nazi’s occupied Budapest on March 19th, 1944.
Determined to keep Hungary allied to the Axis, the Nazi’s engineered the replacement of Hungary’s government with a party much more suited to their purposes; The National-Socialist Arrow Cross Party. (Their headquarters is now Budapest’s House of Terror, just to give you an idea of what they were like.)
This new party united Hungarian and German troops against the encroaching Soviets, and bolstered defenses around the capital city of Budapest. When the Soviet’s finally reached the city with over one million men strong, Hitler refused to surrender the city, and was determined to fight to the very last man if need be.
The result was the Siege of Budapest; A fifty day struggle that trapped nearly 33,000 German and 37,000 Hungarian soldiers, as well as over 800,000 civilians within the city. For 50 days, the city became the battleground for a brutal battle that would claim the lives of over 38,000 civilians; due primarily to starvation, disease, and military action.
Budapest would lay in ruins after the siege; with more than 80 percent of its buildings destroyed or damaged, and all seven bridges spanning the Danube destroyed.
These ruined buildings would go on to become the ruin pubs of today.
Taking Back The City
For decades following the siege, Budapest would be on the long road to recovery. Entire sections of the city remain to this very day dilapidated and destitute, bearing the slow healing scars of war across their faces. While most of these buildings were deemed lost causes by the majority, the people of Szimpla saw potential.
Embracing their city’s war torn history; the ruin pubs sought not to hide the scars, but to embrace them. Leaving the building’s ruined exterior as it is, they added to the grungy look by filling the space with mishmashes of used furniture, covering the walls in graffiti, and letting the local’s truly make it their own.
Hanging a bike from the ceiling, using old claw foot bathtubs as couches and even turning an old Trabant car into a lounge in the middle of their garden are some of the unique features found at Szimpla. Tightly spiraled metal staircases lead to secret back rooms with their own unique themes; from a alternative art gallery, to a fooze ball table room, a shesha bar, to a music hall where local’s play the strangest music imaginable.
The whole venue screams of personality, life and rebellion where once there was only an unused ruin.
It’s truly a wondrous sight to behold.
The ruin pubs breath new life into what was once left for dead; a resurrection that the city desperately needed.
The Rise of the Ruins
After the resounding success of Szimpla among local’s and travelers alike; other ruin pubs soon followed. While Szimpla will always remain the original; the others offer completely different experiences. Each ruin pub truly has it’s own personality, purpose, and crowd that it caters too. Here are just a few of personal favorites.
Come to Szimpla during the day to smoke shisha or have an afternoon drink or coffee in the courtyard. Come back at night to listen to local bands and drink a couple shots of unicum (Just kidding, don’t drink the unicum, trust me.)
On Sunday’s you can visit the local farmers market in the courtyard from 9am to 2pm, to try some Hungarian fare for very affordable prices. Buy yourself an awesome souvenir and leave your mark on the graffiti covered walls before you leave.
Instant is an entire ruined apartment building!
This place is insane! Definitely the night club of the ruin pub community; instant is where you go for a very late night out on the town. Boasting multiple dance floors and DJ’s each playing very different sets, from pop hits to the heaviest electro you can imagine, Instant has something for everyone. Explore the winding hallways, lounge in the courtyard, and party until the sun comes up.
Just make sure you pre-drink, as drinks here a pricier than other ruin bars (it is a nightclub after all)
Meet the ruin pub and hostel, all rolled into one. That’s right, you can spend a night in this ruin pub!
Grandio will always be filled with travelers, and it truly puts the ‘party’ in party-hostel. It’s tree filled courtyard is a favorite hangout of local’s and tourists alike, and Budapest’s most rowdy pub crawl often begins from this infamous hostel. If you’re a solo traveler and you love to party, this is certainly the place for you.
Don’t stay here if you want a quiet relaxing stay in Budapest. Here the party, never, EVER stops.
I once followed a girl back here, and I ended up doing shots for breakfast at 8am after getting literally NO sleep. Worth it? Absolutely.