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May Budapest’s Ruin Pubs Last Forever

Photo by: Jo Turner

May Budapest’s Ruin Pubs Last Forever

Beer in Budapest

The “ruin pub” is a Budapest institution, and the place to be any night of the week in the Hungarian capital.

The premise is simple, smart, and sometimes illegal. You take a piece of ground that is abandoned and falling apart. You fix it up (but not too much), open a bar, serve drinks, and watch the money roll in. The trend began sometime around 2001, and continues today. It’s like capitalist squatting.

Some of them, like Szimpla Kert and Instant, are enormous, stretched out over hundreds of square feet of prime Budapest land.

In Instant, there are about 20 different rooms—some have bands, some have DJs, some are quiet. There is foosball and table hockey, and long couches and furniture lifted from the Salvation Army. Upstairs, there are hostel rooms, though I don’t know who could sleep in this place.

The most popular place to be, at least when the weather is clear, is the courtyard open to the sky. There, table space is at a premium even when the other rooms are empty. Trees grow through the floor, tripping up drinkers.

Cheap flights from England combined with cheap liquor here means there are gaggles of young Brits all over Budapest’s party houses, ruin pubs included. Visit only the bars, and you’d think you were in Ibiza.

In the Instant courtyard, a British bachelor party is falling-down drunk and obnoxious. One guy keeps at me for a few minutes, like he wants to kick my ass. Perhaps I should be concerned—he’s young and buff, and I’m fat and 41.

But he has trouble finding his sea legs, and within five minutes he’s doing Sambuca shots with his buddies, who are holding each other up and singing Oasis. No, it’s not what’s on the stereo.

Szimpla Kert is the better of the ruin pubs, and not only for its lack of bachelor parties. The original ruin bar, it’s been in its present location since 2004. They say it’s the most winterized of them all, staying open all year and in all weather. It’s also the most fun, hosting a cosmopolitan mix of tourists young and old, and Hungarians.

In the courtyard sits a Trabant, East Germany’s famously unreliable signature automobile. Trees grow here too, some strung with hammocks, and are pleasant to lean on when you can’t get one of the tables, though we lucked out.

Beer is the preferred tipple, not least because it’s the cheapest. There is also a long cocktail list, and they pour a lot of shots. But plastic cups of beer are the best way to enjoy your time in the dilapidated courtyard, up against the Trabant, chatting with the world.

How these places stay open is unclear—obviously they’ve made an agreement with the city, who must know their worth to the Budapest tourist industry. May the ruins last forever.

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