I’m glad we arrived in Budapest at night. From rosy sunset skylines on the Danube to funky, fantastic nightlife, there’s no better time to experience it.
After falling into disrepair during forty years of communist rule, the Hungarian capital, like many other Eastern Bloc cities, has slowly been rebuilding. You can see it in the remainder of drab gray buildings, construction of once-grand rubble, the occasional leftover Traband, and a homeless population that rivals that of Dublin.
But out of the still-musty graffitied and abandoned buildings and disused alleys, the younger generation has recently made something from nothing and it’s redefining the character of the city: some of the hippest, maybe even hipster-est, nightlife spots in Europe.
In recent years, the city has become famous for its so-called Ruin Pubs, which I would more accurately term dive bars. Furnished with bathtub couches, piano frame shelves, old-timey radios, mismatched stools, newspaper fringe chandeliers and whatever else could be scrapped together, these hotspots rise with an eclectic sense of ingenuity out of ruin.
The coolest of the ruin pubs that we found was Simpla Kert, a multi-level mess of scrap decor and hookah smoke whose only brightly lit room houses a tattoo parlor.
Like most of the popular ruin pubs, Simpla Kert is in the former Jewish Ghetto, a now up-and-coming party district of the city. By day much of the area looks shabby and empty, but by night it’s colorful, lively, and entertaining.
Fitting into the modern scene, craft beer and international street food (including tacos) are entering a renaissance here. Besides bars, these can also be found at stands around the city, including those in the Street Food Karaván alley next to Simpla Kert. The same alleyway contains a community garden.
Traditional Hungarian street food deserves mention here too. We found that it involves a lot of tasty fried dough. The most traditional street snack is Langos, a flattened fried dough topped with rich, mild Hungarian sour cream and cheese. Kürtőskalács (which we’ve also found at German Christmas markets) is the cinnamon and sugar coated funnel cake-esque dessert wrapped around a rolling pin and cooked over an open fire. More Austro- than Hungarian in style, we found sausage sandwiches drenched in your choice of gooey sauce.
And while craft beer may be on the rise, Hungary is traditionally known for having excellent quality red wine. One of the heartiest varieties is Egri Bikavér, (figuratively) meaning bull’s blood.
Cheers from Budapest!: Egészségedre!