A friend spent last week in Budapest with us. Whenever someone makes a special effort to visit, I feel compelled to find something local and cool and a place they would not visit alone. My daughter, Taylor, is studying abroad in Budapest. She recommended a Ruin Pub. “Mom, meet me at Szimpla after work. I’ll show you around.” Lonely Planet named Szimpla the third coolest bar on the planet and the coolest in Europe. That’s a plan.
The ruin pub concept started in the 1990s – after the fall of communism and when a lot of abandoned buildings required refurbishing. Basically, you buy an old building, fill it with a eclectic garage sale furniture, and open a bar (or more precisely many bars strewn across many rooms).
When I read about the pubs, they sounded like a secret society – a place where university students and beatniks sequestered to nurse a drink and discuss the most compelling issues of the day. I was wrong. Anyone and everyone go to these pubs. While they have existed for a few decades, they seem to sprout like mushrooms particularly in neighborhoods like the old Jewish quarter – the home of Szimpla. In any event, obscure or famous, the coolest pub in Europe seemed like a pretty cool thing to do.
This area has seen a resurgence over the last five or more years. The street leading up to Szimpla holds a cornucopia of interesting food choices. I sampled two of them: the world’s smallest India restaurant (two tables, seven seats, an adorable India man, great and cheap food) and a dive Thai place (slightly bigger, good food, less adorable). I recommend both.
Szimpla has a sign out front and depending when you arrive, a pair of Hungarian bouncers. The “door” is a bit more like a truck entry way – always open, it would seem. Ten or so feet of entryway leads to a network of bars: small room bars, big room bars, roof on and roof off bars. You can sit in a bathtub (actually I noticed two tubs) or a dentist chair or a life guard stand. Some nights, movies are shown on a screen in the back courtyard.
My daughter warned us it gets packed on weekends. We went early enough (around seven) to wander the bar well before it filled up. The wine was mediocre, the beer great and the prices good. There are a few rooms with food – but overall, I’d recommend eating at one of many casual options lining the street.
The third coolest bar in the world is a pretty lofty claim. But it was certainly the coolest bar I’ve ever visited. So if you are in Budapest, give it a try. It isn’t a secret but it is uniquely Budapest and it was a blast. Thank goodness friends drop in now and again to motivate us to explore.
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Categories: Insiders Budapest