We didn’t find corned beef and cabbage. Honestly, I suppose I never expected we would. During the search, I stumbled upon an advertisement for a party after the St. Patrick’s Day parade at a nearby Ruin Pub named Instant: Come join us for Irish food, music, and dancing. We figured, why not? Corned beef and cabbage, maybe.
Sundays are lazy. We pushed ourselves out the door, arriving just as a crowd started to gather near the locked pub doors. Soon, we heard bagpipes and looked up as the parade streamed around the corner. People of all ages and sizes swarmed towards the bar: some with painted faces, others in orange, white and green wigs or Guinness top hats.
A kilt clad bagpipe band (is that Irish?) stopped to play, while a bigger than life St. Patrick momentarily created a scuffle as his costume became hung up on a street lamp. I expected a small group of Irish and American expats, not a mob of this size with nearly everyone chatting in Hungarian.
Just as the parade arrived, the pub doors opened to the hundreds of people simultaneously converging. We almost didn’t go in, neither expecting, nor ready for, this level of madness. After a moment of indecision, we shrugged our shoulders. Let’s try it. We can always leave.
At the door, an Irish man handed out gold coins (or foiled wrapped chocolates depending on how you want to look at it). I asked if they were serving corned beef . “No, but we have Guinness beef stew just ahead at our kitchen window.” And of course, on tap – three dollar Guinness. Immediately, we knew we weren’t in Kansas or Kinsale or Killarney – even though the crowds were every bit as rowdy and hell bent on a having a good time.
Ruin pubs are unique to Budapest; large and abandoned buildings converted into multilevel, rambling networks of bars decorated in an eclectic mix of garage sale meets grandmother’s attic.
The hoard of revelers dispersed throughout the three story building as groups of Irish dancers and bands arrived and began to set up in individual rooms. We stood in the center holding our drinks not sure where to go – crowds everywhere. A young man began to sing one of my sentimental favorites; The Fields of Athenry. We elbowed our way into his room and listened for a bit. Eventually seats opened up, and we settled in for the entire set. The young Irish man, from his comments a singer on the Budapest Irish pub circuit, moved through a medley of folk and drinking songs as the crowd sang along.
Families with small children and infants nestled on the floor and on couches in the corner. Some people clutched balloons and streamers, others held hands. A pair of girls broke into a jig. We met a family from The Netherlands and an American man married to a Czech woman. Both families lived in Budapest. The Dutch man sang along to every song, never missing a word even during a change of pace as the singer switched to a John Denver classic, Country Roads. A group of 20-something women sang, danced and caroused. One of the girls grabbed a seat near us, chatting away; her brogue and words so classically Irish.
“I love Budapest. It’s class. I run the bridges at night. The views are class.” She shared that they did not party Friday night knowing that they must party Saturday through Monday nights. “Three nights of drinking seems quite enough, don’t you know?” Oh to be young again. As we left, she blew Pat a kiss – which instantly surpassed three dollar Guinness as the highlight of his day.
When we left our apartment, I expected to drop by the bar, scout out corned beef and cabbage, accept failure and return home. I would write a blog about my venture, including the realization that my quest – as is the case with most food quests – was doomed. Besides, corned beef is more traditionally American than Irish, right?
As we walked home, I realized food was never the goal. I was searching for a slice of Ireland; the music, good craic, family loving people, perhaps a pint of Guinness, We wanted to wrap ourselves in the sheer happiness we find nestled in the Irish fields and tucked along the shores of Courtmacsherry Bay. The goal was comfort, not comfort food. As the luck of the Irish would have it, that’s exactly what we found.
Here’s hoping you find your own slice of Ireland today. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Categories: Insiders Budapest