Ruins to Rebirth – Budapest’s Ruin Pubs

In the quiet heart of the old Jewish Quarter of Budapest, there is an unexpected emerging bar scene. From the abandoned homes and businesses, has grown an eclectic nightlife.

The Jewish Quarter is the smallest in Budapest, yet it currently has the highest population density. The Jewish district is full with the historical remains of the Jewish community that once thrived there. There are three synagogues in the area, with the Dohány Synagogue being the largest and, indeed, the second largest in the entire world. Sadly, the tragic effects of the Holocaust ravaged the area and stripped it of its population and identity.

Luckily, the Jewish culture is not only something of the past. The district is experiencing an amazing revival of Jewish culture, embodied by a wave of new and renovated Kosher restaurants and eateries popping up, helping to revive cultural traditions.

Szimpla Kert has the proud title of being the first romkocsma (ruin bar in Hungarian). First established in 2002 and then at its current location in 2004, as the owners tried to save the current building from demolition. Szimpla laid down the definition of a ‘ruin bar’. An cult icon. This ambitious mission to preserve the Jewish Quarter without its dark history of being a Jewish Ghetto during World War II, lies at the soul of the ruin bar.

Since then the ruin bars have become a bohemian mecca, with affordable drinks attracting a young and creative crowd. With art and graffiti by local up and coming artists adorning the walls and formulating a culturally creative haven. While ruin bars started as a grungy and gritty utilisation of derelict places, some places have now become elegant, with ‘shabby chic’ rather than just ‘shabby’.  Some bars only appear for a summer, some hold farmers or flea markets on Sundays, some hold indoor cinema screenings. Hidden rooms, underground electro or heavy rock, multiple dance floors.

Another benefit of the abundance of abandoned buildings that existed in the neighbourhood was that it gave local mural artists plenty of places to show off their street art. What started as ad hoc expressions, have blossomed into a rotating array of murals.

Indoor courtyards, mismatch flea market-esq furniture, graffiti, art and a disused car make the ambience of the bar. The venue is packed with tourists. Although, now probably more of a tourist attraction than a local bar, the wondrous mix of nationalities still results in a buzzing nightlife, and is an assault on the senses worth experiencing. This combination of new and old, history and art leads to an electric atmosphere – day and night – as the streets fill with a mix of happy locals and curious tourists. A delightful contradiction.

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