WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Budapest’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrockets as the country pulls itself from the shadow of its Communist past. And after a long flight in, you are going to need a drink.
By Matt Harper
A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a reputation for being Eastern Europe’s most beautiful city, Budapest has become a hot spot for world travelers since the mid-’90s, with hundreds of thousands of tourists flooding the city every year to soak in its architectural splendor, world-famous thermal spas, exceptionally vibrant arts and music scenes and notorious nightlife.
And for many visitors, it’s all about the nightlife.
While it’s no secret that Budapest is home to some of the best bars (and crowds) that Europe has to offer, option anxiety abounds, and finding the spot to suit your taste can be a Herculean feat. Here are five wildly different, OZY-sanctioned watering holes that will keep your thirst slated and your hunger for cool satisfied.
Where? Kazinczy St. 14, Budapest, Hungary, 1075
Tourists in the know and locals alike tend to agree that Szimpla Kert is the reigning king of Budapest’s hip “ruin pubs” scene. Situated in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, Szimpla Kert is a maze of bars, gardens and social spaces constructed of miscellaneous discarded items and detritus and housed in a formerly abandoned building that has been transformed into one of Budapest’s hottest hangouts. From live music and foreign cinema to swap meets and farmer’s markets, Szimpla Kert isn’t just one of the best places to drink a cheap beer; it’s a full-blown Hungarian cultural institution.
Where? Dob 20, Budapest, Hungary, 1072
Though widely — and falsely — regarded as producers of inferior libations vis-à-vis the celebrated wine-growing regions of France, Italy and Spain, Hungarian winemakers have finally begun receiving their due outside of their motherland and their products are showing up in the collections of enthusiasts across the world. Located in District VII near Budapest’s thriving ruin pubs scene, Doblo Wine & Bar is an upscale space that boasts a library of over 250 Hungarian labels, a healthy portion of which are available by the glass. From Hungarian Cabernet Francs that hold their own against the best the French have to offer to the illustrious Tokaji — an old-fashioned dessert wine that was a favorite of Beethoven, King Louis XIV and Napoleon — Doblo Wine & Bar is the perfect place for neophytes and connoisseurs alike to sample some of the best vino the country has to offer.
Where? Kazinczy U. 52, Budapest, Hungary, 1075
Pálinka is a patently Hungarian fruit brandy that, with its stiff composure, is equal parts remedy and ailment. While we recommend imbibing this spirit at one of Budapest’s popular Pálinka festivals, Abszolút Pálinka is our go-to drinkery when the need to indulge arises and there’s nary a gala to be found. Operating as both retailer and trendy lounge — with the requisite funky interior and youthful crowd — Abszolút Pálinka’s exhaustive inventory makes it the perfect destination for learning your way around this potent potation and source of Hungarian pride. Jacket optional; moderation strongly suggested.
Where? Anker köz 1-3, Budapest, Hungary, 1063
A world-class cocktail bar where you can sip an expertly crafted bourbon Manhattan or blow your annual bonus on shots of Kauffman Luxury Vintage Vodka, the Bar Budapest (formerly known as Bar Domby) is a favorite gathering place for Budapest socialites. This elegant yet small room is full by 8 o’clock on most nights, but the expert mixologists concocting craft cocktails from the 400-plus bottles on hand — and the beautiful crowd that follows — make the cramped environment very inviting.
Where? Szechenyi Bath: Állatkerti körút 9-11, Budapest, Hungary, 1146
Lukács Bath: Frankel Leó Street 25-29, Budapest, Hungary, 1023
When Saturday night rolls around, two of Budapest’s most popular thermal spas transform into carousels of hedonism. (Traveler’s tip: Szechenyi Bath is host for the festivities in the spring and summer months while the party swims across the Danube to Lukács Bath during the fall and winter.) These massive bath parties (aka “sparties”) can be likened to an Ibiza nightclub poured headfirst into a hot tub — with predictable results. And while drinking and swimming is generally an inadvisable blend of recreational activities, the likelihood of finding room enough to drown in such packed quarters is increasingly unlikely as the night goes on.
- Matt Harper, OZY Author Contact Matt Harper