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The weathered facade of Szimpla Kert ruin bar.

Ruin bars ("romkocsma" in Hungarian) are central to Budapest's contemporary culture, lending a unique feature to the city’s nightlife. They first emerged in the early aughts as places offering dirt-cheap drinks inside the open-air courtyards of dilapidated, pre-war buildings. Ruin bars are primarily found within the historic Jewish Quarter (the inner part of District 7), as this area was a fertile ground of abandonment following the 1944-45 Nazi occupation of Budapest and subsequent decades-long decline of the neighborhood.

As ruin bars became popular, individual owners responded by filling their spaces with second-hand furniture to accommodate an increasing number of guests. This resulted in a family of wildly eclectic interiors, where nothing matched but everything belonged.

Although ruin bars have both detractors and downsides—for example increased noise levels and littering are sources of frustration for people who live nearby—they have carved out a successful niche within Budapest. Alternatively, they can benefit neighborhoods by putting old, often vacant buildings back to use and revitalizing neighborhoods with an influx of young people.

Szimpla Kert pioneered Budapest’s ruin bar scene as we know it today. A group of creatively minded college students opened it in 2004 with a founding philosophy that still holds true: provide an open space for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Today Szimpla hardly resembles the modest bar of its infancy—it's one of Budapest’s main tourist attractions, drawing a crowd that consists almost entirely of tourists. Nonetheless, it's worth a visit for the experience. Szimpla is exemplary of fostering the local community. They regularly give platform to up-and-coming local bands, and every Sunday morning the space transform to a farmer's market run by suburban farmers.

Thanks to the success of the ruin bar concept, different adaptations have sprung up, including more upscale versions (Mazel Tov), and those across the Danube in Buda, away from its native birthplace (Szatyor Bár). Here's our list of the best ruin bars across Budapest.

One final note of caution: don’t be the one who is fooled by ruin bar copycats. As with any naturally occurring alternative scene, sanitized, less gritty options have flowered as the charm of ruin bars spreads into the mainstream. Trust your instincts: if the furnishings feel too perfect and the prices too high, you will know it's time to move on.

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