The inner part of District 7 is also known as the former Jewish Quarter, because an increasing number of Jews settled here starting in the late 18th century (see an overview of Jewish Budapest). The city experienced rapid urbanization and economic development, and Jews were drawn by the flourishing business opportunities to which they themselves contributed. Also, they gained civic and legal equality in Hungary in 1867, sooner than in most neighboring countries. As a result, by 1910 more than 23% of Budapest’s population was Jewish (over 200 thousand people). The vast majority of them lived in what's today the inner part of District 7. The area was buzzing with activity, kosher restaurants dotted the streets, and three synagogues stood near one another.
The mutually beneficial relationship between Jews and Hungarians began to deteriorate after WWI, and culminated in the tragic events of the Holocaust. In the winter of 1944, Nazis and Hungarian fascists turned the Jewish Quarter into a ghetto and thousands of the inhabitants died of famine and starvation. A period of deterioration and hardscrabble life followed during communism - residents moved out en masse to better neighborhoods, leaving the housing stock in decay.
Today, marks of Jewish life are rapidly disappearing from the neighborhood. The three enormous synagogues (the "synagogue-triangle") with a largely vanished congregation is a reminder of the neighborhood's rich culture and ultimately tragic history. (Two of them are still operational, but with a small community - the orthodox synagogue on Kazinczy Street has less than a hundred members.) Only two glatt kosher restaurants has remained in the area, Hanna and Carmel. See the list of the best kosher or kosher-style restaurants in Budapest.
Today, these same streets and dilapidated buildings are home to revitalized Hungarian culture: bristling with shops, bars (including the world famous ruin bar, Szimpla Kert), cafés, and restaurants. The two most popular areas for going out are Gozsdu Udvar, a passage swarming with popular bars, and Akácfa Street, near Fogasház ruin bar.
However, District 7 is gradually becoming a victim of its own success. Mass tourism is driving up prices and local residents away from the area, and instead draws local thugs who're looking to make money off unsuspecting tourists. So it can be difficult to navigate your way through Budapest's packed party district and pick the right places, which do exist, they're just harder to find. This primer is here to help you.
While Budapest's top restaurants are located Downtown, the Jewish Quarter too, has now several good options for a tasty dinner. The hottest restaurants at the moment are Gettó Gulyás, with simple-but-delicious Hungarian flavors, DOBRUMBA, a chic Middle Eastern-themed restaurant, and Mazel Tov, a jazzed-up ruin bar. For a somewhat quieter and cozy atmosphere, try M. Restaurant. Know before you go, that most diners at these restaurants, just like at other ones in the neighborhood, are non-Hungarians (read: tourists).
The Jewish Quarter's whole bar landscape can feel overwhelming. Almost each street is dotted with popular-looking drinking joints. Kisüzem, a bohemian bar opposite a park managed to retain a mainly local clientele and serves a broad selection of premium rums from the top shelf. Nappali Kávéház has a similar profile, with the difference that it's stronger on the whiskey front and usually less crowded. Központ and Fekete Kutya are where Budapest's trendy left-wing establishment hangs out on Friday nights. Wichmann is a real hidden gem from the communist epoch, one that's been here way before other bars on Kazinczy Street. Look for a nondescript entrance and make sure to try their chicken schnitzel sandwich. Szimpla, despite its popularity and herds of camera-wielding tourists, is still the best ruin bar in Budapest. If you're serious about your drink, visit Boutiq Bar, an award-winning, speakeasy-themed cocktail bar (even if officially it falls outside the Jewish Quarter). Kőleves Kert, during the summer, is a relaxed outdoor bar in the heart of it all. With cheap drinks and an artistic-but-grungy interior, Dzzs Bár mainly draws a young, rebellious crowd.
Gozsdu Udvar, the long alley full of bars and restaurants, is probably best to avoid altogether. This is the favorite hangout for rowdy bachelor party crews, and the type of place where bar hostesses aggressively try to appeal to your lower nature.
An interesting phenomenon is how throngs of local teenagers, who've been priced out of the Jewish Quarter's increasingly expensive bars, drink away happily for a fraction of the price just a few blocks away at the dime a dozen bars along the Grand Boulevard (Erzsébet Körút).
Despite the crowded bar scene, District 7 has only a few options for dancing. One of them is 4BRO Downtown/Aether, a posh space blasting electronic music (in the downstairs section) until the wee hours. One can run into good dance parties at Beat On The Brat with alternative pop/indie beats. The most reliable dance venue in Budapest is Lärm, inside Fogasház, where international DJs spin ear-splitting electronic music inside a pitch-black dance hall.
The one and only green space in inner District 7 is Klauzál Square, with a beautifully refurbished market hall (Mangalica Mennyország, a food kiosk, has outstanding lunch prix fixe inside). This area is a melting pot of local residents who've been here for decades, many of them Roma families, mixed with recently-arrived trendy millennials.
Dominating the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is the 1894 building of the New York Palace. The grand revival building is best known for the café found on its ground floor, the New York Café. The ornate venue with marble columns, bronze statues, and frescoed ceilings used to be a notorious hangout for journalists, artists, and people from the movie industry. Instead of cigarette smoke and alcohol, today the space is filled with packs of tourists, enjoying live cabaret music while sipping on €7 cappuccinos. Inside the New York Café is District 7's one and only truly fine dining restaurant, Salon.
The outer part of District 7 beyond the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is the polar opposite of the Jewish Quarter - a sleepy working class neighborhood. Its most interesting part is Rózsák tere, a small square crammed with a Roman Catholic church, a Greek Catholic church, a Serbian school, and a Lutheran dormitory, serving as a reminder of the city's often forgotten religious and ethnic diversity. For a time travel back to communism-era dining, sit down for a lunch at Kívánság Étkezde. For those with a more refined appetite, it's worth trekking out to Olimpia, one of Budapest's best and most hidden restaurants that serves amazing Hungarian dishes prepared with a playful twist.