9 Excellent Cocktail Bars in Budapest

It's only been a little over a decade since Budapest's craft cocktail movement found its bearings, yet dark cocktail dens and bow tie-wearing bartenders are all the rage currently. Discerning drinkers can sip both expertly prepared classics and contemporary concoctions, some of them made with local Hungarian liquors. The only downside? Price points aren't exactly wallet-friendly.

Hiding on a side street near the city center, Boutiq is an upscale cocktail bar that pioneered Budapest's craft cocktail movement under the helm of owner Zoltán Nagy. Maroon-colored walls and dim lighting project speakeasy vibes into the snug space, where each bartender partakes in a rigorous training process before being permitted behind the bar. They serve the drinks with a laser-like focus and a bit of theatrics.

The cocktail menu features a dozen or so of Boutiq's own concoctions, but they will also make a classic Manhattan or Sazerac if that's more your speed. For a local angle, try the Budapest Spritz, featuring Unicum, the iconic Hungarian herbal liqueur. Boutiq Bar isn't cheap – most mixed drinks run €12-16 – but the place can stand up to any cocktail bar around the world, both in terms of ambiance and technical knowledge. Advance booking is recommended for Fridays and Saturdays.

Hotsy Totsy is a dim, below-ground cocktail bar within Budapest's lively Jewish Quarter. Instead of a fixed menu, bartenders prepare bespoke drinks based on customers' taste preferences. For example, if you tell them you like Fernet-Branca, the Italian amaro, they’ll offer a Hanky Panky (gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet) without a moment’s hesitation, perhaps along with a complimentary shot of Fernet’s Menta line.

The bartenders are similarly well-versed in contemporary cocktails my Penicillin was as good as those in New York City, the drink’s birthplace. The swanky leather banquettes and playful paintings on the walls add an air of irreverence to the speakeasy vibes. Cocktails run €10-13.

Located atop the five-star Aria boutique hotel in the city center, High Note Sky Bar offers some of the most striking views of Budapest. To reach the bar, you'll need to trek through the polished hotel lobby and take the elevator to the top floor. The panorama is truly stunning: the Liberty Statue, the Buda Castle, and the St. Stephen’s Basilica all appear within arm’s reach, which in case of the church is practically true.

The cocktail menu features many classics – Sazerac, Daiquiri, Martini – each prepared with a small twist. Mocktails, Hungarian wines, and snacks are also available. Although most enjoyable from the outdoor terrace in the warm months, High Note has an indoor section that's open year-round.

Warmup is a small craft cocktail bar in Budapest’s party district that operates without a fixed menu; instead, customers have to provide a few hints to the bartenders and trust them to take care of the rest. Do you enjoy rum with a spicy kick? A Dark 'n' Stormy it is. Are you a Negroni fan but don't mind a little creativity? They'll swap the gin for silky Unicum Riserva, a local liqueur. You can also just utter a few flavors like "sweet," "sour," or "dry," and unlikely to be disappointed by the result.

Warmup is one of the more laid-back cocktail bars in Budapest. Speakeasy vibes don't reign supreme and the bartenders eschew the standard cocktail bartender uniform no bow ties, vests, and suspenders here.

While Budapest's party district in the Jewish Quarter has long been teeming with specialized cocktail bars, downtown didn't have much to offer when it came to discerning drinking joints. Good Spirit Bar, which opened in 2017 on a quiet cobblestoned street, filled the void in the city center's lackluster bar landscape.

Half cocktail bar, half whisky bar: the bartenders here can just as well serve you an excellently prepared Negroni as a rare Japanese single malt from the hundreds of bottles on the shelves. There's an actual whisky store inside in case you'd like to stack up on premium bottles. Being in downtown, Good Spirit draws mainly tourists, especially a slightly older crowd compared with the bars in the Jewish Quarter's party district.

Virtu is the rooftop restaurant of the Norman Foster-designed MOL Tower, Budapest’s recently completed tallest building. The 360-degree views provide astonishing vistas and restaurant guests receive free access to the observation deck above. Depending on your definitions, Virtu falls between an elegantly fashionable and a casual fine dining restaurant.

Head-chef Levente Lendvai came from the hushed Michelin world as evidenced by the presentation of his plates, which are often layered with fish of all kinds. The trout crudo served with orange roe and seasonal vegetables and the generously portioned sturgeon variations are especially convincing. More highlights: the foie gras-rhubarb creation with a side of homemade braided bread, and the Palóc soup (€12), a dazzling riff on a Hungarian classic: sour, silky, charred. Mains range €17-35, meaning that a reasonable and a lavish meal are both an option. The wine list covers all of Hungary and more.

Of the two symmetrical dining rooms, try booking to the northern side, which faces the city center (the open kitchen on the other compensates for the quieter views). There's a cocktail bar within the premises if just a drink with a view is what you're after. Advance booking is a recommended.

Tuk Tuk is a tiny cocktail bar nestled on the ground floor of the Casati boutique hotel. Being on a quiet street just outside Budapest's party district, Tuk Tuk is a perfect hideaway from the commotion a few blocks away. Old photos and heavy crimson drapes evoke the hedonistic culture of 1920s-Shanghai inside this dark drinking den.

The skillful bartenders don't shy away from using Hungary's potent national fruit brandy, the pálinka: The almond-flavored amaretto liqueur balances out the heft of the spirit in the “Pálinka sour” and comes topped with foamy egg whites. They will also prepare classic cocktails upon request. Though not formally gay, Tuk Tuk, similar to the hotel upstairs, is gay-friendly.

Even among the numerous speakeasy-themed cocktail dens in Budapest, Black Swan tops the list for being the darkest and most exclusive. It’s one of those uppity places where heavy red drapes block the view from outside and whose private room draws the local elite if you enjoy an upscale experience, it will be right up your alley.

Black Swan has some of the widest drink selections in Budapest as evidenced by the bartenders having to use a sliding ladder to retrieve bottles from the top shelves. Apart from all signature cocktails, there's a dozen or so bespoke concoctions including a truffle Negroni and a Red Bull-laced “Energie Daiquiri.” I've experienced some inconsistency across the cocktail bartenders depending on who prepares your drink, you may be in for a perfectly layered Gin-Gin Mule or an indistinct Penicillin.

The Duchess is a panoramic cocktail bar in Budapest's downtown, atop the five-star Matild Palace hotel. The views are hard to beat – Elizabeth Bridge, Gellért Hill, and Budapest’s densely built downtown all emerge before you as a surreal stage design. The Duchess' moniker honors Archduchess Clotilde, a granddaughter of French King Louis Philippe I, who lived in Hungary and commissioned this Baroque Revival building in 1899.

Customized and classic cocktails are both available and expertly prepared, as are small plates to share (smoked salmon with blini!). The Duchess isn’t exactly wallet-friendly, but, budget permitting, a memorable way to see the city from up above. In the winter, the activity shifts to the inside, but access to the outdoors is available for a peek.