The 8 Best Cocktail Bars Budapest

It's only been a little over a decade since Budapest's craft cocktail movement set in motion, yet dark cocktail dens and bow tie-wearing bartenders seem to be all the rage across town. 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 €10-13 – 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 party district. 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 are priced €10-12.

High Note Sky Bar offers some of the most impressive rooftop views in Budapest. To get to this swanky bar, you'll need to walk through the polished lobby of the five-star Aria boutique hotel 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 of the classics Sazerac, Daiquiri, Martini each prepared with a small twist (they cost €12-15). Mocktails, Hungarian wines, and snacks are also available. Although most enjoyable from the outdoor terrace in the warmer months, High Note also has a cozy indoor section that's open year-round. Reservations are recommended.

The Duchess is a panoramic cocktail bar in Budapest's downtown, atop the Baroque Revival building of 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 the 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, it offers a memorable experience 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.

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.

WARMUP is a small craft cocktail bar in Budapest’s party district best known for operating without a fixed menu; instead, customers have to put themselves in the hands of the bartenders. You give them a few hints, and they 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 simply just utter a few flavors like "sweet," "sour," or "dry," and you're unlikely to be disappointed by what they hand you.

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 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, finally 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.

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 hustle and bustle a few blocks away. Old photos and heavy crimson drapes evoke the hedonistic culture of the 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 nicely the heft of the spirit in the “Pálinka sour” and comes topped with foamy egg whites. They will also prepare classic cocktails upon request. Drinks range €8-11. Though not formally gay, Tuk Tuk, similar to the hotel upstairs, is gay-friendly.