13 Communist-era Bars To Try In Budapest

Fueled in part by tourism, Budapest is quickly transforming into a cosmopolitan city while rapidly shedding its communist past. The bars below are some of the last vestiges of communist Hungary—go visit these time warps before they vanish. And, please, don't complain about the quality of wines, that's beside the point here.

#1 Bambi Eszpresszó

If you're looking to immerse yourself in a deeply local, communist-era neighborhood bar that doubles as a breakfast joint, I can't think of a better place than Bambi Eszpresszó on the Buda side. What makes Bambi the real deal? It isn’t trying to show off an artificial (retro), unremembered past—it’s a genuine throwback.

#2 Ibolya Espresso

Opened in 1968, Ibolya Espresso is an iconic café and bar in Budapest's downtown. Ibolya is deeply anchored in Budapest's collective memory as two generations of local residents have been coming here for everything from first dates to business meetings for over half a century. The interior furnishings are a genuine throwback to the communist era, featuring Mid-century modern-inspired light fixtures with orange plexiglass and curvilinear chairs topped with red faux leather upholstery.

#3 Grinzingi Borozó

Grinzingi is an unpretentious downtown wine tavern with a simple formula: serve cheap drinks in the center of Budapest that's otherwise teeming with overpriced, tourist-oriented bars. When Grinzingi opened in 1983, it was difficult to find decent wine in the city, so word spread that this wine bar served up low-priced, drinkable stuff. Fast forward 30 years, some of those early patrons still pay repeated visits, as do plenty of college students from nearby universities. The inside hasn't changed much. A dark wood-heavy interior evokes the atmosphere of the bar's namesake Austrian village (Grinzing, known for its wine taverns), and the weathered furniture bears marks of long, alcohol-fueled nights over its decades-long past.

#4 Mátra Borozó

Opened in 1948, Mátra Borozó is one of the oldest and quirkiest wine bars in Budapest, a genuine throwback. Instead of a regular bar counter, a simple metal box stands in the middle of the space equipped with containers that hold the wines.

#5 Tokaji Borozó

One of Budapest’s oldest and most atmospheric wine bars is hidden below ground on a quiet downtown street otherwise known for its antique stores selling expensive chinaware. Like other unchic, communist-era bars that have survived to the present day, this holdout from the 1960s—no one seems to know the exact year of opening—draws mainly long-time regulars from the neighborhood.

#6 Turiszt Büfé

That this unfussy, communist-era neighborhood bar right across the street from one of Budapest's most visited tourist destinations—the Dohány Street Synagogue—still exists is a small miracle. Despite its moniker, Turiszt Büfé, which opened in 1982, has never gained much of its business from tourists.

#7 Giero Pub

In present-day Budapest, if you find yourself in a place where a live gypsy band performs music, chances are that you've been sucked into a tourist trap. Overpriced downtown restaurants tend to hire gypsy musicians to fabricate “Hungarian vibes” for unsuspecting tourists. The reality is that except for the occasional wedding parties when such old-school songs may be performed, most locals, especially those below 50, are seldom exposed to this genre of music.

#8 Borpatika

Borpatika (“Wine pharmacy”) is a neighborhood watering hole in Újbuda on the Buda side. Not much has changed here since the place opened in 1986, which is, of course, part of its charm. Customers are a blend of students from the nearby Budapest University of Technology and downtrodden neighborhood regulars who come here for spirit-lifting liquors and friendly banter.

#9 Villány-Siklósi Winery

For a bit of time travel, you don’t even need to leave Budapest's downtown. The “Villány” in the name of this grungy, run-down neighborhood bar is tongue-in-cheek, because the wine they serve here is hardly the premium stuff from the Villány wine region. But that's beside the point. Places like this will soon disappear and be replaced by a swanky coffee shop, so take your chances before it’s too late.

#10 Piccolo Sörbár

Since its opening in 1997, Piccolo has been the go-to watering hole for many left-wing artists in Újlipótváros. For an outsider, Piccolo may feel intimidating at first as everyone seems to know one another, but don't despair—patrons are easy-going and often amusing, and it's easy to bond with them over low-priced Unicum (a signature Hungarian liqueur) and beer here.

#11 Szlovák Söröző

Szlovák Söröző ("Slovak beer hall") is an old-school bar located on a drab side street near Budapest's Nyugati Railway Terminal. The main appeal of this unfashionable haunt with weathered wooden booths is its longevity—the place has been drawing throngs of beer-loving men of all ages for over four decades. When I say men, I mean it: on some nights, not one woman is in sight, save for the waitress.

#12 Tóth Kocsma

Head to Tóth Kocsma if you're looking to immerse yourself in everyday Hungarian life. The main appeal of this unpretentious bar, which opened in 1987 and is located in a pricey downtown gallery district, is that it isn't trying to be more than what it is: a no-frills, low-priced bar. Tóth Kocsma is especially popular among groups of middle-aged locals, who tend to fill the tables in the evenings.

#13 Krúdy Söröző

Budapest's Grand Boulevard, Nagykörút, doesn't just separate the city center from outer Pest, it's also an unofficial dividing line between the polished and the gritty, the white collar and the blue collar (with exceptions of course). As a result, bars along here tend to draw people from all walks of life. Krúdy Söröző, an unpretentious, all-welcoming, communist-era neighborhood bar, is one of them. Despite the wifi and the flat screen TVs, the space feels distinctly 1980s, as do the prices.

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito and pays for his own meals and drinks.