6 Ruin Bars In Budapest

What’s something unique about contemporary Budapest? The answer, without a doubt, is ruin bars. These unusual drinking joints situated inside the neglected pre-war buildings of the old Jewish Quarter have taken Budapest by storm. Know before you go that ruin bars have become so popular that mainly tourists visit them these days. If you're looking for more locals, try these bars.

If you've spent at least five minutes researching Budapest, you must have come across Szimpla Kert, Budapest's iconic ruin bar. Likely you're also familiar with the ruin bar (romkocsma) concept: makeshift bars inside dilapidated pre-war buildings, many in the Jewish Quarter, furnished with clearance sales furniture and exuding an idiosyncratic atmosphere.

Szimpla Kert, which pioneered the genre, is no longer the offbeat bar it was when it opened in 2004 you'll likely have to navigate through camera-wielding tourists to approach the bar – but it's still worth a visit for the experience (prices have remained relatively reasonable). If daytime activities are more your speed, come for the Sunday morning farmers' market, taking place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. There's a still-functional mikveh, Jewish ritual bath, right next to Szimpla (#16). It's run by the local Orthodox community and serves as a reminder of the neighborhood's Jewish past.

Instant & Fogas Ház isn't so much a ruin bar as a massive entertainment complex inside a skeletal 1861 building in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Featuring more than a dozen bar counters and several dance floors, you can party away until the wee hours (other ruin bars offer little space for moving your feet). Drinks are pricey and customers consist almost entirely of tourists, with lots of fun-loving bachelor party crews from England.

Head to Mazel Tov if you like the ruin bar concept in theory but prefer things more upscale. This Middle Eastern restaurant inside Budapest's buzzing Jewish Quarter does have a disintegrating facade like other ruin bars, but the inside is a different story: Cheap drinks have been upgraded to cocktails, ham & cheese sandwiches to mezze plates, self-service to hostesses, and weathered furnishings to modern fittings with lush greenery.

The dishes arrive without delay to ensure that tables turn over quickly in this popular restaurant. The shawarma plate and the merguez, a North African sausage made from beef here and paired with beets, tahini, and matbucha, are reliable. You can safely skip the undersized and under-seasoned beef kebab. Cocktails and plenty of Hungarian wines are available. Reservations are a must as the place gets mobbed by people every day of the week.

Csendes is a ruin bar in downtown Budapest tucked away on a quiet backstreet. Unlike some other ruin bars with party vibes, Csendes is a mellower, sit-down venue best for conversations. This high-ceilinged space used to be a grand coffeehouse during the glory days of Austria-Hungary (1867-1918), which makes the current decor featuring a mishmash of furniture including creepy dolls hanging upside down from the walls all the more bizarre. Try to book ahead a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows.

UdvarRom is a low-priced ruin bar in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. Like other ruin bars, it's inside a weathered pre-war building, but the place is less creatively furnished and features items you'd normally not find in a ruin bar, for example flat screen TVs and punching machines.

Instead of the decor, the price points are the main draw here: wallet-friendly vodka shots and draft beers, hence the crowd of college students, both foreign and Hungarian. Note that the inside, once the courtyard of the building, is designated as an outdoor area so smoking is allowed and fully taken advantage of. There's a burger shop on the ground floor in case you want to keep your blood alcohol level in check.

Fifteen years ago, many bars in Budapest's District 7 (Jewish Quarter) looked and felt like Manyi does today: a run-down pre-war building transformed into a labyrinthine drinking joint and cultural space. Filled with a free-spirited local crowd, I’d call Manyi a ruin bar had that concept not been subverted and rendered meaningless by the stag party crowd that has monopolized Budapest's Jewish Quarter in recent years. Manyi, which is on the Buda side, is one of the more popular places currently among local twentysomething alternatives; all I ask is that you don’t ruin it (pun intended).