Why You Need to Visit Budapest's Ruin Bars

To walk into Szimpla Kert is to have your senses assaulted. Like all good bars, it fills your ears with a jumble of noise: music, clinking glasses, the mash of crossed conversations. But in all the bars you've ever stepped into, you've never had your eyes bombarded like this before.

Within its double-story maze of interconnecting rooms, walls are plastered with graffiti. Vines and carnival lights drip down and twine together into wild jungles, flickering silent films move across walls, and discarded doll parts serve as decorations. In one room a bicycle is strung from the ceiling. In the middle of a courtyard, an open-topped rusted car body serves as a dining booth.

Far from the deliberately-designed interiors of most bars, Szimpla Kert is an organic object of art, always evolving and yet never out of purposeful renovation or care.

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The appeal of abandoned buildings is undeniable and yet difficult to explain. A pub that exists inside one immediately has a gritty, grungy cool factor; an inherent spirit of defiance, of being anti-establishment. And yet there's something more, too. A structure that's been left to decay is a monument to passing time and the life cycle that’s essential to all things. It's a remnant of a world that no longer exists except in the ghost of memory.

So if ruins and derelict buildings are fascinating for all they represent — fallen empires, the gnawing of time, lost stories, the ghosts of civilisations past — then to not only preserve one but to repurpose it creates an intriguing contradiction. It's a way of giving life to something that's in a sense already dead. And there's something instinctively captivating about that.

Now a cultural phenomenon, Budapest’s ruin bars are fairly numerous. If you have the opportunity to visit the city, exploring at least one or two of them is a must-do — if not to contemplate life’s cyclical nature, then at the very least for the surreal decor, the melting-pot of clientele, and the overflowing shots of sweet Hungarian pálinka.

All photos by me. 

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