By: Vincent Ventura
Never did I expect to visit Budapest, Hungary. Yet here I was on a foggy, February night overlooking the Danube River and the massive Hungarian Parliament building. Even after a day of exploring the crevices of mountaintop castles and sipping spicy goulash, I did not know how I felt about the Hungarian capital. Maybe it was the damp weather but my first impressions were rather… cold.
This all changed when I entered Szimpla, the oldest of Budapest’s ruin bars. Let me preface this description by saying that I do not consider myself a person who “goes out” but rather a person who “likes to have fun.” With that being said, the moment I walked into this bar, I felt electricity. Szimpla was surging with life, exuberance, and fun. It was like no place I had ever been before. No wonder this bar has constantly ranked among the world’s best bars.
The Ruin Bar or Pub is a contradiction, building upon the ruins and remnants of old industrial spaces. To enter Szimpla, you have to enter through a series of clear, warehouse film doors. You’re kind of confused because it’s dim, only trickles of light glowing in the distance. You proceed and the building begins to unfold before your eyes, the smell of sweet hookah in the air. What was once an old apartment building is now an indoor amusement part, surging with color and life. The walls are covered in everything. Local art, street art, candy-colored bulbs, upside-down bikes, graffiti, and disco balls. People sit in repurposed vintage cars and abandoned telephone booths, sipping drinks in the many rooms that trickle off the main passageway. It sounds surreal, almost like that episode of Girls when they go to that warehouse party. Only this isn’t Brooklyn – it’s Budapest.
The people are diverse: both young and old, and local and foreign. The playlist shifts on a song-by-song basis. One moment the DJ is playing salsa, the next he is playing electronic. Especially with the current currency exchange rate, everything is unbelievably cheap. Hungary uses the Forint, not the Euro, meaning you will be saving some serious cash. So you’ll be able to try some of the ridiculous, cheap Hungarian beer. I remember we were buying full steins of beer for mere dollars.
Beyond the incredible ambiance of Szimpla and the Ruin Bar is what it truly stands for. In a post Iron Curtain Hungary, this bar represents something new, exciting and expressive. The Ruin Bar strives to become something more than a place to just grab a drink but instead, a place where culture is generated. Local artists display their creations everywhere and play their music. In the daytime, the space turns into a flea market selling both fresh produce and handcrafted goods. Here, voices that have been previously silenced have a place to be heard. In my opinion, this makes the Ruin Bar that much better.
There are several ruin bars and pubs in Budapest, each with a particular identity, aesthetic, and vibe – I just happened to adore Szimpla. Although different, each contributes to the nightlife and Budapest’s culture in a unique way.
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