Since the fall of communism and the transition to capitalism, Budapest has become a beacon for alternative spaces that developed in the abandoned interstices of the city center, giving way to a vibrant nightlife of parties set in unusual places such as “Ruin Bars”, in “kerts” (gardens), and a series of community hubs and street markets. This tour with an urban historian takes you around the 7th District (the former Jewish district) as well as through a few edges of the 8th District where most of Budapest alternative spots are to be found. It can be a relaxing 3 hour daytime tour (2PM-5PM) full of bars, cafes and market stops as well as an evening tour (6PM-9PM) where we enjoy a range of wines and cocktails as our venues get busier and more energetic around us.
We love beginning at Gozsdu Udvar, a remarkable, 200 meter long courtyard that crosscuts 2 main streets of the old Jewish district, connecting seven buildings and six courtyards. Built in 1901, it was named after the Romanian-Hungarian philanthropist Manó Gozsdu who constructed it and also provided student scholarships to support the Romanian minority in Hungary. Though the complex was left to rot during the communist era, the whole courtyard was renovated just a few years ago and today it is filled with eclectic restaurants, bars, cafés and clubs. On Sunday, from spring to fall, there is Gouba, an open air market perfect for scoring some of the small local design items for which Budapest has become a trend setter in recent years. Poking our heads into Manó Klub or Kolor, we’ll continue to delve further into alternative Budapest, taking in the funky street art and the DIY ingenuity that infuses the neighborhood scene.
Kazynczy utca is probably THE Budapest street when it comes to nightlife. You’ll find nothing else besides restaurants, bars, hostels. Here we encounter the legendary Szimpla, the bar which plenty of hipsters have heard of well before setting foot in Budapest. It was the very first of “Ruin Bars,” fueling the trend started in 2000 as Budapest’s beautiful but crumbling turn-of-the-century buildings struggled to find new ownership and new purpose. Neighborhood entrepreneurs and activists breathed life into derelict buildings and spaces by making them collectives for a new era. Szimpla is huge, with loads of different functions fulfilled by each distinct space and room within it, even hosting a lovely farmer’s market on Sundays. On the way to Szimpla, we’ll check out the art nouveau orthodox synagogue and a Mikve, a Jewish ritual bath, both showing the increasing revitalization of the Jewish community of Budapest side by side with the city’s thriving alternative scene. Moving on to Akácfa street gives us one of our many chances to explore the district’s striking street art and see what’s up in Fogasház, another recent Ruin Bar and a big nightlife hit (if a bit more commercial) that hosts the finest techno club of Budapest on its first floor.
Crossing into the 8th District confronts us with a poorer neighborhood, home to the Roma community on its inner streets while nevertheless developing yearly due to EU projects. Here, we need to visit Műszi on the last floor of a quite ugly, communist era department store. This vast space is today abundantly and flamboyantly decorated in a DIY fashion and serves as a community forum which regularly organizes discussions, theatrical productions and much more. Műszi’s neighbor, Corvintető, offers us refreshment and panoramic views from its terrace from spring to fall.
Just a few hundred meters away, deeper in the 8th District, we’ll take a quick look at the charming tucked-away synagogue of Teleki Square, one of the last Jewish prayer houses left in the neighborhood. Our final mission however must be Auróra. Like Műszi Auróra serves as a flamboyant community space, built from the scratch by locals with a philosophy of social inclusion at the core of its activities. The owners used to run another venue called Sirály – a young Jewish community center opened to everyone but the city authorities decided to close it. Aurora thus sums up the phenomenal alternative scene we’ve encountered, as both a venue for resilient community life which also hosts raucous parties during the weekends.