Ruin Bars and Alternative Communities in Budapest’s 7th and 8th Districts

Ruin Bars and Alternative Communities in Budapest’s 7th and 8th Districts

Ruin Bars 1Since 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.

Ruin Bars 2We 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.

Ruin Bars 3Kazynczy 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.

Ruin Bars 4Just a few hundreds 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.

Andras Schweitzer Andras Schweitzer is senior lecturer at ELTE University, Budapest, focusing on contemporary political history. He holds a PhD in International Relations (2006, Corvinus University of Budapest). Besides his alma mater, he took courses on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studied contemporary Hungarian history at the Eszterházy Károly Főiskola (Eger) and East-Central European history at the Central European University (CEU). He had worked for 17 years for HVG, Hungary’s leading political-financial-cultural weekly magazine („The Economist of Hungary”) as journalist and section editor producing and editing feature and news stories, interviews, reportage among them some award-wining ones. He covered a wide array of topics in- and outside of Hungary at conferences from Boston through Copenhagen and Nové Zámky to Seoul. His most recent articles appeared in The Guardian, in Hungarian Spectrum, in Intersections – East European Journal of Society and Politics, in The Hungarian Quarterly. He is a vice-chairman of the Hungarian Europe Society.
ZoltanZoltán Csipke was born and raised in Los Angeles. After starting his PhD in History at the University of Liverpool in 2006, he moved to Budapest in 2007 for his research, where he has lived ever since. Zoltán’s research focused specifically on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and collective memory, with a wider interest in the Cold War. He formerly lectured at Eötvös Loránd University and the Balassi Institute, having also been a senior editor at the All Hungary Media Group, where he focused on Hungarian politics and Budapest nightlife. He can frequently be found wandering the streets of Budapest with his camera as he indulges in his hobby of cityscape photography or providing impromptu history lessons at a table with friends in one of the city’s cafés or ruin pubs.
CsabaCsaba Tibor Tóth  born and raised in Szeged, acquired a distinguished interest in the history of his country quite early on, finishing his BA studies in 2010 at the University of Szeged, with a double major in history and cultural anthropology. On the cultural anthropology track, he finished a thesis on the beginnings of Hungarian Jewish Folklore in the 1890’s, then he expanded on with this topic at Central European University, where he achieved a MA with Honors in 2011. In order to study Jewish history and culture in a broader context, Csaba went through a second Masters program at the University of Southampton, UK in 2012. He currently works at Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Center in as a guide and educator, while regularly blogging in Hungarian about the country’s history and daily politics.

Hélène Bienvenu Hélène Bienvenu is a photojournalist, travel-writer and documentary filmmaker based in Budapest, focused on telling about the unknown and the little known in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, sometimes even stretching to Detroit, MI (where she produced a documentary). Though born French, next to Paris in 1985, she moved to Budapest in 2010 on a guidebook writing mission to Hungary for a French publisher and followed her instinct and passion for tricky languages. She has a master’s degree in international relations as well as a BA in Hungarian culture and language. She speaks Polish additionally and despite her love for Warsaw, she couldn’t resist Budapest’s calling. Passionate about the city's “Age d’or”, Helene relishes Budapest’s contemporary underground, hip and alternative cultures. She’s a four-season urban biker in the Hungarian capital, too happy to check new ruin bars and alternative theaters, try out the latest Hungarian cuisine or barista’s achievements and dance to the sound of a traditional Táncház orchestra. She blogs and tweets all about it on Spotted By Locals Budapest.


Additional costs:
Beverages, cuisine and design items are purchased independently. However, your guide is delighted to help you identify authentic local drinks, dishes and snacks and original design works by Budapest's trendsetting artisans.
Starting Location:
Blue Bird Cafe
Budapest, Dob u. 16,
1072, Hungary


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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