Ruin Pubs of Budapest - Where Time Stops
Szimpla kert

Visiting museums is not trendy anymore. Not in the era when almost all kinds of information can be accessed through a variety of databases, with the Internet to rule them all. What is still not so easy to get even in the age of Wi-Fi and 3G is a truly interesting and unique experience. Internet is not enough for that. That’s when ruin pubs come into play.

Ruin pubs, or also spelled “ruinpubs” are a particular attraction of Budapest. Many tourists, especially of the young cohort, come to the capital of Hungary specifically for the purpose of visiting its famous ruin pubs.

A ruin pub is an inversion of what is traditionally seen as a luxurious posh place, which is expected to be all polished, clean, nicely decorated and in most cases new or at least renovated according to a certain style of design. A ruined pub is the opposite of that – the messier it is, the less renovated, the more upside down everything in it – the better and, unexpectedly, the cosier. Though, of course, there is some inner logic in this approach, too. As a rule, ruined pubs are set up in the old and rather shabby buildings of the former warehouses or factories that were destined to be pulled down, with the old furniture and old used items employed for inner decoration. Surely, rules of safety are still observed, so that both the building and the furniture may be old, but still capable of performing their functions. Because of the traditional layout of the old buildings in Budapest, which used to have (and many of them still do) an open courtyard in the inside part of the edifice, ruin pubs are often a combination of a closed and open space. This allows for a variety of entertainment programs, especially in the summer.

The ruin pubs in Budapest do not constitute an established network with a compilation of certain rules of how things are to be done, and that’s where the beauty lies. Each ruin pub is unique in its style and in the way it positions itself.

The first ruin pub in Budapest and probably the most famous one is Szimpla (Szimpla Kert Budapest), which is truly an Alice’s Wonderland in the impression it creates upon visitors. There are two floors with numerous rooms, dozens of doorways and stairs, all open and dimly lit. And yes, there are writings all over the walls – and these spontaneous writings by the visitors are in fact encouraged. These graffiti are so numerous already that it would take quite some time to attempt at scrutinizing them in detail in each and every room of Szimpla, although sometimes surprising discoveries can be made there.

Pubs and bars, like shopping malls, are created in such a way that visitors are supposed to dive into the world different from what is outside and forget about the daylight with its troubles. Nowhere is it implemented better than in such a ruin pub as Szimpla, which would be expected to create a claustrophobic space of old and used things, but which in reality creates a cosy and feels-like-the-right-place atmosphere. One can say it also offers a creative space. Though you can hardly sit and work on something there, as people do it in the coffee shops and time cafes, it is the space that can inspire thinking and ideas. But Szimpla is not the only famous ruin pub, the other ones that enjoy popularity with the crowd are Instant (with a truly psychedelic interior décor), Corvintető (with the access to the top of the building in one of the central squares of the city), Fogasház, Kuplung and others. There are even special ruin pubs (like Brody House), which can only be visited by admitted members and where the whole ruinness is taken to a whole new level to be a new kind of “chic”.

When ruin pubs first appeared, they were mostly places for locals to hang out. Now, tourists put them on the list of must-see sights. Even more, ruin pubs are also frequented by famous people when they visit Budapest.

One can say that we get spoiled by the availability of commodities in the world today. In many cases it is often cheaper and easier to have a new thing bought than to fix the old one. And in this era, the attraction of the ruin pubs means that people are still drawn to the old and seemingly unusable, like people do cling to their memories. They say, don’t look back, the past will drag you down. And the ruin pub is a place where you can be amidst the old and the past, just subtly remind yourself of it, enjoy the cosiness of its atmosphere and draw inspiration from it – but then get back to your present reality. So, if – as a traveler – you were tired of mainstream places and all-look-the-same bars, ruin pubs would be the realization of your craving for an unusual and enjoyable experience.