Most people who hear about Szimpla, the first and most well-known ruin bar in Budapest, know of it as a place to drink, see music or films, hang out and party. I found out about it because I was looking for a place to eat and it was recommended. By the time my friends and I got there it was past time to eat, and food is more or less an after thought, at least at night. They do have a legit cafe but it’s more a during the day thing. And it would be a good place to have a nice lunch in or sit the garden courtyard.
First off you may be wondering: what the fuck is a ruin bar? Well it’s very much as it sounds, an abandoned old building, that is pretty much ruined, that has been taken over by counter-culture types and transformed into a bar/club.
I see it as a legacy of the soviet era where the country fell into disrepair and people were poor. No investment was made in maintaining infrastructure, many buildings were abandoned and left to decay. It’s a credit to the entrepreneurial spirit of the folks of Budapest that not only have they found a use for these empty shells of buildings, but they have brought life to them. Szimpla is often called one of the best bars in the world by those folks who like to make list about such things. The night we went to Szimpla we also went to another bar, which was usually at one address, but had taken over this new place, it was kind of confusing, but fun and once we found out the real address we were suppose to be going to it was easy to find. Most of the ruin bars are in the 7th district which is the old Jewish Quarter. At night the entire neighborhood is one big party, dwarfing the madness of the Lower East Side in Manhattan and making it seem almost quaint and insignificant. Once we found the ruin bar we were looking for I was surprised how different it was from Szimpla which has an Alice in Wonderland non stop, graffiti ridden, art everywhere, projections, movies, performance and different design themes for each room (see the video below). It’s an orgy of excess where decay is celebrated.
Ankert is minimalist by comparison. It’s also only a seasonal affair. I liked this place, it was a beautiful summer’s night where you could sit under the stars and lanterns, drink beer and chat with friends. Or if you wanted to dance there were several dance floors and a young sexy ground. I kind of hated the angry dj and impossible to dance to music (though that may just be my age) and there was no food, which I was expecting, just saying that I think of the many ruin bars Szimpla is the only one with a cafe.
Yes I know I’ve been home for a month now so why am I still writing about it! Well I find ruin bars to be a unique phenomenon, made possible because of cheap real estate, creative business people, a willing culture that loves to have a good time and is perfectly suited to these sprawling clubs where exploring the building itself could qualify as a nights entertainment.Besides being a great way to spend a night out in Budapest, ruin bars, in their own small way represent the history of this great city, its slow spiral into disrepair and decay during the soviet era and the new life that is literally rising from the debris (or in the debris?).
I hope that the current far right government doesn’t take this new found zeitgeist and extinguish it by returning Budapest to the era that help create these ruins.