Budapest’s social scene is dominated by the ruin bars that occupy its seventh district. Once the Jewish quarter of the city, the district became dilapidated in the post-war years, and many of its buildings fell into disrepair. However, in the last two decades, its abandoned buildings have been given new life and filled with picnic tables, trendy furniture, art installations and beer pumps. Some of the best offer DJ nights, film screenings, farmers markets and art exhibitions, but there’s one name in this business that reigns supreme: Szimpla Kert. Possibly the city’s most famous nightspot, here we talk to its owner, Ábel Zsendovits, about why Budapest’s ruin bars have seen such resounding success.
Apart from being the original romkocsmák (ruin bar), what makes Szimpla Kert the best?
Being open to change all the time, developing services and programmes of a high-quality standard, and being the most environmentally and socially conscious ruin bar of all. We are the pioneers who’re brave enough to jump off the mainstream wave.
How did Szimpla Kert get its start?
Szimpla Kert was born out of the city’s need for a new style of community space for artists and entrepreneurs. Budapest in the late 90’s had a lot of huge, abandoned buildings. They needed to be used but also given a new, community-oriented function.
Now that the concept is so successful, do you ever feel like there’s too much competition? Have ruin bars lost their edge?
The style has definitely become a little diluted. In some areas, there are now cheap, low-quality drinking holes where people behave unacceptably. We’re constantly working to create a better environment for residents and our guests. The coming of Budapest’s new bar culture has had positive effects, too. Today, there are many new concepts, different kinds of small cafés, bars and restaurants.
Do you host events that draw in the crowds during the day?
We have weekend brunches every Saturday and Sunday morning, a farmers market every Sunday, and different themed markets and cooking events on selected Saturday afternoons. We also have live music and DJ events every night and also on Friday afternoons.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Budapest for Hungarian food?
I would recommend Kispiac. This is definitely the best.
Where are the coolest spots to hang out in Budapest?
Szimpla Kert; Madách square; A38 ship; Dürer Kert; Kőleves kert; Kertem; Gólya; Auróra and Grund.
What’s the most romantic spot in the city?
Szabadság Híd (Freedom Bridge), which is great to see the sunset, the Danube and the best of Budapest.
Which part of Budapest do you love most?
The seventh district.
What does Budapest offer that other European capitals lack?
A very unique mixture of architecture, amazing landscapes, great food and amazing weather most of the time. The excitement of a night in Budapest is only comparable to Berlin.