When the temperature drops and there’s frost on the cobbles, what better way to recharge than by ducking into a cosy pub or lively bar for a warming libation? Thanks to the Hungarian predilection towards the odd alcoholic beverage, there are plenty of Budapest bars to choose from – and an ever-growing selection of winter warmers to discover. Sure, the country’s known for exporting some pretty punchy numbers, including the traditional Unicum and Pálinka, but Budapest is also home to a thriving bar scene, with many modern concoctions gracing ever more ambitious menus (when there is a menu). From locations like Doblo Wine Bar to made-to-measure drinks at the aptly named WarmUp, or traditional Hungarian cocktails at KIOSK Budapest, this city knows how to ward off winter’s nip.
This cosy wine bar in the Jewish Quarter, with its exposed brickwork and low ceilings, is the perfect snug to hunker down with a bottle from their expansive, Hungarian-focused wine list. However, what really piques our interest is their selection of pálinka – the famed Hungarian fruit brandy that’s effectively central heating in a tulip glass. Invented in the middle ages, it’s protected under EU regulations, meaning true pálinka can only be made, bottled and created from fruits grown in Hungary. Doblo Wine Bar has plenty of varieties to choose from, including a wintry plum version, and even offer pálinka tasting classes.
If Doblo is one of the more traditional Budapest bars on our list, then WarmUp is the complete opposite. This stylish yet unpretentious bar in the 7th District has a reputation for its highly creative concoctions. So creative, in fact, that they don’t even bother with such a staid convention as a drinks menu. All you have to do is explain what flavours you like and what mood you’re in and the expert bar team will design a cocktail for you on the spot.
With its strikingly theatrical interiors – the place was renovated by a group of young Hungarian artists – and close alliance with the local art and literary communities, Púder Bárszínház’s atmosphere is warm, inviting and quirky without being too try-hard. Yes, it is a ruin bar, albeit one with an engaging programme of events, so you can expect a younger, stylish crowd. That being said, what is a visit to a ruin bar without a shot of Unicum? Or, if you prefer, opt for a steaming mug of mulled wine to keep the cold at bay.
Another standout amid Budapest’s increasingly crowded cocktail landscape, KIOSK Budapest’s line in traditional warming drinks is what earns this bar a place on our list, particularly for their hot plum wine. What’s more, their dedicated Hungaricum (meaning something uniquely Hungarian) menu takes traditional Hungarian flavours and components and twists them to delicious breaking point. We’re particularly fond of the Elixirium Hungaricum, which blends Muskotályos Palinka with grapes, sugar syrup, lemon juice, mint and soda. The bar’s elegant setting right next to the Danube also adds to its ambience.
Like some of the best Budapest bars, the relatively new Aznap keeps things simple: inviting ambience, friendly staff and a decent drinks menu. Don’t be put off by the mismatched soft furnishings and crumbling brickwork, this is a cut above the area’s ruin bars and pubs and a great spot to grab a Unicum, Hungary’s famous herbal liqueur. If you find it a touch medicinal (well, it was created by Dr. József Zwack, the Royal Physician to the Habsburg Court), some establishments’ menus suggest a shot of Unicum with a beer chaser. Worth a try if you’re really feeling the chill? Or perhaps not.
Deep red walls and a tucked-away underground location make Boutiq’Bar one of the best Budapest bars to escape the winter chill. It’s a bit too cool in here to count as cosy, though. Tongue-in-cheek cocktails such as the heart-warming, maple syrup-infused Budapest Barbecue and the witty milky Rye ’n Goslings are ingeniously served in tin cans, jam jars and lab beakers. For those seeking a tumbler of something a little more down to earth, Boutiq’Bar has a great selection of whiskeys that are sure to warm the cockles.
Tucked away in the Jewish District is Gozsdu Passage, lined with a thrumming collection of the loveliest cafés and bars in Budapest. The canopy of twinkling fairy lights lends the busy little tunnel and courtyard a cosy atmosphere after dark, and there are plenty of toasty little enclaves to duck into for a warming shot of pálinka or a glass of red. The ever-popular DiVino Wine Bar serves an excellent Tokaji and Bull’s Blood, with blankets for those braving an al fresco table.