Friday, November 23, 2012

Ruin Pubs in Budapest

An interesting development in post-communism Budapest is the rise of the ruin pubs. Starting in the early 2000s, ruin pubs are just what you might guess from the name: places to drink in dilapidated old buildings. Abandoned factories, empty tenement buildings, and hollowed out stores have all been used to create eclectic and interesting bars. Often the decor is also salvaged from old movie theatres, community centers, etc. The venues are quite large. Sometimes the pub is one large space like a factory floor, where large crowds enjoy performers. Other times the pub is a labyrinth of small rooms with picnic tables, old couches, and random chairs strewn haphazardly. The pubs have become quite popular and a web site provides a guide to the best there is!

One night we went to Instant, which was surprisingly close to our apartment. It was the labyrinthine kind, with one large central courtyard bar and seemingly dozens of rooms on the sides connected by stairs and small passageways. The buildings used to be apartments. We were there on a Wednesday night and, while not packed to overflowing, the main room was quite full as were many of the side rooms. We enjoyed some beer and some exploring.

Main bar area in the courtyard

Us in a side room (I'm behind the camera)

For a bit of contrast, we also went to a wine bar to sample some of the local vintages. I think Hungary produces better wine than beer. We sampled some wines at Doblo near the Jewish district. They had Bull's Blood as well as other reds and whites.

Doblo wine bar

Another touristy thing to try is palinka, which is an after dinner liqueur. Usually it is fruit-flavored and very strong (around 40% alcohol content). I bought some at the duty-free Hungarian goods store at the airport. It is fairly nice and fairly potent.

Even more potent is the other touristy drink, Unicum. Sold in distinctive bottles, it was mentioned on our bus tour and on some restaurant and bar menus. The description on the bus tour said that a doctor concocted it in the 1800s from many herbs as a digestif. It has become quite popular and comes in a distinctive round black bottle. I bought a bottle at the airport as well (clearing out the Hungarian forints!). Trying it at home was a trying experience. It is without doubt the worst liquor I have ever had. Later some friends came over, and now we don't have any friends left! I'm exaggerating about the lost friends but not about the awfulness of this drink.

You can tell it was made by a doctor because it tastes like medicine

In an effort not to leave a bad taste in readers mouths, I should also mention that we tried some of the local beers. They were okay but paled in comparison to what we had in Prague. I guess Czech beer is better than Czech wine and Hungarian wine is better than Hungarian beer. The big local brands are Arany Aszok and Dreher, both good in their own right but not good enough to buy at the airport on the way home. Though I should have bought these rather than the Unicum!

Popular Hungarian Beers

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