Try to imagine: on a chilly night, young party-goers gather inside a two-storey former factory in the heart of Budapest’s entertainment district, where old computer monitors displaying psychedelic patterns line the walls in one room and in another, two guys sit in a bathtub cut in half. On the wall there is a note: “Sorry for your broken leg Rob!”, while on a wall, someone has taken a more serious approach, with a reference to a Dave Matthews Band song lyric: “Here are we on this starry night and I must say I feel as small as Dust lying down here.”
According to the locals, walking into Szimpla Kert in Budapest’s District VII is a bit like stumbling into the world’s most interesting junkyard: the once abandoned factory has different levels and lot of different rooms, each its own curiosity shop. There is a pub, whose its decor is a hodgepodge of items, including a kangaroo statue, a Trabant car (in which you can sit and drink), and a bathtub cut open on one side to serve as a couch. There’s also different graffiti on the walls, and the exposed brick conceals nothing of the building’s structural core. There are also disco balls hang overhead, upturned chairs, and plants in its large, open-air garden.
Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s first “ruin bar,” opened in a former factory in 2002, very different from the pubs often disappointing elegantly outfitted. The dilapidated area located at 14 Kazinczy Street was set to be demolished and the four owners decided to save the area from demolition and move their pub, originally a few blocks away from the factory, to this location. The new location opened as Szimpla Kertmozi (kertmozi translating to open-air cinema in Hungarian) because of the large courtyard on the premises that was used to watch underground and indie films.
Ruin bars have since become some of the coolest spots in the Hungarian capital, seen as successful endeavors at retraining decaying urban structures into lively communal spaces. Some of these buildings have tragic histories that cannot be overlooked, especially in District VII (also known as Erzsébetváros), which was previously Budapest’s Jewish quarter. Szimpla Kert’s itself was once a brick and furnace (even if some sources say fireplace) factory. According to some accounts, the Jewish factory owners were deported during World War II, and the building went through several iterations, becoming a furniture factory and a multi-family residence, before it was completely abandoned.
As part of an effort to revitalize the neighborhood, Szimpla Kert now hosts a special cultural hub in the city, such as by offering free concerts, art exhibitions, a flea market, farmers’ markets and various fundraising programs. In addition there are film screenings, theater shows, a “self-awareness disco,” and even a recording studio tucked somewhere in the maze-like former factory. During the day, the pub is open for food, coffee, live music, and pop-up exhibits. By night, the psychedelic lights turn on and indie bands take the stage. One curious bar offering is a jar of peeled, raw carrots, which are actually quite popular in Hungary. Carrots or not, both visitors and locals flock to Szimpla Kert for its singular decor, food, drinks, and music.