Walking into Szimpla Kert in Budapest’s District VII is a bit like stumbling into the world’s most interesting junkyard. The former factory has multiple levels and a maze of different rooms, each its own curiosity shop. Now a pub, 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 graffiti on the walls, and the exposed brick conceals nothing of the building’s structural core. Disco balls hang overhead, as do upturned chairs, and plants sprout up in its large, open-air garden. There’s a method to this madness, which is to elevate items that might be considered junk to the stature of high design.
Szimpla Kert, Budapest’s first “ruin bar,” opened in an abandoned factory in 2002, a far cry from elegantly outfitted trendy watering holes. Ruin bars have since become some of the coolest spots in the Hungarian city, seen as successful endeavors at repurposing decaying urban structures into lively communal spaces. But 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 space in particular was once a brick and furnace (some sources say fireplace) factory. By 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 vacated completely.
As part of an effort to revitalize the neighborhood, Szimpla Kert now hosts regular community events, including a weekly farmer’s market, a flea market, and fundraising programs. It is, however, most well-known for its decor and its entertainment. There are film screenings, theater shows, a “self-awareness disco,” and even a recording studio tucked somewhere in the maze. 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: a jar of peeled, raw carrots, which are actually quite popular. Carrots or not, both visitors and locals flock to Szimpla Kert for its carefully curated decor, food, drinks, and music.
Know Before You Go
The best time to go is in the summer months (June to August). If you want to avoid crowds, head there during the daytime.