Based in the city’s Jewish Quarter, this is easily the best-known romkocsmák (ruin bar) in Budapest. In fact, it's the much-copied OG joint that started the trend. Szimpla Kert draws a pleasingly mixed, old-young, gay-straight-whatever crowd most nights of the week with its retro-cool furniture, maze of rooms and reliably upbeat late-night live-music parties and open-air garden cinema. If you’ve only got time for one, this is your go-to.
Szimpla Kert, Kazinczy u. 14, District 7
If the whole tumbledown ruin bar aesthetic feels a bit too studenty, don’t sweat it: this huge, boho-chic Jewish Quarter bar-restaurant does the upscale-but-not-up-itself take on the romkocsmák. A table at the courtyard here is currently one of the coolest places to be any night of the week: not just for the vibe and pretty crowd but the menu of amazing, Jewish-Middle Eastern soul food. It's super popular but luckily, it takes bookings.
Mazel Tov, VII Akácfa utca 47, District 7
What do you do when you’ve got the oldest tree in the Jewish Quarter in your romkocsmák courtyard (some three centuries old, apparently)? Naturally, do like Doboz – meaning 'box' – and hang a giant King Kong on it. Still, it’s a fitting quirk to this slightly fancified class of ruin bar that’s actually more of a big-sound superclub than a cracked-wall hangout. But, hey, it works: for something at the shirt-and-skirt end of the city’s nightscape, this is where it’s at.
Doboz, Klauzál utca 10, District 7
Szatyor Bár és Galéria
Complaints that some ruin bars have become a bit touristy are not totally unfair (well, in summer, anyway). Even so, this beautiful cafe-bar on the Buda side of the Danube feels a bit more local with its bright, crayon-box colour scheme, arty interior and reliably rarefied roster of cultural goings-on. Solid, good-value Maygar cooking adds to the allure on weekday lunchtimes.
Szatyor Bár és Galéria, Bartók Béla útca 36, District 11
For fully avowed hopheads or just the craft-beer curious, this industrial-chic brewpub with a large covered courtyard in south Pest’s District 9 is the must-stop. Expect at least 20 ales on tap, some experimental, some not – you won't be judged for just chugging a pilsner or session IPA and chilling with some beer food like the absurdly good plate of roast-pork knuckle, potato and pickled gherkin. Reservations are probably a good idea on weeknights.
Élesztőház, Tűzoltó utca 22, District 9
Instant & Fogas Ház
Once two separate entities, these two well-liked romkocsmák merged in 2017 to become a single, self-styled 'party complex' which, like Doboz, feels more like a big club than anything remotely close to a pub. No complaints here, though: each room has a sound that’s all its own: Robot does indie-rock-industrial, Underwelt takes care of the R&B-inclined while Frame does Latin beats. Or just head to chill rooftop hang-out Liebling for cocktails and eye-candy.
Instant & Fogas Ház, Akácfa utca 51, District 7
Csendes Vintage Bar & Café
Bang in the middle of town, and with the classic, eccentric-chic look, this is the clever-quiet type of Budapest ruin bar. Meaning there’s no dancefloor here, just a warm, cosy atmosphere in a former Austro-Hungarian coffee-house with fairly priced drinks and well-arranged tables. It's popular with the city’s chattering creative class who usually keep this place gently buzzing until 2am most weekends.
Csendes Vintage Bar & Café, Ferenczy István utca 5, District 5