There is a kind of architecture in Budapest that is mixing the old and the fashionably new. I’m on a mission: to visit one of the city's most famous kerts, arty pubs in derelict buildings.
Szimpla Kert, in the heart of the Jewish quarter, is undoubtedly the most famous kert in Budapest. Kerts, also known as “ruin pubs”, are buildings converted by a ragtag conglomeration of anarchists, artists’ collectives, squatters and hipsters into the city’s most enticing nightlife hangouts. I’m keen to see what all the hype is about.
Szimpla opened over a decade ago in another abandoned building close by, before moving to its current site on Kaczinsky Street in 2004. As I approach the ruin pub, I’m tempted to be cynical about Szimpla's underground credentials – the smokers lingering outside are mostly foreign, and a poster at the entrance advertising the “Szimpla Experience” at their on-site recording studio hardly bolsters Szimpla's bohemian image.
Then I enter, and the sheer enormity of the place overwhelms my doubts. Hidden rooms lead into one another – overturned bathtubs double as loveseats; radios are transformed into coffee tables. Vines tangle around the second-floor balcony, trailing into the covered garden courtyard, overflowing with several hundred dancing twentysomethings and one increasingly flustered Italian couple in their mid-60s.
Drunken revelers are also present, grinding up against uninterested Hungarian girls at the periphery of the bar, but the crowd seems far more interested in the open-air cinema than in counting Jell-O shots. I order a glass of tart Hungarian wine and find a seat. A young woman approaches, asking if I would like to buy a carrot. My previous experience with Budapest nightlife, leads me to assume this is a euphemism for something far less salubrious and decline.
Not so. She sets down an enormous basket of freshly peeled raw carrots before me. “It's a tradition we have here at Szimpla,” she says. She considers me, then goes in for the kill. “They're organic.” It's an offer so gleefully preposterous that I cannot refuse.
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