A Brief History of Budapest Night Life
Just 5 years ago mass tourism was absent from Budapest and the city still smelled of post-communism. English signage was restricted to Vaci utca while Gozsdu was a sketchy place to buy underground party tickets. The capital has changed dramatically in the past five years and in this article we’ll look at the changes from the lens of night-life: how Budapest went from post-communist back-water to the booming party capital of Europe.
The rapid change of Budapest’s nightlife is emblematic of how a culture evolves as a whole: first the seedy red-light aspects, then the upper-middle class restaurants and finally the hip scene with a world renowned reputation.
Dokk Beach (the Mafia)
Hajogyari island, better known as “sziget” – yes that “sziget” – used to be the club island. And by clubs we mean old-school out-of-a-movie night clubs that are sorely missed in the modern Budapest scene. These clubs formed a row of “beach” theme clubs with pools and parties every Wednesday until being closed by the authorities between the 2012-2013 seasons. The scene limped on until the final party in early 2014 spelled the end of an era. To get the same vibe now you have to go to the boat clubs in Belgrade but that’s a bit too far for us.
Corvin (the Red Light)
Corvin Negyed is now the home of a bustling mall and modern office buildings but as late as 2010 you could still find street walkers all over this red-light district. This wasn't the only seedy place in Budapest, especially the still notorious Nyugati underpass where tricks could be found in the bathroom for as little as 1000 forints. Another shocker? Klauzal square – now the gentrified center of the Jewish district… used to be a needle park for heroin addicts. Go figure.
Raday utca (the Restaurant Row)
The first upper-middle class nightlife area was Raday street, right around the corner from the famous Marilyn Strip Club… It’s not just in modern time’s that sex and food go hand-in-hand! Raday now hosts a dense block of restaurants, patisseries and fast food joints, developing together with Hungary’s middle class in the 00s. When Costes received Hungary’s first Michelin star in 2010 the city’s reputation for high-quality well-priced dining began to spread.
Liszt Ferenc (the Parisienne)
A mile away from Raday right next to Oktogon stands charming Liszt Ferenc square, known for being more Parisian than Paris. This was the second hot-spot to develop with swanky Menza opening in 2003 and still going strong as the most popular food-spot amongst well-to-do Magyars. For a while Hooters operated in the middle of the square but for reasons we still don’t understand they closed in 2016.
Szimpla (the Trend-Setter)
While Liszt and Raday catered to the upper-middle class szimpla was of course the granddaddy of the ruin pub. Opened originally in 2002, szimpla shared a tunnel with her sister “dupla” up on kertesz utca (where the szimpla kavezo still stands) before moving in 2004 to the current location on Kazinczy.
Hungary took off as a hip tourist destination in 2013, turning Szimpla into Hungary's second most recognizable landmark after parliament. Before 2016 you could walk in any-time, any-day but by 2017 the queue became a permanent fixture on Kazinczy.
Instant / Fogas (the Next Generation)
When I first moved to Budapest I hung out at Instant and Fogas... and yes, they were separate back then. Instant was the best place to dance in the city, featuring the friendliest vibe where even Hungarians talked to strangers. With 6 dance floors, each playing their own beats, and many rooms to get lost in – including the famous “upside down room” – instant was hands down the best.
A kilometer away on Akacfa utca Fogas has stood for years. Starting with “Fogas haz” this played mostly electro music until the kert opened in 2012. A relaxing refuge from the jungle noise inside, the kert boomed in popularity and the venue has rode that wave into the mega club era it now enjoys.
Larm was the first “offshoot brand” to open, upstairs from the haz, followed by the “Erasmus room” in the back behind the kert and of course the instant/robot renovation happened in Spring 2017.
Gozsdu (the Future)
The first time I went into Gozsdu was 2012 when I was buying tickets for a party at an abandoned horse farm in the 20th district. There was nothing there… literally. In five years Gozsdu has transformed into a magnet for worldwide travelers and is still popular with locals. With everything from karaoke rooms to night clubs to innovative restaurants, it’s a damn cool place. Too cool, perhaps? I live in fear that soon a tent will appear over gozsdu with a neon-light show projected onto it. The antique cars in the middle… replaced by slot machines.
Viva Las Gozsdu anyone? I hope not.
Siraly (the Jewish Squat)
Siraly on Kiraly was an illegal Jewish Squat for many years before being shut down by the government in 2012. The building on Kiraly utca 50 in the heart of party central houses a bar, 80-seat theater and office space upstairs but still remains empty for reasons unknown.
After being closed the community split into three separate venues – Muszi, Aurora and Golya. Muszi stood in the Corvin Department Store until being forced out due to rent increases in 2017. Aurora is in perpetual trouble with the government for its ties to The Open Society Foundation and Golya is the more rough-and-tumble of the cousins, situated in a still-messy corner of Jozsefvaros (Yo- Yo – Yozsefvaros!).
Did we miss something? Have a story of an old venue you want to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know and be sure to subscribe below for more Real Perspective on expat life in Budapest. We've got tons of content coming to you in September including interviews on Budapest dating life, comedic street interviews with tourists and more about the secret history of Budapest's magic.
P.S. Improv classes start next week! He who hesitates.... Forget it about just click the link and learn more!