“No one’s asleep yet, this is Budapest!” a man with a British accent barks into his phone. “It’s only 5 a.m.!”
Just then, a few feet away, another sound erupts, as someone’s stomach chimes in with an uncanny PSA about what happens after consuming liter after liter of Dreher beer. A splash of water from a bucket quickly follows, solidifying what we’ve learned after just one night in town: Budapest knows how to party.
It was just a few hours ago that we, too, were having drinks late into the night and wandering the streets, in awe of the air of fist-pumping celebration surging through the capital of Hungary. We’d arrived in the city that afternoon on a train from Vienna, harried from a not-so-smooth arrival at the dusty Budapest-Keleti Railway Terminal, where we discovered that there were neither street maps for sale nor ATMs in the station.
Armed with only the address of our rental apartment and with no Hungarian forints on us, we were at a loss as to what to do, until we spotted a few banks across a very busy street from the station. We lugged our baggage over, withdrew the much-needed forints and grabbed a cab, knowing full well that we were making a mistake.
Our trusty Rick Steves Budapest guide stated very clearly that visitors should avoid hailing a cab and instead always call ahead for one to avoid getting gouged on the price. But with no working phones and no street map, we’d hit the panic zone. In that moment, this seemed like the only logical way to get to where we needed to go, at whatever price the driver charged. (It turned out to be significantly more than what we’d pay upon our departure, when we called ahead.)
Despite the hurly-burly start, it took exactly one half-liter of Dreher beer at a ruin pub to jump-start a crush on Budapest. Ruin pubs are a characteristically Hungarian breed of bar that began opening a little more than a decade ago in abandoned buildings or homes. Many are in the city’s old Jewish Quarter (now known as the Seventh District), which has faced blight and decay since the 1940s, when Nazi troops killed and deported tens of thousands of Jewish residents.
Today, the ruin pubs are credited with sparking new life in the area and are a draw for both residents and tourists. We’d read quite a bit about the pubs online before traveling here, and we knew from the Web site Ruinpubs.com that there are at least 20 in Budapest.
Szimpla Kert, where we settled in, is one of the oldest, dating to 2002. More important, it’s just a few blocks from our apartment. Having tapped into the WiFi there, we’d downloaded a TripAdvisor app, which not only has maps, a compass and reviews but also works offline and ensured a panic-free trip from here on out. It directed us to Szimpla Kert with ease.