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Shabby is the chic thing at Budapest's "ruin pubs"
August 1, 2007 / 12:31 PM / 10 years ago

Shabby is the chic thing at Budapest's "ruin pubs"

Guests drink at Corvinteto, a new "retro" pub, in Budapest on the roof of an old department store July 27, 2007. REUTERS/Karoly Arvai/Files

BUDAPEST (Reuters Life!) - Take an empty plot of land or a rundown rooftop in central Budapest, add old furniture, some communist memorabilia and serve drinks - the result is a hit with Hungarians and visitors to their capital alike.

What locals call “ruin pubs” and English guides refer to as “kerts”, from the Hungarian word for garden, has turned the run-down streets of the old Jewish quarter into a thriving entertainment venue.

At Szimpla Kert, one of the popular bars, plaster crumbles from the facade and bare bricks cover the walls of the courtyard, with flowers planted in old sinks mounted on the wall next to old wooden tram seats.

Guests drink, work on laptops or watch movies in the outdoor cinema, in seats collected from old communist cars.

“Even if we could now buy new Italian designer furniture, it would be foolish,” said Attila Kiss, 32, one of Szimpla Kert’s four owners.

Szimpla Kert is not intentionally made to appear run-down, the owners were just trying to preserve the beauty of old things, Kiss said.

“It is not part of the concept that it must be shabby,” he said.

But buying new chairs would actually cost less than fitting out a whole cinema with seats of Trabants, the smoke-belching car that was made in the former East Germany, and Polski Fiats, another tiny car that was made in Poland.

“It brings back childhood memories,” said Jurek Dziegielewski, who had come to Budapest from Poland on a business trip.

“It’s like playing with the kids from the neighbourhood, but now you have alcohol.”


Another guest said the bars could not perfectly reproduce what it felt like to grow up under the dictatorship, which ended in Hungary in 1989.

“Retro is in fashion now,” said Gabor Bela Szabo, drinking beer with friends.

“But we did not go to such places under communism.”

But most people in Budapest obviously have not had enough of this sort of nostalgia, and what started off as an idea of a group of friends is now a successful business model.

The latest favourite just a few blocks from Szimpla Kert is a pub called Corvinteto, on the roof of what was one of Budapest’s main department stores before the change of regime.

“The Corvin is not just any building,” said Peter Stern, one of the pub’s owners.

“It means something for everyone in their 20s or 30s. They definitely know it and it is likely that their mother bought their first school uniform here,” Stern said.

Stern, 34, said Corvinteto, whose slogan is “Underground above the city”, may not be around for more than a couple of years as the old building underneath will sooner or later be renovated or sold.

“Eventually the buildings where the ruin pubs were will be demolished,” he said.

“None of them can avoid their fate.”

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