- Gödör Klub
- V. Erzsébet tér
- Open Sunday through Thursday noon to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 4 a.m.
- Metro lines M1, M2, or M3 to Deák tér
In the late 1990s, the foundation of a new national theater was being built at the site of the Gödör Klub when the government decided that such a large building would obstruct fresh air flowing into the inner city from the Danube. The site stood empty for several years, and became known sarcastically as the “national hole” until the Gödör Klub filled it. It now includes a park with a fountain, benches, and abstract sculptures, with a wide stone staircase leading to a below-ground, open-air stage and an indoor bar/café/art gallery with a glass roof (it’s directly under the fountain, so you can watch the water overhead). The place is popular at all hours—during the day for coffee, after work for drinks, and in the evening for art exhibitions and concerts (almost nightly, from blues to jazz and pop to Gypsy). Most people sit and sip beer from plastic cups while lounging on the staircase. Gödör’s location, where the three Metro lines meet, couldn’t be more central.
- VIII. Blaha Lujza tér 1-2 (entrance on Somogyi Béla utca)
- Open daily 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- Metro line M2 to Blaha Lujza tér
Until Budapest’s latest round of gentrification, the city boasted scores of inner-city courtyard bars that opened and closed in new locations each summer. Now many of the vacant buildings that used to house these bars are being bought and restored, and the bars have moved up to roofs (tető) and out onto terraces (terász). The biggest rooftop bar is the Corvintető (“Corvin Roof”) in the former digs of a state-owned department store. It became so popular that it expanded to the top floor of the building, which is broken up into several rooms. Each has a bar and a different personality, with enormously high ceilings, lanterns, red walls, and a raw, unfinished atmosphere. Featuring DJs, live concerts, and dancing, Corvin hits its apex late at night, or sometimes just as the sun is rising over the Buda Hills. Enter through one of two unmarked doors (identified by the big bouncers sitting outside), which make the place feel underground. The bar is on the fourth floor (the equivalent of the fifth floor for Americans—the numbering system is different), so if you don’t feel like a workout pick the second entrance, which has an elevator.
- A38 Hajó
- XI. Pázmány Péter sétány
- Open daily 11 a.m. to 4 a.m.
- Tram lines 4 or 6 to Petőfi híd, Budai hídfő
This converted Ukrainian cargo ship has been moored on the Danube on the Buda side since 2003. As a bar, concert venue, club, and restaurant it’s one of Budapest’s prime cultural spots, hosting a variety of world-class performers from DJs and pop stars to local folk singers and Gypsy bands. The concerts take place down below, while the bars are situated above. Cover charges range from $3 to $30, and the crowd varies according to who’s playing. During the summer the top part of the ship converts to an open-air bar, with foosball tables and another smaller stage for performances; here you can drink wine and beer from plastic cups while checking out the Danube and the new National Theatre and Palace of Arts buildings. The house wines—red, white, and rosé—from local wine shop Bortársaság are good, there are a few types of high-end pálinka, and the reasonably priced restaurant serves pretty tasty Hungarian dishes such as fruit soup, goulash, multiple versions of goose liver, and roasted Mangalica pork with Jerusalem artichokes. A38 also occasionally holds wine tastings and special events (like truffle dinners).
- VI. Csengery utca 65/B
- Open Thursday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., Sunday through Wednesday 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
- Metro line M1 to Oktogon or M3 to Nyugati pályaudvar
Pótkulcs is an expat favorite. It was among the first pubs in Budapest to adopt the now-ubiquitous style of makeshift Bohemian décor: oversize raggedy couches, coffee tables, and big factory-style light fixtures. The drink list is scrawled on a blackboard next to the bar and includes cheap house wine, Unicum, and plum pálinka; the kitchen serves good salads and Hungarian dishes, although you should be prepared to have a few drinks while waiting for them. With their high ceilings and chipped yellow walls lined with the works of local artists, the inside rooms are comfortable. But the outdoor “garden”—bikes piled near the entrance, the concrete patio partially covered by hanging vines and other plants—is the seat of choice during the warm months. Its rickety tables are packed nightly for frequent folk and blues concerts, and the cigarette smoke is just as thick as it is indoors.
- Szimpla Kert
- VII. Kazinczy utca 14
- Open daily noon to 2 a.m.
- Metro line M2 to Astoria
Szimpla long ago lost its status as the underground drinking destination, which it was when it first opened in 2001 in a much smaller location. But it’s still a hive of alternative coolness, with two Budapest offshoots and versions now in Berlin and Sfântu Gheorghe, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania. It occupies an entire disheveled, sprawling two-level apartment house with an illustrated map posted near the entrance to guide you through the maze of rooms. There’s a kitchen (open nightly starting at 6), a small theater screening artsy flicks, a shop selling trinkets and handicrafts, bicycle rentals, wireless Internet, art exhibitions, concerts, DJs, and a full program of other events including fashion shows, foosball tournaments, flea markets, and used bicycle sales. There’s even a nonsmoking room—a rarity in this city. Szimpla’s central courtyard is full of old tables and chairs, but the best seat is inside the open-topped green and yellow Trabant, the iconically flimsy communist-era East German car. Once just a seasonal bar, Szimpla has been winterized with the addition of a glass roof.
- IX. Ráday utca 34
- Open Sunday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Metro line M3 to Kálvin tér
The street on which Fecske resides—which is partially closed to traffic and lined with galleries, bars, cafés, and restaurants, all with sidewalk seating—is usually a bit too touristy. Fecske is an exception. It has a ground-level bar with café tables and original art on the walls. Then there’s the huge basement, which feels like a 1970s living room, complete with plaid couches. The most enjoyable thing, though, is to sit outside and people-watch on Ráday utca. High-end pálinka is served, plus reasonably priced salads, soups, pastas, and more substantial main courses like pork chops stuffed with sausage and smoked cheese. Fecske has a second location on the roof of a swimming pool (Fecske Terász, II. Árpád Fejedelem útja 8; +36-1-326-0714; open daily 10 a.m. to 4 a.m.).