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In Budapest – as everywhere – trends come in waves, and the romkocsma ‘ruin bar’ circuit must be one of the best examples. As the 21st century dawned, canny entrepreneurs, bored of the local drinking scene, bought up dilapidated buildings, installed bars, and filled them with socialist-era tables, chairs and bric-à-brac. Initially these ruin bars and pubs sprang up for a year or two, then disappeared or re-emerged across town. Occasionally they found permanent homes – and the granddaddy of these is Szimpla, which settled on Kazincszy Utca in 2004.
The second wave of purpose-built bars included Instant, Fogás Ház and Anker’t, all of which took a few décor tips from Szimpla. Meanwhile, greener bars appeared, such as Grandió and Kertem, a City Park gem. By then, ruin bars were changing the face of downtown Pest and becoming big business, and the third wave of romkocsmák included Ötkert and Doboz, which have well-connected businessmen behind them. As bouncers made dressed-up students queue unnecessarily outside, the ruin bar had reached maturity. Over the last couple of decades, ruin bars have become a huge draw for visitors. Without Szimpla et al, Budapest’s famed nightlife zone – and much of the city’s tourism industry – may never have existed.
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