There's a fun and unique way to get to know the local scene in Budapest and that is to visit a few ruin bars. Ruin bars aren't what you think of when you think of a typical American bar. They don't have rowdy patrons. They don't pump out loud dance music. They don't smell of booze and cigarette smoke. Instead, there's a more laid-back atmosphere meant for friendly conversation. In fact, a sign stating "No bachelor parties allowed!" was prominently displayed at the entrance of one such bar.
They are referred to as "ruin" bars because they are built in abandoned buildings, stores or lots in the Jewish Quarter that were left in ruin after WWII. From the outside, all seems fairly normal. Once you walk in, however, you will find something truly unique. It started in early 2001 when a group of men were looking for cheap places to meet up with friends and grab a drink. Since these bar owners didn't have money to convert abandoned spaces into attractive modern establishments. They dumpster dived or visited flea markets to decorate them. A few artists have taken liberties with walls and ceilings. Each bar is unique and as eclectic as the next.
To get the most of a ruin bar experience, I signed up for a tour. Our guide introduced us to several bars, shared their history and presented us with several of the local drinks. To start, we had palinka, a traditional fruit brandy that the Hungarian's swear has medicinal and digestive properties. To me, it was more like tasting pure rubbing alcohol! More power to the Hungarian's for starting their day with this potent drink!
The next drink was just as much a challenge to get down. Unicom, another digestif, is made from a blend of over 40 different herbs and spices. Again, the Hungarians believe it has medicinal powers. (This may have been the culprit behind my friend's frequent visits to the restroom over the next few days--she shot down roughly 3 glasses of the bitter liquid that night!).
Sad to say, I'd almost take a glass of palinka or unicom over the next drink we were served. I can't recall all of the vegetables present in this one, but it was largely filled with chopped parsley. The fact that I had to "chew" the drink and the taste of parsley overrode any other flavor was enough for me to put the glass down. Parsley will forever remain a garnish in my house!
While trying these local specialties was loads of fun, I was thankful to end the evening on a high note with glasses of delicious local red wine. Seriously, the wine in Hungary is fantastic! So was the ruin bar experience!
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