The next Buda neighbourhood due for revitalisation, the Margit Quarter spreads either side of the Nagykörút as it runs from Margaret Bridge to Széll Kálmán tér. Served by the ever-busy 4/6 tram route, its many empty shops and offices are ripe for redevelopment, a situation currently being addressed by an initiative to encourage new galleries, boutiques and businesses to set up here. We took a walk around this lesser-visited part of Buda to see how it looks today.
Where Bambi, Gül Baba and Beat on the Brat all meet – a walk around the Margit Quarter
Change is in the air around the Margit Quarter. From the spring of 2021, with the launch of a programme to revitalise the locality and find new owners for the many derelict premises here, cultural and community initiatives have been initiated, existing service providers have come together and local residents have been actively participating in the renewal.
We took a walk on and off Margit körút to check out our favourite places, investigate a few new ones and assess how this local urban development is shaping up.
Taking our recent stroll along trendy Bartók Béla út as an example, with its cool cafés, galleries and shops, Margit körút seems to have huge potential for the future.
Walking towards the area from Margaret Bridge, however, the first places you see have long been with us. At the gateway to the Margit Quarter, the Bem cinema first opened in 1908 and now specialises in screening English-language films. So popular its regulars clubbed together to save it during pandemic restrictions, the venerable Bem also features a bohemian bar overlooking the körút, open from mid-afternoon.
In the mornings, however, you’re best heading to a café with a certain literary atmosphere. Bookta started out as the Balassi Bookstore in 1991. More recently, the incoming owner embodied this same spirit by creating a café with a terrace looking towards Margaret Bridge. Within, sunlight streams through over artwork and shelves containing 2,000 books.
From here, it’s a steep climb up cobbled,
handrail-lined Gül Baba utca to the tomb of the Ottoman poet of the same name.
Gül Baba had accompanied Turkish ruler Sultan
Süleyman the Magnificent here to Hungary but died shortly after the Conquest
of Buda in 1541. The sultan himself attended his funeral. The mausoleum was
restored in 2018, when the
leaders of Hungary and Turkey attended the ceremony.
From here, the views over the residential Buda neighbourhood of Rózsadomb are sublime – it is said that the roses of ‘Rose Hill’ were introduced to Hungary by Gül Baba himself. Recently installed benches allow you to sit and admire the restored gardens.
Climbing further up, you get even better views from Mansfeld Péter Park, the city and its key sights spread out beneath your feet. The area was named after a teenage martyr of the 1956 Uprising whose statue stands ominously boxed in by concrete.
Descending back onto Margit utca, you find delicious sandwiches and smoothies at Törökméz (‘Turkish Honey’). Nearby stands the Fountain of Youth statue created by Fülöp Ö Beck, in place since 1949.
Reviving cultural quarter
Walking further down, you come to Mechwart liget, the
hub of the recently instigated Margit Quarter. Your first port of call may be the Start Gallery, where creative Angelika Analóg has been quick to take advantage of the attractive business rates for cultural undertakings. A beautifully renovated room provides a handy showcase for young artists and serves as a meeting point for a burgeoning community.
Nearby, the pop-up exhibition space of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts, MKE-PROFIL, is also open to the public.
Across Margit körút, don’t miss the Víziváros Gallery,
active since the 1970s, where domestic and foreign artists exhibit contemporary
works. At Margit körút 16, the grassroots MANYI – Cultural Workshop hosts parties, concerts, exhibitions, performances, a film club, markets and a
range of community events.
Alongside at No.20, the Kolibri Art Studio Europe opens on 1 March, its mission to make American Pop Art, Art Deco and fine art available to Hungarian collectors. It was founded by Bernard Barna Fekete, who fled Hungary as a teenager for the States in the early 1970s and ran a successful graphic studio in Los Angeles. He recently came home to Hungary with his wife, having overseen the Kolibri Art Studio atelier in LA.
Culinary adventure with creative detours
Parallel to Margit körút, closer to the Danube, Frankel Leó út is lined with culinary possibilities. Divine coffee and fine lunches await at KicsiZsó, warming brews are varied at the Flying Bird Tea House, and at Vietnámigulyás.hu, you can sample the Asian-Hungarian fusion cuisine of renowned chef Krisztián Huszár.
At No.14, former Pest nightspot, spiky Beat on the Brat, has relocated to Buda and been reconfigured as a café/bar lined with alluring vinyl. Browsing and sipping take place to an aural backdrop of well-sourced underground sounds. A few hundred metres away, on the corner of Bem tér, the eternally retro Bambi Eszpresszó beckons, an authentically Socialist-Realist café opened on May Day 1961 and barely changed since.
Just the other side of Bem tér, Trapper jeans opened in 1990 to sell the Socialist régime’s answer to Levi’s. It still carries the same domestic brand, promoted by authentic advertising posters around the store.
Back on Frankel Leó út, SUSU keramika is the creative project of Szaffi Asbóth and Flóra Bodnár, filled with their unique, hand-painted ceramics.
Funky Keleti Károly utca
Heading back towards Mechwart liget, leading up from it is Keleti Károly utca, a surprising oasis of impressive architecture, art galleries, bookstores, family-friendly public spaces, flower shops and even a huge library.
The first thing you’ll probably see is the headquarters of the Central Statistics Office. This imposing building was designed at the end of the 1800s by Győző Czigler, whom we also have to thank for the Downtown Market on Hold utca, Gozsdu Udvar and the Széchenyi Baths. The offices contain an expansive library, accessible upon registration.
Key destination in the emerging Margit Quarter is also found along Keleti Károly utca. Képező is a gallery and a community space, where lectures, workshops, roundtable discussions, art therapy sessions, puppet theatre and exhibitions are hosted for young and old.
The brainchild of Éva Bada, Boróka Pénzes and Beatrix Csiszár, it grew out of an educational programme dreamed up in 2018, whose aim was to teach children about the arts, specifically the history, literature and works of fine art of any given period.
Nearby, the Art Salon Lounge Gallery has been a fixed point in the artistic life of the locality since 1995.
Hungarian families beat a path to Maminti Kuckó, a hive of storytelling, readings, a play corner and a mother-and-toddler club, with plenty of coffee on hand. Heading up further, it’s worth popping into the LILCO flower & decor store, for their fabulous bouquets.
Giraffes and lovebugs
For some fresh air as you head towards Széll Kálmán tér, Széllkapu Park was opened in 2020, with a lake, playground and plenty of green space. ‘Wind Gate Park’ also has ecological value, too, created to counteract the traffic fumes of Margit körút running alongside. In the middle of it all, Zsiráf Buda offers lively cocktails, quality pizzas and DJs later at night.
On Margit körút, LoveBug Vintage is always worth popping into for original jewellery, clothes and accessories. To finish the evening off, underground cultural centre Jurányi ház usually has something for everyone, even if Hungarian-language theatre isn’t your bag. Drinks and food in are served in their lively bar, Suterene.