If you’re out in Budapest for the night, you might want a little music to go with your drinks. Here are ten suggestions for bars in town where live sounds provide a convivial aural backdrop or respite from perpetual imbibing.
Ambient, a rising star in Budapest nightlife’s scene, opened two years ago on Múzeum körút. The music they provide is mainly for those seeking more refined electronic sounds, who usually prefer looking for the chill-out tents at bigger parties and festivals. This doesn’t mean that all you can expect is a few records or tracks from a laptop, because from time to time there are musicians joining the party and improvising a few original numbers alongside the electronica. Concerts are also held here on occasion, and every so often harder beats come into the equation.
Ambient District V. Múzeum körút 41Open: Thur-Sat 8pm-5am
This cultural community space takes its name from the shabby street in District VIII where it can be found. The centre went through a rough patch last year and closure was on the cards, but thankfully they made it through and, as they say, the show must go on. They do everything that the words ‘community’ and ‘cultural’ suggest, from yoga to social solidarity activities and theatre, but they excel on the musical front: there’s jazz, electronica and classical music in their repertoire, among others.
Auróra District VIII. Auróra utca 11Open: Mon-Tue & Sun noon-11pm, Wed-Thur noon-1am, Fri-Sat noon-4am
Though at a new location on Orczy tér, the cornerstones of alternative community space Gólya remain tolerance, sustainability, love and solidarity. Accordingly, they often host board-game nights, workshops and round-table discussions. Music comes in all shapes and forms. When you enter Gólya, be prepared for the unorthodox and the experimental, alternative hip hop and synth-pop, as well as regular club nights put on by the KERET blog, the first one of 2020 being staged tomorrow, Saturday, 25 January.
Gólya Presszó District VIII. Orczy út 46-48Open: Mon-Wed noon-midnight, Thur noon-2am, Fri noon-4am, Sat 6pm-4am, Sun 6pm-11pm
Hunnia started out as an arthouse cinema on the Grand Boulevard before being transformed into a pub and concert venue. Then it was forced to move, resettling on downtown Bank utca, near Arany János utca metro station. Their mindset also followed, from the former upstairs venue to its current underground location. The range of concerts is the same as before: side projects by well-known artists and solo shows by leading band members all feature here. Prices are truly wallet-friendly, surprising for such a central location.
Hunnia Bisztró District V. Bank utca 5Open: Wed 5pm-11.45pm, Thur 5pm-1am, Fri-Sat 5pm-4am
This cultish hangout at the Grand Boulevard end of Ráday utca was opened a decade or so ago by a local Dutch veteran of the Budapest scene, Hans van Vliet, who had almost singlehandedly transformed inner District IX when he made the original Castro the place to be in the early 2000s. Attached to and occupying the street-level space of the Goethe German cultural institute, the Jedermann stages the jazz music cherished by van Vliet, a man who worships at the altar of Chet Baker. This agenda may involve the best Hungary has to offer – Mihály Dresch, for example – when reserving a table (and a ticket) is advisable. Otherwise, find a spare seat in this cosy interior and treat the place as your own living room – everyone else does. There’s a kitchen, too, meaning lunchtimes are busy, and an inner courtyard catches the sun in summer.
Jedermann Café District IX. Ráday utca 58Open: Daily 8am-1am
Evoking the mood of the plethora of ruin bars nearby yet keeping its own local identity, this classic cellar on Dob utca has been welcoming all-comers for 15 years. A rare (the only?) bar in Budapest to stay open on Christmas Eve, a tradition dating back to some seasonal tale of romantic upset, Lámpás allows its musical agenda to stray from a regular diet of rock, blues, jazz and funk into experimental electronica. An open mind and an open heart underscore all activities here, equally illustrated by affordable drinks prices and free admission.
Lámpás District VII. Dob utca 15Open: Wed-Sat 8pm-4am
Mika Tivadar Mulató
Right in the heart of the party district where Kazinczy and Király meet, this popular entertainment complex includes a garden and a hostel. Although there are various talks, performances and stand-up evenings on the Mika cellar stage, their concert agenda offers a lot more, characterised by a variety of genres. From electronica to hip hop to alt-rock, the repertoire even spans house-party DJs.
Mika Tivadar Mulató District VII. Kazinczy utca 47Open: Mon-Wed 4pm-midnight, Thur 4pm-2am, Fri-Sat 4pm-4am
Opened in 2012 on Múzeum utca near Kálvin tér, this locale primarily attracts those of the classic rock persuasion, but also welcomes aficionados of blues, soul, funk, jazz and even folk. In addition to Hungarian combos, accomplished tribute bands are also popular. Oldies but goldies might be a suitable motto, although that’s not to say that everything was better in the past.
Muzikum District VIII. Múzeum utca 7Open: Mon-Wed 10am-10pm, Thur 10am-midnight, Fri 10am-1am, Sat 5pm-1am
For that classic Budapest evening, step into the tried-and-tested Pótkulcs, the ‘Spare Key’ ruin bar tucked away on Csengery utca. It’s one of Budapest’s hidden gems, one that has flown a bit under the radar and thus preserves its unique atmosphere. Here you can enjoy the feel of a tiny garden, as well as comfortable armchairs and table football. There’s also a film club, exhibitions and a musical agenda for guests to enjoy. These performances are mostly jazz and folk, but DJs also sometimes feature. There’s no entrance fee, and a free table invariably beckons. If you’ve never been, be sure to give it a try.
Pótkulcs District VI. Csengery utca 65BOpen: Daily 5pm-2am
The Szimpla is a must-visit where Budapest nightlife is concerned. Capacious but always packed – mostly with foreign partyseekers – Szimpla organises record fairs and farmers’ markets. Live music takes place on a little stage in the corner, regular concerts, DJ sessions and Open Stage events when anyone can get up and perform. For the Self-Aware Disco nights, meditative ambient vinyl scores screenings of retro home movies on Super 8.
Szimpla Kert District VII. Kazinczy utca 14Open: Mon-Sat noon-4am, Sun 9am-4am