Time passes more slowly in Buda than in frantic Pest, where bars open and close in one swig of a beer glass. A pleasingly significant number of establishments on the leafy, residential side of town has been clinging on for generations, attracting the same regulars and a few tourists curious to see what Budapest looked like in 1965. Or perhaps, 1985… In any case, here we select seven of our evergreen favourites.
Avar Presszó & Sörkert
In the canon of leafy Buda garden hostelries, the Avar stands out. The best time to visit is from spring to the end of autumn, when the terrace, all wobbly metal furniture and red-and-white checked tablecloths, opens for another season. Inside is a little cramped but bearable in winter thanks to the crust-cut toasted sandwiches, table football and darts – and the dearth of other choices nearby.
The Avar is extremely quiet and, thanks to the trees, you forget that there is a busy multi-lane road the other side of the fence. And, last but not least, in relative terms, it’s as cheap as when Herman’s Hermits were riding high in the charts.
Avar Presszó & Sörkert District XI. Avar utca 31Open: daily 4pm-11pm
The non plus ultra of Buda retro spots, the Bambi opened its doors on the corner of Bem tér in the 1960s. And the great thing is that it retains the original atmosphere of the era, the red artificial leather chairs, the domino-playing regulars, the semi-covered patio and all. Breakfast is best taken outside, also ideal for a light afternoon drink or a redeeming glass of black coffee served to your table.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Bambi is one of the most emblematic places in the capital, a must-visit and a cult pilgrimage on a par with, say, the Socialist-era Chairlift. Service, too, echoes the past, for better or worse.
Bambi Eszpresszó District II. Frankel Leó út 2-4Open: Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat-Sun 9am-10pm
Embodying the atmosphere of Budapest’s arthouse cinemas of the early 1990s, the Bem is more than just a place to watch a film – although it does schedule plenty of classics in original English. You don’t need to settle down to a black-and-white masterpiece, however, to have a good time, because the bar is an unadulterated classic by itself. And not by chance.
The people behind it moved the décor across from the revered Toldi cinema, so they didn’t have verify its authenticity from old photos. Skip-found furniture generates a sympathetic milieu – entering feels a bit like walking onto the set of a Hungarian feature film from the 1980s.
Bem cinema District II. Margit körút 5Open: Mon-Fri 3pm-2am, Sat 4pm-2am, Sun 4pm-midnight
Calgary Antik Drinkbár
Calgary is retro to the nth degree. A bar, a drinkbár, no less, which is also an antiques shop, so you may find that while you’re sipping your beer amid artefacts of the past, someone sells the chair right from under you. All past ages are present in Calgary in the form of some small object or other. Seen-it-all owner, Viki – a former model and actress who once gallivanted around the world, befriending 1960s’ icon Irén Psota and film director Miklós Szinetár, among others – is a trove of classic tales.
The Calgary legend is underscored by the fact that it opened on Valentine's Day in 1993, so it was no accident that it became the haunt of bohemians and artists. In the evenings, live piano tunes mingle with beery nostalgia.
Calgary Antik Drinkbár District II. Frankel Leó út 24Open: daily 4pm-4am
As retro as it gets, the Fasor gives little away from the outside, leaving passers-by none the wiser as to the goldmine that awaits within. Old toys and a pinball machine, vinyl records, cassettes, vintage furniture, TVs, table football and pool, robots and a jukebox, things to browse and even wall paintings augment the old-school feel. And, in similar spirit, you find the place just a few minutes from that most retro of Buda hubs, Széll Kálmán tér, still known by all as Moszkva tér: Moscow Square.
Fasor Eszpresszó District II. Szilágyi Erzsébet fasor 13-15Open: Mon-Thur 2pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 2pm-2am, Sun 2pm-11pm
Let’s get something straight from the start: although Libella categorises itself as a café and, of course, it sells coffee, the place is still a pub. For the gathering of local card-playing seniors, alternative types and impecunious students, this is an anchor in the best sense of the word. And even though the smoking ban was probably a good thing, the Libella is the kind of place that might still benefit from all-pervading wafts of tobacco smoke.
The atmosphere is so redolent of Budapest’s underground past, you half-expect alt-rock bard Mishi Víg to show up with his guitar on some godforsaken rainy Wednesday afternoon and strum a few hallowed Balaton tunes.
Libella Kávézó District XI. Budafoki út 7Open: Mon-Fri 8am-1am, Sat 4pm-1am
Opened over 20 years ago when mocking Communism was in, Marxim, as its name suggests, is a Socialist parody throwback, served with large helpings of quotes and irony. Not only do you come here for a beer, but also for pizzas, themed after Lenin, Stalin and the USSR. All brought to you in the name of capitalism.
And if you roll up sthese and find it closed, do not be alarmed – it’s not a dictat, just a summer renovation due to be completed in early September. Marxim’s Facebook page promises that they will most certainly keep the red flag flying here.
Marxim District II. Kis Rókus utca 23Open:(from early September) Mon-Thur noon-1pm, Fri-Sat noon-2pm, Sun 6pm-1am