The 8th District of Budapest is known for its alternative charm. It’s a diverse quarter, with grand sights like the Ervin Szabó Library on one side of the street, and grungier revered locales on the other. In recent years, the 8th has been somewhat gentrified – and experienced a boom in popularity as a consequence.
Following our themed 7 underground bars in the 7th district, we now turn our sights to the 8th District, and explore some of the alternative nightlife options in this bustling quarter.
This quirky establishment feels like stepping into a ruin bar, with eclectic furniture, trees growing in the courtyard and every inch of the place covered in stickers advertising obscure bands, calls to action and varied styles of art. The Auróra doubles as a community centre, with cultural events and concerts taking place, including techno, jazz and rock. An LGBTQ flag flies at the entrance.
The courtyard has plentiful seating, with stern warnings posted in Hungarian and English to not smoke under the roof. Inside, there is a piano in one corner (additionally bedecked in stickers), and murals, posters and bookshelves adorn the walls.
The long-term goal of Auróra is to help local interests, and create a positive identity for the district.
The Cintányéros is a beautiful mix of modern and classical, with a piano in one corner whose keys are real ebony and ivory, against white-washed walls, decorative iron railings and lighting fixtures made from old wine bottles. This area of town sees no stag dos or wild tourists, just locals looking to enjoy a fröccs spritzer after work, a meal at lunchtime or a strong coffee in the morning. It’s open late into the night, as well, so the party can continue into the wee hours.
Along with wine, there is also pálinka, coffee, spirits and a food menu available. The wines have all been carefully selected, and all cost 220 forints per decilitre, coming from the Hungarian wine regions of Etyek, Csopak, and Szekszárd. Their pálinkas also come from small suppliers, including flavours like mulberry, apricot and blackthorn.
Fecske has two locations in town, a short walk from each other. The first is entered via steep steps into a cellar space with an arched brick ceiling. An old TV has been converted into a fish tank, aquatic residents greeting guests on arrival. The ceiling is covered in old comic strips and sheet music, giving it a cosy feel, and it’s packed full on a Friday night.
A full menu is available featuring pumpkin-ginger soup, lemon-smoked salmon and cabbage stuffed with spinach and cheese, amongst other options. Breakfast is available until noon. Drinks include cider, beers, wine, spirits and cocktails. In warmer months, outdoor seating is available.
The second location is larger and more relaxed, starting on the ground floor and continuing underground into a labyrinth of a basement. The wall to the bathroom features an extensive bookshelf, reading materials while you’re there. It is recommended to arrive early to the small Fecske, or call ahead and secure a reservation.
Enter through heavy red curtains, and it feels like you’re stepping into an old-world sitting room, about to be greeted by ladies in find dresses and gentlemen puffing on pipes. Hintaló Iszoda is two-floor bar, and there are hanging lamps, patterned wallpaper and old typewriters for decoration.
Upstairs is a seating area with wooden tables and chairs, and ornate carpets. On one wall is a portrait of Napoleon, and a row of wooden masks peer down at patrons. Long-drinks, cocktails and spirits are all on the menu, as well as plenty of beer and wine. The whisky, vodka, gin and rum options are impressively wide, while prices remain reasonable. The name translates as rocking horse.
Bohumil Hrabal was considered one of the best Czech writers of his time. This bar in Budapest is named after him, and sells draught and bottled Czech beers. Indeed, it’s one of the best-known Czech pubs in Budapest, living up to its namesake!
Inside is a classic old bar set-up, with a myriad of beer glasses available for proper pairing, and an old-world brass beer tap. There are booths, tables and stools for sitting, and the clientele range from young to old. The entrance faces busy Rákóczi út, but inside it’s warm and friendly and there’s no trace of road sounds.
The walls are covered in portraits of Hrabal, as well as carved wooden cats and a heavy iron bell. It’s busy even on a weekday evening, popular among locals. Surprisingly excellent forralt sör, mulled beer, is available for 300 forints a decilitre.
Krak’n Town Steampunk Saloon
Krak’n Town is the first steampunk-themed business in Hungary, drawing inspiration from other locations in Slovakia, England, Romania and Sweden. They have been used a filming location more than once, and was selected on Budapest’s TOP10 Gastronomic Venue. Their business is built around three character pillars: creative gastronomy, excellent beers and steampunk. Hot air balloons, small lamps and references to Jules Verne all hang from the ceiling, and the walls are exposed brick.
Menu items include rib-eye steak and burgers with goats’ cheese and sweet potatoes, as well as chicken quesadillas with cheese sauce, and wild boar in a mushroom cream sauce. Krak’n Town brews their own beer, as well as featuring some imports. It is recommended to book a table on busy nights.
The first Lumen bar and restaurant opened on Mikszáth Kálmán tér in 2008, an attractive square within Budapest’s Palace District. Now there are two locations, both in the 8th District, the second being retro-fitted within an old chemical factory. Its glass ceiling is original from the factory, giving the space a mysteriously attractive industrial feel. Plants hang from the ceiling, contrasting against the grey floor and stark white walls.
The original Lumen is a cosy space which feels more like a café than a bar, with stool seats on the ground floor and a narrow set of stairs leading up to a second seating area. Coffee, wine, spirits and food are all available, and the walls are lined with posters from old concerts and events. In warmer weather, there is plenty of outdoor seating.
Check out the frequent live music happening at the bigger Lumen, showcasing Hungarian folk singers, up-and-coming local bands and more well-known names, all for free. The menu includes sandwiches, soups, desserts, breakfast items and main courses. Wines, beers, spirits and hot drinks are all available.
Anyone fond of cats will love the adorably named Macska, which, while there are no actual cats on the premises, is filled to the brim with cat-themed decorations. The whole place is delightfully quirky: plants on the windowsills, railings made from bamboo and, up a narrow flight of rough wooden steps, is a sitting area consisting entirely of carpets and pillows.
Take your shoes off and continue in stockinged feet, and sit cross-legged around short tables overlooking the bar below. The place is packed on a Monday night, with friends playing cards, laughing, recounting stories and sipping their favourite drinks. Food is also available, including vegetarian and vegan options like dahl, ratatouille and hummus.
Hungarian, Czech and German beers are all available, as well as selections from other countries. They’re only open Monday-Friday, so make sure to find time in the week to check it out.