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When a local offers to take you on a tour of the best bars in Budapest (on a school night, no less), brace yourself: there’s no shortage of stylish drinking dens among the palaces and Parliament buildings on the Pest side of the Danube.
We met our host at Innio at 9 Október 6 Utca (+36 70 311 1010), a sleek bar near the stunning basilica building that’s not far from Brody House hotel – base camp for our Budapest hotel-finding foray. Innio’s a great place to kick things off, since it’s something of a microcosm of modern Budapest: historic location, chic interiors, buzzing atmosphere. A glass of Hungarian rosé, some simple appetisers and a jazzy soundtrack from the Mac-packing DJ in the corner got our night off to a good start. Next, we sat down to dinner at Klassz Bisztró [below] at 41 Andrássy Út (+36 (1) 225 1702) – diners eat in this wine shop among the bottle-laden shelves; we washed down our main courses with a fabulous Hungarian pinot noir.
Our bar crawl started in earnest post-dinner. We picked up the trail at arguably the best cocktail bar in town, Boutiq’Bar (above) at 5 Paulay Ede Utca (+36 30 229 1821). It’s an intimate space that’s dark but not dingy, and attracts a crowd every night of the week, according to our hosts. The mixologists here are the real deal: these guys take pride in serving cocktails to savour rather than to slam. That said, everyone here loves a shot, so consider knocking one back in the name of cultural exchange (the citrus, cinnamon and herbs concoction was delicious).
Moving on, we stopped in at Doblo Wine Bar at 20 Dob Utca (+36 20 398 8863), where we were introduced to David, a big, smiley guy sitting at the corner of the bar. This man knows his wines and is investing in the Hungarian wine growers of the future – if you see him, buy him a drink and ask him all about it.
As the night grew longer, the more ‘comical’ drinks started to become – eventually, we were sipping something red that didn’t go down too well at the edgiest bar of the evening, Szimpla Kert (below right) at 14 Kazinczy Utca (+36 20 379 4172). One of Budapest’s most famous ‘ruin pubs’, it felt like a pop-up bar in a disused warehouse, with films being projected onto the arched walls and local art-student types lounging on a carved bathtub-cum-sofa. And the comedy drink in question? It turned out to be ‘unicum’, a Hungarian herbal liqueur that’s said to have first been mixed in 1790 to cure Kaiser Joseph II, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, of a stomach complaint… it does have a strangely medicinal taste to it.
For the morning after (after a suitably long lie-in at artful Brody House, your Budapest boutique hotel), the only crawl we recommend is a gentle hike to the top of Gellért Hill where the wind will blow away the cobwebs. Survey the city below from the hilltop – and try and pick out the hot spots where you spent the night before.
Still Hungary for more things to do in town? Have a look at out Budapest guide for more before- or after-dark activities…