Saturday, March 21, 2009

Where Expats Fear to Tread

Just because this winter is seemingly endless doesn’t mean you should stay in and pout. Nor should getting out cost a lot. If you ask me, most of the tried-and-true Budapest nightspots are pressing their luck: and the dwindling crowds at places like Ellátó and Szimpla confirm this. High prices, indifferent service, and lomtalanítás (street scavenged) seating do not scream “clean, well-lit place,” to this night owl. It is possible that community pressure, bureaucracy, and high prices are bringing Budapest’s famous beer-garden society to a close. But of course the death of one scene only heralds the (re)birth of another. I am talking about the gentrifying of the city’s késdobáló (dagger throwing) bars. Not long ago, most of these places opened at 5 in the morning to service the pensioners and homeless who whetted their whistles with 70 forint wine spritzers. These are curious, grungy places, attracting a disparate crowd, though almost exclusively Hungarian. But lately, the trend has been to stay open later rather than open earlier, due to the large amount of young folk looking for an inexpensive night out. Indeed, beer in these re-tooled dives can be half the price of boho bastions like Szimpla. Below are 5 favorites, at all of which a pint can be had for well under a euro, listed from most to least expensive.

5. Óbester Söröző: on Huszár near Keleti and down the block from expat owned Ba bar, Óbester had 250-forint home brew, called Brandecker. When the weather warms up, they have sidewalk space in this quiet, old-school part of the city.

4. Krúdy Söröző: on my old block, this dive has as much to do with Krúdy Gyula as Chef Boyardee has to do with Italian cooking, but nonetheless, this is a fine local pub with super cheap drink prices and a wide screen TV (if sports are your thing). 250 gets an Ászok pint.

3. Hordós Söröző: Üllői is the new Ráday. You could actually spend a whole night on a pub crawl up to Klinika and back. Lots of medical students from the nearby Semmelweis medical school pass the time at places like Hordós and my favorite, Corvin Söröző (currently closed for renovation). 220 forints get you a pint of Borsodi.

2. Not far from Hordós, Megálló is a new place. Sit at a picnic table and enjoy Borsodi of a mere 200 forints for a pint. I have yet to try this place, but it looked friendly and clean when I popped my head in.

1. Tett Hely. The ‘scene of the crime’, used to be the ‘scene of the grime’ but they have cleaned up their image. Still, this tiny pub on Kertész, makes Vittula look upscale. But at 200 forints for a pint of Ászok, there is a reason it is jam-packed with students, not to mention the odd expat like yours truly.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.

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