Rapid rise of Budapest's "ruin bars" sparks conflicts

Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:26am EDT
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By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - When Abel Zsendovits rented an empty house in the decaying inner city of Budapest 12 years ago, cleaned it up, installed some beer taps and opened a summer bar, he had no idea it would spark a new wave of nightlife in the Hungarian capital.

"Five hundred to 600 people found it within an hour after we opened," he told Reuters in his bar Szimpla that is now open year-round and boasts decorations like a gutted Soviet-era car and uses half a bath tub as a seat.

"From then on we had a full house every night."

Szimpla, which translates as simple, was the first of Budapest's "ruin pubs", set up in formerly abandoned buildings, which have helped attract a flood of tourists and made the Hungarian capital the top destination in eastern Europe, ahead of Prague and Berlin, according to a Euromonitor ranking.

But the emergence and popularity of these pubs has its drawbacks and has pitted local residents against bar owners and local politicians enjoying the tourism boost.

Local residents complain about the noise and litter as authorities cannot afford adequate cleaning or more than two or three police patrols.

About half of the four million annual visitors to Budapest are estimated to head to Kazinczy Street, the alley where Szimpla stands alongside dozens of other similar venues.

"On a crowded summer night 10,000-20,000 people use the nearby city block or two," Zsendovits said. "The downtown area as a whole might get 50,000 people going out per evening."   Continued...

People talk in a bar on Kazinczy street in Budapest, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo