Budapest has a hot club scene, but what is offered at any given time is apt to change often depending on the current trend. To find out what is happening when you are ready to explore the nightlife, it is best to pick up a copy of Funzine, the English-language guide, published every 2 weeks for up-to-date information. Other English-language publications published monthly are Time Out and Where magazines. The Budapest Times (www.budapesttimes.hu) also lists highlights; however, they are less likely to list the bar scene venues unless a well-known name is performing. For online only access, XPatloop found at www.xpatloop.com keeps we foreigners who live here in the circle, but we will let you share the information. Club opening hours vary, but most don't start to vibrate the walls until around 11pm and stay lively until closing time, which could be as late as 5am. There are no laws stating when traditional bars or clubs have to close, but those with outside seating may be restricted by district laws to move things inside after 10pm or 11pm in consideration of the neighbors.
Bar Warning -- The Longford Irish Pub, V. Fehérhajó u. 5 (tel. 1/267-2766), has been reportedly gouging both tourists and Hungarians alike. Due to numerous complaints sent to the Budapest Times, the paper did an "undercover" investigation and reported their findings in the June 18-24, 2007, issue. What they reported was that the bill received at the end of the meal was illegible and incomplete in details, thus allowing the bar to include higher-priced items or items that had not been ordered at all. Although this practice has been reported at some restaurants in the Castle District, this is the first experience with an establishment in Pest.
Budapest's Underground Courtyard Parties
One of the strangest things I have come across is the underground nightlife scene in Budapest. Entrepreneurs take over the space of an abandoned building or courtyard and create a pub there until they are evicted or the building is torn down. Often found inside dark abandoned building courtyards not visible from the street, these squatters' pubs, ruins pubs, or kerts (gardens) as they are known here, are mysterious and exciting to visit. If you were merely strolling by, you would have no idea of the party scene shaking the interior walls, just a few feet away behind what on the outside is a dilapidated facade or an overly abused door.
How do these parties get started? Here is the generic explanation I have been able to filter out, but I am still searching for the full story. Organizers seek out properties that are in a bureaucratic quagmire; usually they are buildings with no tenants, and the ownership of the property is questionable, making renovations impossible. As in all real estate deals, location is the prime ingredient for success. They peruse the notices for abandoned properties ripe for squatting. These are the places that have fallen from the radar of the bureaucratic. Add this situation to a bit of rebelliousness and the desire to make money, and before you know it, a star is born on the party scene. However, to stay undercover, these party places are generally advertized by word of mouth only, so you have to ask around to find the current hotspots. When the wrecking ball is looming above, the party is over and then it is on to the next spot.
One kert success story is the bustling bar known as Szimpla Kert. Colorful paintings hung on the walled-up doors, a bar and jukebox occupied the empty courtyard, and paper lanterns and strange sculptures were hung from above. The party was eventually shut down, but the "Szimpla Kert" party moved on to other venues with a dark cloud hanging over it waiting for the swansong to announce the end of a decade. However, that did not happen. Szimpla Kert is still going strong and is more vibrant than ever before. With an actual roof covering it now, it is no longer the kert of days past, but still a hot, hotspot to be with the in crowd.
Although Budapest's courtyards seem to disappear one after the other, one or two open in the summer months somewhere in the city, with the seventh, eighth, and ninth districts currently the popular areas of choice, perhaps due to the number of vacated buildings.
The Budapest Klezmer Music Scene
The word klezmer is derived from two Hebrew words, clay and zimmer, denoting a vessel of music or song with the idea being that an instrument personifies human characteristics such as joyous laughter or mournful crying. Originally it was part of the Eastern European Yiddish culture.
Klezmer musicians were wanderers who went from village to village playing traditional songs, folk songs, dances, and solemn hymns before prayer time. Rarely did they read music; there was no one in the shtetl to teach them. They had to travel in order to make a living, earning little money as they played. Typically, a group consisted of three to six musicians playing various instruments: trumpets, bugles, flutes, clarinets, fifes, violins, cellos, and drums.
The music of the klezmorim, the players of klezmer, was influenced by other cultures as the Jewish people traveled throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Thus the music has strong Middle Eastern influences, which are heard in Jewish liturgical music with other influences coming from Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine.
In the late 1800s, the clarinet gained popularity as the most important instrument of klezmer replacing the violin. Brass instruments were introduced at the end of the 19th century.
When Jews immigrated en masse to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920, it happened to be the time that commercial recording devices were being developed. Those recordings of klezmer produced between 1912 and 1940 survived as the primary source material for the current revival of klezmer music. Klezmer fell out of favor after World War II with Jews assimilating into mainstream society; however, in the 1970s, it was discovered yet again.
Today, it is more popular than ever and is played by bands around the world. The popular bands are touring the world as well as recording CDs. The Budapest Klezmer Band, organized in 1990, was responsible for the revival of klezmer in Hungary, and it is the first klezmer band to form in Hungary since World War II.
The Budapest Klezmer Band is just one of many klezmer bands that have come into existence over the years, getting their start in Budapest. Klezmer no longer has a strictly Jewish fan base or a Budapest one either. Due to this, when they do land back in Budapest, they are playing at larger venues than in years past, to sell-out audiences. This makes it difficult to point the direction for finding a klezmer concert. The locations of the past are not as reliable as they once were. Therefore, I direct you to the website of two of the popular bands to check their concert schedules for the time of your visit. The Budapest Klezmer Band's schedule is on their website at www.budapestklezmer.hu and the Chagall Klezmer Band at www.chagallband.hu. Both have an English-language link. Alternatives are to look for listings for performances by the Pannonia Klezmer Band, Sabbathsong, Klezmer Band, or Klezmereszek. A few of these groups play at Spinoza Etterem or contact the Fonó Music Hall at XI. Sztregova u. 3. (tel. 1/206-5300; www.fono.hu). It produces many of the klezmer CDs. Lastly, you can check with Tourinform for concert information. If you happen to be here at the end of August to the beginning of September, you will find klezmer concerts at the annual Jewish Festival.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.