- 8 Dec 2022 5:43 AM
Live music, karaoke and stand-up comedy also feature, venue owners seeing value in staging regular events to corral the significant student crowd.
Most cluster in Pest, particularly around District VI between Nagymező utca and the Nagykörút, as well as random corners of the retail hub around the city centre.
Prices reflect the delicate balance between recognising the spending power of those salaried in euros, sterling or dollars but paying in weaker forints, and the Hungarian customers who might comprise half the client base these days.
As this winter wears on and energy prices continue to rise, this ratio is bound to be readdressed. For the time being, you should still get a pint (korsó, 0.5 litres) of domestic beer for around 1,000 forints and a Guinness for about 1,500. As you may know, a smaller measure, a pohár, is 0.3 litres.
Counter service is the norm with automatic service charges slowly creeping in. In some cases, as outlined below, this can add up.
The following list is presented in alphabetical order, so you can make up your mind which is the best. As you will see there are well-known venues along with alternative options, with insights about the owners included as well as top tips about each.
Address: 1061 Budapest, Liszt Ferenc tér 11.
Best for: Irish breakfast
Apart from the name, this second iteration of Becketts on Liszt Ferenc tér shares one key feature with its predecessor on Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út: Declan O’Callaghan.
Arriving one bleak New Year’s Day in 1995, this Southsider first came to take up his post at Budapest’s most prominent Irish bar, co-owned back then by his employers in the seaside Dublin suburb of Dalkey.
Declan would not see the sea nor sunshine for several weeks but he took to Budapest like a duck to water. Two years later, he took over this money-spinning hostelry, haunt of Budapest’s new business fraternity, increasing tourism boosting trade until a legal dispute closed the place in 2014.
Within a year, Declan had reopened on this leafy square, once a contemporary alternative hub to the original Becketts when both were buzzing in the late 1990s. Declan stuck to a similar formula, understanding that a pub is about the people within it, this time a higher ratio of Hungarians coming through the door to explore the range of whiskeys.
Football and rugby still pack the place, the lay-out lending itself to staying open for everyone when embassies and commercial enterprises convene in their own separate space.
Many regulars date back to Becketts Mark I, of course, its long-earned reputation meaning that when a foreign football team is in town for a match, their fans will phone ahead to assure that their trade is welcome, Monaco by recent example.
The craic is still good, in fact, which is what keeps Declan going and his efficient staff pouring pints of Guinness, Borsodi, Staropramen, O’Hara’s and Magners cider, to name but five.
Guinness also features in the stews, while the Irish breakfasts are as popular as ever. Recently relandscaped and replanted, the square befits convivial terrace chatter in summer, while Beckett and his golden lines from Godot oversee the buzz in the main bar all year round.
2. Davy Byrne’s
Address: 1066 Budapest, Jókai utca 4.
Best for: Atmosphere
Just when you thought Budapest had enough Irish bars, you might be very pleasantly surprised by Davy Byrne’s.
Naming their venture after the Dublin pub besieged by Bloomsday pilgrims each June and commissioning Lisa Steiner to create a huge Joyce mural to welcome visitors, Irishman Brian Tuohy and Irish-American Tim Helmick have wrapped this popular cellar pub in warmth and authenticity. Each has strong personal ties to Hungary, and it shows.
A long bar counter beckons expat pubgoers to pull up a stool and peruse the draught options while the expansive space behind lends itself to live music, comedy, quizzes and TV sport.
O’Hara’s comes in many forms, its wonders to perform, pale, red and 51st State IPA, the whiskey list filling two long columns of a back-bar chalkboard and listing Clontarf 1014, Quiet Man and Teeling Small Batch.
Mention must also be made of Falling Apple cider from the same O’Hara’s stable. Local flavour comes on tap courtesy of Pink Dragon, Illatos Búzasör and, this Christmas, Rudolf the Red-Ass Reindeer, all products of Tim Helmick’s own burgeoning TIMCO brand brewed here in Budapest.
There’s Tayto crisps behind the bar and all-day breakfasts for something even more substantial.
3. Down Under
Address: 1066 Budapest, Ó utca 37.
Best for: Live entertainment
Aussie entrepreneur Sean Falli took over this former hostel bar in the expat drinking hub of District VI and turned everything upside down, literally.
Discovering no other Oz-themed pubs in Budapest, this former long-term resident of Vienna saw a gap in the market, called his new venture Down Under, coloured his menus yellow and reversed the map of Australia on his pub sign.
So far, so cosmetic, but Sean then picked up the ball, oval-shaped or otherwise according to sporting event, and ran with it, sourcing kangaroo meat for that bright yellow menu and Foster’s for the fridge.
On tap, Emu Export from Western Australia rubs feathers with Down Under’s own brand of dark beer microbrewed here in Budapest.
Brightly labelled Four Pillars gins from the Yarra Valley complement award-winning Starward whiskies from Melbourne, while the burger selection includes Queensland and Outback varieties. That notwithstanding, expat Antipodeans only form a fraction of Sean’s trade.
Encouraged by loyalty cards and annual memberships, international students flock here for stand-up comedy and open-mic nights, the bar’s off-Broadway setting on secluded Ó utca obliging the owner to think imaginatively when it comes to events.
By way of example, socially distanced pub quizzes were a terrace favourite back in the days of partial lockdown. Friendly bar staff are a nice mix of Kenyan, Polish and how-ya-goin’? Aussie.
4. Félix Hélix
Address: 1075 Budapest, Kazinczy utca 52B.
Best for: Alternative ambience
Halfway up the stairs at Oran Mac Cuirc’s intimate Félix Hélix, two photos illustrate the 30-year quest undertaken by this Irish publican since arriving in Budapest in 1992.
A veteran of the city’s post-Wall alternative scene, Oran switched sides soon afterwards, converting himself from barfly to barkeep by opening the seminal Sixtus Kápolna on Nagy Diófa utca.
Pre-dating the buzz to follow in District VII, it brought together a diverse congregation of hedonistic creatives, expat and Magyar, many of whom still beat a path to Oran’s latest venture on a pedestrianised spur of Kazinczy utca.
No, it doesn’t have the dark magic of Sixtus captured in one of those photos, nor the amiable camaraderie of Oran’s Csiga whose staff were also snapped for posterity, but Félix Hélix brings this genial Hungarian speaker full circle.
Again sensing the way the wind might blow, Oran set up his cabin-sized hostelry here before the nearby Gozsdu Udvar became a mainstream nightlife phenomenon, the overflow granting this passageway passing trade.
A key feature here is the terrace, long, narrow and partly covered, the odd actor, filmmaker or face from the old days gravitating towards Oran’s adjoining cubbyhole of a bar as the night takes its toll.
Cherry-picked tunes reflect the discerning taste of landlord and patrons, drinks are as wide-ranging as space will allow – Pilsner flows on draught – and lively conversation pings around in a mix of languages depending on happenstance.
5. Hoff House
Address: 1065 Budapest, Nagymező utca 40.
Best for: Parties
Right on Budapest’s busy boulevard of entertainment, Nagymező utca, Hoff House is the pandemic-era brainchild of party organiser Yasmine Georgi and long-term Budapest resident David Altmayer, a self-styled ‘Onboarding & Implementation Specialist’ from the US.
While David also looks after the Nomád Travelers’ Bar on Wesselényi utca, part-Hungarian Yasmine takes first-time Budapest visitors on pub crawls, beer buses and party boats, so you’d think expat-focused Hoff House would be abuzz every night purely through their own contacts and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Like everyone else in this crowded marketplace, however, Hoff House has to fill its agenda with events to keep the punters coming and staying. Some are more offbeat – not every bar in Budapest has a resident magician. Other offerings meet expat needs, such as the local dearth of American-style hot wings or the provision of an affordable Thanksgiving dinner, which recently brought a full house to Hoff House.
Karaoke and open-mic nights are mainstays, as is Sunday night’s Jager train, sans or avec karaoke, depending if you opt for the basement or street-level bar to bookend your weekend in messy fashion.
Standard beers are otherwise offered, with 50% off during weekday happy hours between 5pm and 6pm.
Late opening hours, 3am at weekends, attract the significant staggering footfall around District VI, particularly in summer.
6. Jack Doyle’s
Address: 1052 Budapest, Pilvax köz 1-3.
Best for: Live music
Opened back in 2009, Jack Doyle’s is a rare example of an authentic Irish pub in a European metropolis.
Behind the venture are Charles Griffin and Elvira Zoller, one a former publican from West Cork, the other a veteran from behind the bar at the original Becketts, Budapest’s main expat hangout of the 1990s.
Charles and Elvi knew what made an Irish pub – and what didn’t. Charles found a centrally located premises at a historic corner location, the Pilvax café that once stood alongside being the meeting place for Hungary’s revolutionaries in the 1848 Uprising.
Rather than quick identikit expat pub décor, Charles curated a display of Irish pub fronts across one wall, offset by the classic caricatures created by local legend Marcus Goldson and sundry Shane MacGowan iconography.
Elvi trawled Budapest for staff, training them in the ancient art of Guinness pouring, while the kitchen got to work on producing full Irish breakfasts and fish ‘n’ chips. The burger sauces are home-made.
Most beers here can be ordered by the pint or pitcher, the long bar counter lined with taps of O’Hara’s Irish Red, Irish Magners cider and Hungarian MadDog, plus Heineken and Soproni.
Six screens screen sport, with live music a major feature around the weekend, while a terrace comes into play on the pedestrianised street outside in summer.
Numbers are slowly coming back post-pandemic, a larger percentage of Hungarians among them thanks to a whiskey club for tastings and presentations. The next move? Irish gin!
7. Longford Irish Pub & Restaurant
Address: 1052 Budapest, Fehér Hájó utca 5.
Best for: A summer terrace downtown
Occupying a prominent corner of a busy pedestrianised street thronging with passing trade, Longford blends in with the exchange offices and tacky souvenir shops of downtown Budapest.
In summer, tables fanning out towards the Danaïdes Fountain are invariably patronised by shoppers and sightseers relieved to rest their weary feet.
In winter, this winter, say, those bafflingly attracted by ‘World Cup on big screen’ should file down the steps to a cellar pub lined with bottles and centrepieced by a large bar counter.
There, draught Guinness, Kilkenny and Soproni are dispensed by disinterested staff. A look at the back bar will pleasingly reveal options such as Redbreast Single Pot and Writers’ Tears whiskeys, while a look at the menu, with its selection of ‘Skotch whiskey’, will tell you all you need to know about Longford Irish Pub & Restaurant.
It’s as Irish as Nyíregyháza. Plus your pint of Guinness at 1,790 forints will come with a 12% service charge of 215 forints, even if you’re sitting at the bar. Don’t worry, they do the maths for you.
8. Pointer Pub
1051 Budapest, Váci utca 33
1053 Budapest, Kecskeméti utca 15
1065 Budapest, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 21
1066 Budapest, Teréz körút 34
1075 Budapest, Madách Imre tér 5
1088 Budapest, József körút 15.
Best for: Groups
Hungary has its vizslas, Germany its Alsatians, while England has its Pointers. As, now, does Budapest, for the brand-conscious folk behind this local chain have dotted our fair city with half-a-dozen Pointer pubs and counting.
Three occupy prime spots downtown, two the Nagykörút and one the pub quarter of District VI. Fronting each façade, images of England’s favoured hunting dog are juxtaposed with Union Jacks to appeal to passing tourist and Anglophile Hungarian alike.
The menus may vary – you’ll find ten types of draught at the Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út branch including Fuller’s IPA and Gaymers cider, while craft beers from Szent András feature on József körút – but the furnishings remain faithful copies of the traditional original.
House brew Hunter’s is the constant affordable lager option throughout. Depending on where you are, the menu can provide you with a full English or subject you to pizza.
The main outlet on the nearest corner of Váci utca to Elizabeth Bridge at least nods towards the Hungarian kitchen with its schnitzels and pörkölt stews.
On the down side, given the location, this is also the priciest of the Pointers, charging a whopping 2,790 forints for a pint of Guinness, served for the standard price of 1,490 forints on Teréz körút.
Mid-afternoon happy hours, usually between 2pm-5pm, can offset your outlay significantly, provided you’re happy with the undiscerning glugging of the aforementioned Hunter’s, although the Kecskeméti utca branch in the student quarter broadens this discount offer to Pilsner Urquell and Bombardier.
Address: 1075 Madách Imre tér 5.
Best for: Intimacy
Few marketing gurus can challenge continental pub names for pushing the boat out where dreadful puns are concerned. Such is Publin, which is a shame at it’s actually a genuinely cosy, lived-in locale, particularly given its central location.
One half tourist-oriented, the other a defiant bastion of authentic Hungarian bar culture, Madách tér straddles the middle ground between bland downtown commerce and the more characterful fringes of the Jewish Quarter.
Here is where you find Publin, its covered terrace adjoining a larger one belonging to yet another member of the Pointer Pub chain, so you would be forgiven for thinking it’s all one big bland family.
Inside is where the action is, although it only takes a largeish group to fill the place with annoying banter. Of an intimate afternoon, it hits the spot, particularly as it partners Bavarian HB and Kronenbourg Seize with the standard Irish draught options.
Addresses: 1072 Budapest, Rákóczi út 32.
1073 Budapest, Erzsébet körút 19.
1074 Budapest, Dob utca 19.
Best for: Sport
American-style sports bars with a Budapest twist, the local Stifler chain is geared towards young fun, its wall-to-wall TVs also attracting Britblokes happy to watch the match over affordable beers and perhaps a hulking great burger.
Pool is another factor, the branch at Rákóczi út 32 also offering a guitar simulator, air hockey and a basketball machine. Table football is a given at each outlet. The original 27-screen venue along the bar strip of Erzsébet körút features a separate hall for hustlers who take their pool seriously.
Partygoers fill the cavernous Stifler Ház at the Dob utca of the Gozsdu Udvar deep in nightlife central, one of several entire houses in the locality given over to revelry, this particular one containing a vast LED wall and 38 TVs.
The beer selection leans heavily on the domestic Dreher brand, though you should also find bottled Asahi and Peroni, and you can pimp your burger by asking for an Angus beef patty as a paid extra. A twofer deal on drinks runs daily 5pm-8pm.
By Peterjon Cresswell for XpatLoop.com
Peterjon Cresswell has been researching the bars and byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website, liberoguide.com, focusing on football culture and the drinking around it.