A return journey to a favourite location is always a good thing in my book. For starters, you don’t feel like a complete tourist, nervously getting the map out at every street junction. And you can explore more parts of the place you’ve had an introduction to. So after a early evening flight into Budapest, it seems like a good option to start at the pub.
On my last visit here – five years ago – ruin pubs were just being born. Set, as the name suggests, in derelict buildings they’ve become ever more popular. So much so that the Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) which used to be fairly hard to find on a backstreet in the city’s Jewish Quarter can now be seen and heard from several blocks away. And because it’s a school night, Monday is laid back, low key. Unless you count the traditional dancing.
The picture is blurry because this couple were moving so fast. I mean really fast. Just a few years ago, this kind of sight would have had viewers chuckling as Michael Palin described the crazy things the “new Europeans” were getting up to. But these guys could easily rival anything you might see on Strictly. A little later, they corral a group of Brits into a circle and teach them some moves. It’s time to escape.
The succes of the ruin pub phenomenon means this district has evolved into a self contained leisure area. Along with street bars, there’s street food too.
Just a couple of blocks away is Gozdu Udvar, a vast arcade of restaurants and bars. In Nashville, the Blue Bird Cafe is renowned as the place to see some of country music’s emerging acts in an intimate setting. In Budapest, talent is a subjective thing. And the Blue Bird is a karaoke joint.
What’s different about this one is that the audience is actually trusted with selecting their own songs and almost self-policing the performance area, which itself is curiously cantered around a spiral staircase leading to the basement toilets.
Tunes are programmed into an iPad, robustly waterproofed and hard wired into the bar. There’s no DJ being selective with who gets to sing. Basically, when you see a song you like, you take to the mike. Obviously, I’ve never ever been to a karaoke bar before this, but friends who have tell me that they’ve never seen it done this way before – and it seems to work. Equally obviously, I’m not a seasoned karaoke performer, but friends who are tell me it’s a good chance to try a different song to your usual repertoire.
Having never previously been to a karaoke bar, I decide to study the sight a little more closely. Until 3am.