Something about Budapest encourages a level of generalized intoxication that I’ve never quite experienced in another city. I don’t know if it’s the Central European drinking culture, or the utterly debased lifestyle of the graduate student, or some interaction between my American upbringing and the unprecedentd freedom to LEGALLY walk the streets with an open container, but there’s something in the air in this place. The drinking is near-constant. Sometimes heavy, sometimes just a drop over long hours of reading, but continous and unrelenting. I’m not usually a person who drinks to the point of debilitation. My sense of personal dignity precludes it. Usually. But somehow, in Budapest, that fragile dignity is utterly disrupted. I end up staggering joyfully through the witching hour in multinational gangs of dissolute historians, singing unfamiliar anthems and staging ritualized confrontations with our skinhead counterparts. Friday started at 6pm and didn’t end until 8am on Saturday. And then Saturday started at noon. You get the picture.

Anyway, there are some features of the Budapest booze culture that seem noteworthy to my foreigner’s sensibiltiy. These photos are illustrations.

1. Fernet menthe. It’s wonderful. Bracing, refreshing, complex. And I really like the practice of serving a fernet-and-szoda with the soda in a separate pitcher so that one can perfectly calibrate the proportions. It’s far from universal here, but I’ve never seen it done in the States. I vote that anything ordered “with soda” be served this way. From now on.

2. Selection. Light on the craft whiskies, the bitters, and the rum. Heavy on the apertifs, digestifs, liqueurs, and brandies. Especially brandies. Hungary is serious about the palinka, which is avaliable in many grades, strengths, and flavors, even in the humblest sorozo (apologies for the lack of proper accents, haven’t figured out how to do it on this site – it’s basically a beer hall, often in the cellar.) Palinka can be divine or harsh and ugly. Like a lot of Hungarian things. Here’s a primer:

3. Set and setting. This snap was taken at Szimplakert, the best-known and most established of the semi-outdoor bars that spring up in the courtyards of underused buildings during the summer. Dark, but warmly lit, full of comfortably creaking mismatched furniture, open to the elements (at least part-time) and inhabited by various artisty-types, internationals, students, and bicycle mechanics. The collection of photos at their website has the advantages of daylight and a panoramic lens (they have a silly website, so I can’t link directly – click “KERT” on the left sidebar, then “Fotok a szimpla kertrol” at the bottom:

4. Result. I think this photo, taken around 7am on Saturday morning by the bemused Piotr, is a fairly accurate representation of the moment’s mood: sprawling on the grass in a courtyard as the sun rises, laughing but past conversation, feeling giddy and free and ridiculous.


1 comment
  1. Katie Danger said:

    Sean says you’re in Budapest. I’m coming to visit next week. How long you there for? Any chance I could hit you up for a tour/beer?

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