When I moved to the XI Distict all my expat friends told me I lived in the unfashionable side of town. Not only was I living in Buda, which according to expats is social suicide, but in a double numbered district. All the life was in Pest and Buda is for families and boring people with money, so I was told. But I personally don’t agree. The area around Bartok Béla Avenue is an exciting area, and one which has been gaining so much traction that today all my favourite cafés are packed each time I go. And if that’s not enough to seal Bartok Béla’s reputation as being an up-and-coming neighbourhood, this weekend there is even the Eleven Tavasz festival, a festival celebrating the XI District and its design.
Having lived in the XI District since 2013, I want to share why the area around Bartok Béla is an exciting up and coming area.
Bartok Béla and the vicinity has some amazing cafés, some newer than others.
Kelet, a café and bar whose hook is not only its excellent coffee, and even better hot chocolate and tea collection, but its book exchange library. The cafe is lined wall to wall with books, and the policy is you bring a book in and you can take another one home. You’ll even find books in English or Dutch tucked between the Hungarian classics, crime thrillers and randomness like “30 Years of Public Health”.
Further up the road, you’ll come across some other new wave cafés. Addicted2Caffeine is a tiny place that’s just beyond Móricz Zsigmond and not only serves amazing coffee with beans from Berlin-based roaster The Barn. They serve pour over coffees, but my favourite is their flat white, which has become a vice of mine most mornings when I grab the tram to work.
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Spéci, right on Móricz Zsigmond körtér is a new espresso bar that recently opened a few months back. They serve all kinds of new wave coffees, along with your classic espressos, and their coffee is also excellent.
But for something a little more traditional, across the road from Kelet is Hadik, one of Budapest’s old literary cafés, where you can get a good old fashioned cappuccino and cake. The atmosphere here is one distinctly echoing back to another era. Iconic artists and writers, like Karinthy, Déry, Kosztolányi all used to hang out here. Getting into the café feels like a bit of a challenge, when you’re faced with heavy, red velvet curtains you need to figure out how to part, but inside it’s a relaxing haven of coffee and cakes.
Going for Drinks
OK, Bartok Béla is not a party district. It will never be the VII District, and that’s a good thing. But there are a few watering holes where you can grab a few drinks and have a nice, relaxed evening. Szatyor Bar, located directly next door to Hadik, is one of the most impressive. It’s surreal interior design captures the spirit of the city’s ruin bar aesthetic. If you’ve been to Csendes or Púder in Pest, this café sports a similar design, since they were all done by artist and ruin bar decorator Bertalan Babos Zsili. They also do amazing burgers!
Further up, if you blink you might miss is, but Gdansk is one of my all time favourite places in Budapest. This tiny Polish bookstore café is run by Ákos, a friendly Hungarian chap who chats with everyone who comes into his 4 tabled establishment. His wife is Polish, so there are always some tasty Polish things on the menu, but it’s their vodka shot cocktails that make it worth the visit. The Veszet Kutya (Lost Dog) or Ázsiai Bölény, a triple layer of raspberry or ginger syrup (respectively), Tabasco and quality Polish vodka are simply delicious and intoxicating.
Not technically on Bartok Béla, but located just behind it, you’ll find Pagony Kert, a ruin bar type place set up in an abandoned swimming pool just by the famous Gellért Baths. In the summer, this place is the perfect place to grab a beer and chill out among the tiles, giving an alternative interpretation of drinking in a pool.
Art, Design & Architecture
The lower part of Bartok Béla is a beautiful street made up of early 20th century buildings, including some stunning art nouveau ones. We even have a building by Ödön Lechner too!
But what makes Bartok Béla so interesting are its more modern addition. The Budapest Contemporary Arts Center (KÉK) opened up their centre here on the street, which also acts as a co-working space, not to mention there are interesting design and art shops, like Három Hét Galéria, Faur Zsófi Galéria, Bartok 32 Gallery, Palmetta Design és Textilművészeti Galéria and Godót Galéria. Szatyor and Kelet also have their own galleries too.
So take a walk across the Szabadság Bridge this weekend and enjoy the best Bartok Béla has to offer.
Photos taken from establishments’ facebook page. Cover from Hadik’s own facebook page.