Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Budapest -- My latest Centropa column, a guide to the Seventh District

In my latest travel column for Centropa.org, I provide a guide to some of the restaurants and cafes I like to patronize in Budapest's new "bar vortex" -- the former Jewish quarter. Venues I profile include the cafes and restaurants Siraly, Szoda, Szimpla, Dupla, Szimpla kert, Carmel (kosher), Hanna (kosher), Spinoza, Kadar, Barladino -- and more.

By Ruth Ellen Gruber
BUDAPEST -- The last time I wrote about Budapest on Centropa I provided an itinerary of Jewish sights and resources, most of them in and around the city's Seventh District, the old downtown Jewish quarter anchored by three grand synagogues forming a so-called "Jewish triangle."
That was eight years ago, and the former Jewish quarter still had the reputation of being one of the city's poorest inner districts. There were some signs of incipient gentrification, but World War II bullet holes pocked many crumbling facades, vacant lots yawned, and the grimy streets were dark and uninviting.
A lot has changed since then. Much of the District is still neglected. But already at the end of 2007 the New York Times ran a travel story called "Out of Darkness, New Life" that described how the district's "history and recent rise to trendiness" evoke "comparisons to the Lower East Side of New York." A recent issue of Time Out Budapest magazine went even further, terming the Jewish quarter a major city "bar vortex."
In fact, the district burgeons with new cafes, clubs, bistros and wine bars that attract a young, hip -- and often Jewish -- crowd. At the same time, though, this type of growth has been paralleled by controversial urban renewal projects that have seen many old buildings torn down and replaced by rather soulless modern structures.
A citizens group, OVAS, has been formed to lobby for the protection of what remains -- particularly in light of real estate corruption involved in some of the development schemes. The Mayor of the Seventh District himself, in fact, was jailed last year on suspicion of bribery and abuse of office related to property transactions.
I've maintained a small apartment in the Seventh District for more than a decade. Though I only spend part of my time here, I've been observing the changes in the quarter up close; after all, it's my neighborhood.
In particular, I enjoy the new venues and Jewish haunts that have nothing to do with a nostalgic sense of a vanished past but everything to do with how Jews in Budapest -- and particularly young Jews in Budapest -- are experimenting with ways to build a lively present and, one hopes, a sustainable future.
With this article, I would like to introduce readers to some of the haunts in and around the Jewish quarter that I tend to frequent: whether for breakfast cappuccino or afternoon espresso, for an inexpensive lunch, or for dinner or late night drinks and conversation. Or simply as somewhere to sit and use the free WiFi internet that most venues in the district seem to offer.
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