Budapest

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more than a year ago
While millions are drawn to Budapest as tourists and thousands of expatriates move here every year, some of this city’s more intriguing people and places remain closed to them. This report lifts the lid on the town’s private clubs, secret societies and rich inner life…

There’s a lot going on Behind Closed Doors in Budapest that you won’t find written up in the standard guidebook. Hence this introduction to the secret city: We give you the clues, but it’s up to you to crack the case yourself.

Let’s begin where you may wish to end up, with Budapest’s very own private members’ club - Brody House. This has been running since 2009, when two enterprising real estate and creative entrepreneurs, William Clothier and Peter Grundberg, decided that what this city needed was a meeting place for creative and successful individuals from both home and abroad. That idea has now grown into a veritable phenomenon here in Budapest: one that straddles everything from polo matches to book launches; from big, hedonistic parties to private art showings. Grundberg and Clothier added another jewel in their crown in 2013 with the opening of Brody House Studios, at Vörösmarty utca in the 6th district. In this case, ‘studios’ means exactly what it says – as in artists’ studios. You can sip your drink in a sheltered courtyard, while around you artists in their studios go to work on canvas or clay.

To join the club you have to be recommended by a member, and then that membership has to be seconded and approved by management. But before you get that far, it’s safe to assume that you’d like to visit their premises and meet some of the members. Well, you could start by joining the biggest club of all (Facebook) and subscribing to Brody Studio’s updates. You will see which of their events are open to the public. The other way might be to book accommodation in one of their suites, which are adjacent to the clubrooms upstairs on Brody Sandor utca. While you are their guest, you are a de facto member of the club, so you can join in for Friday night drinks at Brody Studios which tend to be good fun.

Outside the Brody-verse, and for the city's dedicated party reptiles, there is one indispensable website, which is Havervagy dot hu. Havervagy means ‘pal’ or buddy in Hungarian. This is a private network which invites mostly young Hungarian professionals to parties and club nights. They also organise flashmobs, as you can see from their website. Along similar lines, keep your eyes peeled (primarily on Facebook) for parties held by ‘Citymatine’. These are parties that take place in different locations around the city, such as abandoned villas or on top of buildings, most often during the summer months. They’re a little like the Acid House parties of yesteryear, and are sometimes shut down by the police.

For more intellectual pursuits, may we recommend two different organizations? One is the Common Sense Society, which bills itself as Hungary’s best hub for intellectuals, the socially conscious, entrepreneurs and public policy experts. (Or ‘wonks’ as they are known in the US.) Their meetings are held regularly in the gracious surroundings of the Ybl Palace, either in the cigar room or ballroom depending on how many people are expected. Membership starts at just 6000HUF for a student membership, ranging up to in the 100s of thousands for sponsors.

For primarily Hungarian speakers of a literary bent, 'Hadik Irodalmi Szalon' is an intriguing mixture of a literary society and a talk show, which is held monthly at the Hadik Kávéház, at Bartók Béla út 36, Budapest XI. Hadik Irodalmi Szalon has already gone on the road to Brussels and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Literary agent and promoter Anna Juhasz, together with her fellow organiser, artist and architect Gaspar Bonta, hope to restore contemporary Hungarian literature to the level it enjoyed in the 1920s.

If all that intellectualism has served to make you thirsty, then consider going for a drink in the one Budapest bar where all of these various kinds of movers and shakers come together more than any other. That would be Boutiq’ Bar, on Paulay Ede utca 5. This place bills itself as a Neon Speakeasy, and while everything they sell across the counter is legal, and there is no illegal gaming going on in smoky, backstage rooms, (at least that we’re aware of) there is still something of the secret drinking club about it. What’s more, the best team of bartenders in the town, hands down, concoct mixed drinks and cocktails that take you back to the days of fur coats, cigarette holders and three martini lunches.
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