The businesses of the “Quartier des Fêtes” hope for a tourism revival (while the inhabitants enjoy the peace)
Budapest’s “Holiday District”, a district of Erzsébetváros (City of Elizabeth or District VII) with wacky bars, beer gardens and restaurants that were beating 24/7 before the coronavirus, is coming back very much. slowly to his old watered and buzzing self. But not everyone is happy with the rebirth; indeed, for some, the lockdown has brought welcome relief.
When British retirees John Bienias and Karen Culver moved to the inner part of District VII of Budapest in 2007, part of the attraction was the cool, bubbling nightlife of the various ‘ruined pubs’ and restaurants that have proliferated from the turn of the Millennium.
“When we moved here in 2007 it was a bit of a bohemian area with good bars and restaurants and a nice, lively atmosphere. Szimpla Kert, right in front of us, was still just a crumbling bar visited mostly by Hungarians and our neighbors were mostly longtime Hungarian residents. We were very happy here ”,
With Szimpla Kert claiming to be the most iconic and eclectic ruined pub square of all, the couple were well placed to enjoy the thriving local arts and culture scene, including its long-standing Jewish heritage.
But the couple say things started to get out of hand about five years ago, especially when Western European stag parties discovered that for relatively modest prices of food and groceries and equipment. Airbnb hosting, they could binge and drink without legs – though rarely speechless – in the dawn hours.
In addition to this, drug traffickers regularly stood at the entrance to their building, openly carrying out their illicit “trade”, with prostitutes and pimps gathered further down the street.
“Until the pandemic, the number of tourists and, in particular, bachelor parties has increased to the point where the street is so crowded and the behavior so bad that it is no longer a suitable place for human beings. humans, ”Bienias said. noted.
Indeed, the noise, dirt and hassle have become so intolerable that the couple move to a quieter part of town. They are not alone.
Péter Niedermüller. Photo by Tibor Végh.
District VII mayor Péter Niedermüller admits that the growth of the hotel industry in Erzsébetváros has “caused many types of conflicts between district residents and tourists”, with many people living in the area for several decades. move, often tempted by the high prices of their aging apartments to renovate.
Elected last October with a manifesto that promised to reduce the negative effects of the hotel industry on the local population, Niedermüller is a member of the Center-Left Democratic Coalition.
He says the council “would like to change the character of this party district a bit, [….] trying to turn the neighborhood into a kind of cultural neighborhood to show […] that this is not the only way to come to the neighborhood and drink as many beers as possible, but to get involved in the history, culture and traditions.
The mayor said he has decided to tighten regulations and by-laws for the district’s entertainment sector and reduce late-night noise, while stressing that he does not want to “kill” the party district.
In addition, he says he seeks to negotiate a consensus not only between the various stakeholders, namely the hotel sector, the general population and the municipality in his own neighborhood, but also in the neighborhoods neighboring downtown Budapest. At the same time, he admits that progress is slow “because there are a lot of interests” to consider.
Dóra Garai, an independent councilor representing the local pressure group Élhető Erzsébetváros (Let Erzsébetváros Be Inhabitable), is frustrated with the reform of the regulations nine months after the start of the district council’s tenure.
“The new regulations don’t solve a lot of problems. The biggest problems are caused by high capacity nightclubs and tech clubs in apartment buildings. These attract crime, vandalism and cheap party tourism to our neighborhood, ”she told the Budapest Business Journal.
On top of that, Niedermüller relaxed restrictions on how late pubs and restaurants can serve terraces beyond 10 p.m., the previous limit.
“How does that help reduce noise levels in the evening?” She asks, “A lot of the new regulations actually favor big clubs,” she said, saying the various political parties involved are looking to win votes from business for the 2022 national elections.
And with tourism starting to pick up again, she maintains that with “no authority on the streets” at night, “drugs and prostitutes are back.”
Niedermüller insists he has “zero tolerance” for drug trafficking and prostitution, but admits that while there is cooperation with the local police (which is state-controlled, not the municipality), there are too few officers to properly enforce the law in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, inside Szimpla Kert on a July afternoon, there is little sign of a tourism revival, with perhaps two dozen patrons scattered across half a dozen bars.
“It will be better later. Friday, Saturday is better. Now maybe 25% is what it was [before the virus]Shisha’s bartender Mati tells BBJ as he prepares for the evening trade.
An old man, with 10 years of experience selling drinks and renting shisha or hookahs, says Mati, once the TV news stops talking about COVID-19, tourists will come back.
And with foreign tourists making up 95% of its customers, that can’t happen soon enough.
He dismisses claims that crumbling pubs have created noise preventing residents from sleeping. “We have music, but we keep it inside,” he said, waving his arms at what presumably passes for soundproofing.
Mati also dismisses allegations of fuss at closing time, when customers take to the streets at 4 a.m.
“Ah, sometimes they are a little noisy, but when they drink a little more, they are silent,” he laughs, before telling me his big secret. “I think there is a drug against the virus,” he said, his eyes wide.
Your correspondent listens conscientiously to the scoop of a lifetime. “It’s the Hungarian pálinka!” I drink one in the morning, I feel good, another at noon, and another in the evening. I’ve been doing this for maybe five months. It’s 60% alcohol, so there’s no virus.
Editorial note: There is no medical evidence that the consumption of strong alcohol prevents COVID-19 infections.