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« Where To Go, That I Don’t Know | Main | The Day That Shouldn’t Be »

The Underground World Of Beer-dapest

A bar waiting to serve it's thirsty customers. (click to see larger)“Um, can you put that beer in your coat when you leave…” the shopkeeper awkwardly asks.

Persze,” I respond.  Of course.

The legality of buying beer in Budapest has become a grey area.  In other words, it’s illegal to buy it in certain places at certain times.  Fortunately, sticking with Hungarian tradition, the people are willing to resist.

Budapest is divided into 23 districts, and each one has their own laws.  Much of the exciting, central part of Pest is located in 5th district.  In a move that’s probably not coincidental, it happens to be illegal to buy any sort of alcohol after 10:00 P.M. in this district.

Don’t hate the people who make the rules.  They probably have much more logic than simply wanting to prevent people from having fun on a Friday night.  I assume they think it will cut down on problems caused by drunk people such as graffiti, litter, and fighting in the streets.

Dreher is one of the most common Hungarian beers. (click to see larger)Does it work?  Well, not in my opinion.  There are still just as many drunk people, except they usually have to go to bars and pay a lot more for a drink.  In a way, that does help the local economy, so it’s not all bad.

On the other hand, a creative person can bend the rules a little bit.  There are a lot of little stores that are open 24 hours, but some are more noticeable than others.  If you go to one on a main intersection or in a very popular bar-hopping neighborhood,  they will refuse to sell any beer to you late at night.  Period.  End of story.  Don’t try to argue, it won’t work.

The streets at night. Notice the reflection of the "walk" man on the side of the car - awesome! (click to see larger)Follow my advice, though, and you will not be thirsty.  If you find a small, discrete shop on a side street, you’re chances of success are far greater.  You should enter the store without appearing drunk, be polite to the store owner, buy a bag of pretzels (very cheap, and you know you want them), and just one beer.  Don’t ask if you’re allowed, just act casual and in control.  Put your purchases on the counter, and get out your money.

Many times this will result in the shopkeeper turning his back on the rules and selling it to you.  After all, that’s where his paycheck comes from.  He’ll ask you to tuck it away where no one on the street will see you leaving with it, and you’ll happily comply.

I still don't understand why a non-alcoholic beer is a big advertising point, but I guess they're proud of it. (click to see larger)This whole interaction relates back to a time-tested Hungarian characteristic:  standing up to oppression.  For a people that have been occupied nearly continuously for hundreds of years, the Hungarians have become quite talented at unifying to fight back, even in the smallest of ways.

Even though we’re not fighting the Turks, the Austrians, the Russians, or anyone like that, it still feels pretty cool to stick it to the evil government bureaucrats of the 5th district.  It sounds the plot of a cheesy science-fiction movie.  Oh well, what should I expect when I decide to write about buying a beer at a convenience store?

 Finish your drinks, and you're allowed to go home. (click to see larger)

Hungarian word of the day:


It’s pronounced Care-oo-let, and it means “District”.  You’ll see and hear it a lot if you come to Budapest, because you’ll need it to find your way around.

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Reader Comments (7)

Where is that building with the Stella Artois sign?

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

aaahahaha - "Follow my advice, though, and you will not be thirsty."

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

...and I just had to type "n sync" into the CAPTCHA bar. Always classy.

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I was not aware of the past 10pm rule in the fifth district.
However, I'm sure that it applies only to sell/buy BOTTLED, carry-out alcoholic beverages in grocery and convenience stores. Bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants with on-premises consumption are not included - for sure.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNetuddki

Hi Alex, I'm glad you know now how to get aroung the problem. No cinism here, but I had no way of getting around this problem in Connecticut: no alcoholic beverages from 8 pm to 9 am plus on weekends... Must take care of this on weekdays or borrow from the neighbor :)

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I don't really have anything to add to the conversation--just wanted to say I liked this post!

March 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan

It's on one of the corners at Blaha Lujza tér.

I'm glad it's keeping you entertained!

Yes, it's only buying things from shops. Bars and restaurants can still serve it (and they do). Having a beer while walking from one bar to the next is a little trick I've learned that helps stretch my teacher salary a little further in the local nightlife.

Sounds like you have to plan ahead quite a lot!

I'm glad you liked it, it's always nice to get a compliment!

Thanks for all the comments!

March 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlex Hoskinson

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