Photo Article: Pótkulcs, Budapest

  • 30 Sep 2013 9:00 AM
Photo Article: Pótkulcs, Budapest
Back in the day, when Budapest was much cooler than you could ever possibly imagine, people from all over the world came to Hungary to share their unconditional love. You could rummage around under a brick or a flower pot outside anyone's house, at any time of day, find the key and let yourself in. Then, after helping yourself to a beer from the fridge, you could lie back on the nearest sofa and chat to Treehugger Dan about what things would be like in the 21st Century.

Cut to present-day Pótkulcs: the keys are safely behind the bar, the beer costs 490Ft and the people sitting over there heard about it by leafing through the EasyJet in-flight magazine.

Pótkulcs has the kind of mystique that tourists crave and many expats pooh-pooh. On your third or fourth visit, the garage-door entrance can still be difficult to spot, mainly because very little light escapes from the bar itself. "Cool" is the inevitable exclamation of the uninitiated, and many a visiting friend will be impressed at your knowledge of underground bars, even though, in reality, you wouldn't know an underground bar if it opened up in your own cellar.

The fact that Budapest's newest recruits are fond of Pótkulcs, is hardly a crime. Being on a quiet street outside the körút gives it a mellower mood than the bars over in the seventh district. The bar-staff are actually friendly. Put them in a line-up with the staff from Szimpla and you could pick them out in a second (no protruding fangs). Meanwhile, the clientele are more likely there for a civilised drink than a wild night.

That's not to say, however, that nothing ever happens. Left of the bar is a large basement room which hosts bands every week. The staple act, Rekontra, plays on Tuesdays, and is a superb introduction to the Hungarian Folk Music revival. It's a far cry from the violinists employed to bother you in restaurants. On other nights you might get mellow jazz, gipsy swing or "cafe punk" - a decent cross-section of the local music scene, all from the 'comfort' of a ropey old sofa.

A rarity in Budapest, the cellar is non-smoking; the main result being that when there's nothing on, everyone stays in the other room unless there are no seats or they want to play csocsó. (On special occasions, there is, in fact, a second bar upstairs - turn right before the toilets.)

Outside, there's an ample 'kert', or to put it less glamorously, a former garage. There's plenty of blue sky but plenty of shade too, which ensures that it's bustling throughout the summer. A modest menu saves you from having to give up your prime piece of bench: the chili con carne being the informed choice. But don't, whatever you do, wait until you're hungry before ordering. A secret pact requires that they keep you waiting for at least an hour.

Whether Pótkulcs can sustain itself as one of your favourite bars might depend on how keen you are on the music, how much you're willing to pay for beer or how long you can stand to wait for your dinner. But it's clear that its far-reaching reputation is built on more than past glories. Its continued popularity with foreigners and Hungarians, many searching for a piece of the real Hungary, is testament to a certain "nem tudom quoi."

Address: Budapest, VI district, Csengery Utca 65/b


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