Petöfi bridge embankment
Buda, District XI
Tel: 36 1 464 3940
Right on the Buda side of the Petöfi bridge, this beloved club, restaurant, and bar, occupying a Ukrainian ship anchored in the Danube, attracts everyone from club kids (for the DJ shows) to couples in their mid-50s (for dinner and torch songs). On a given night, you might find France's ska-salsa sensation Sergent Garcia, England's electronic stars E-Z Rollers, or the Russian-English turntablist DJ Vadim. Unsurprisingly, the views over the river and embankments can't be beat; much more unexpected are the great jazz combos that add a relaxed vibe to what is ostensibly a party barge.
Open 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
1–3 Anker Köz
Tel: 36 70 505 5480
Best known as a wormhole street providing a quick connection from busy Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Boulevard (at Deák Ferenc Square) to the bars and restaurants on Király Street, tiny Anker Köz became a destination in its own right with the late 2010 arrival of Anker Klub, a cavernous pub and concert hall. Although the former bank branch feels extremely spacious—there's room for 400 or more partiers—the list of Belgian and Czech draft beers and a great soundtrack help keep the place packed every night. Watch for special events, like the every-other-Thursday drum-and-bass series and lounge sessions on Mondays, as well as readings, performances, and concerts ranging from alternative hip-hop to avant-jazz from local stars like the Singas Project.—Evan Rail
Open Sundays through Tuesdays 10 am to 1 am, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10 am to 2 am, and Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 4 am.
5 Paulay Ede Utca
Tel: 36 30 229 1821
For years, the Hungarian drinking palate has stuck to decent domestic Pilsners (like Dreher), great sweet wines (like Tokaji), and spicy herbal liqueurs (like Unicum). But in late 2008, cocktail culture landed at this tiny space located on a quiet lane between busy Andrássy Boulevard and stylish Király in central Pest. Using unusual local ingredients like hot paprika peppers and a full line of domestic brandies, Boutiq'bar's inventive mixologists have come up with a whole line of new cocktails based on native flavors; at the same time, classic cocktail recipes such as the Hanky-Panky and the Twentieth Century are re-created to ultra-orthodox standards of authenticity. The crowd tends toward new-media types and young fashionistas, who fittingly fill the bar's stylish interior (arched ceilings with exposed bricks, deep-red walls, and fluffy bar stools) with quiet conversations and a deep appreciation for all things alcoholic and well-crafted.—Evan Rail
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 6 pm until late.
122 Hajógyári sziget
óbuda, District III
Tel: 36 30 53 52 747
Located to the north of the city on óbudai Island, a.k.a. Hajógyári sziget, this vast cavernous lounge and dance club with brick arches, billowing curtains, VIP booths, and two elevated catwalks serves up sophisticated trance and house from visiting international DJs, such as Liverpool's Mark Knight and Frankfurt's DJ Tarkan (as well as local resident DJs). The beau monde is certainly shooting for the moon here. Girls garb themselves in all the finery they can muster, but only twice a week: Dokk is open on weekends only, though the hedonistic after-parties, which last until well after dawn, more than make up for the limited hours.
Open 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Closed Sunday to Thursday. Closed from June through August.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace
56 Roosevelt tér
Pest, District V
Tel: 36 1 268 3000
Inside the Four Seasons Gresham Palace hotel, this swanky cocktail lounge brings international luxe and concomitant prices to Roosevelt Square, on the Pest side of the lovely Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd). Filled with an international, multilingual mix of hotel guests, well-to-do locals, and expatriate businessmen, the marble-clad space is somewhat dark, with a touch of intrigue. It's also expensive, and worth it, for top-shelf bottles served by well-trained mixologists at a marble-and-mirror bar beneath an arched skylight with Art Deco arabesques.
4 Zrínyi Utca
Tel: 36 30 413 1173
With tons of beautiful vacant buildings and overlooked empty lots, Budapest has plenty of raw material for its unique type of pop-up pub, known locally as a romkocsma (meaning "ruin bar") or kert (meaning "garden"). The city's kert culture has resolutely stuck to the low road, relying on thrift store decor and modest prices to attract downtown crowds. Or at least it did, until the mid-2010 arrival of Ötkert, a pop-up club that takes the downtrodden kert concept to a higher income bracket. Occupying a courtyard around the corner from the ultraplush Four Seasons Gresham Palace hotel, Ötkert accommodates the city's beautiful people with a staff of even more beautiful people, along with chic decor that includes comfortable couches and oversize fashion photographs. Despite the aspirational atmosphere, prices are still quite moderate, meaning even nonsnobs can have a great time. Once you're in the after-hours time zone, expect the music—which ranges from disco and soul to downtempo and trip-hop—to get quite loud.—Evan Rail
Open Mondays and Tuesdays noon to midnight, Wednesdays and Thursdays noon to 4 am, and Fridays and Saturdays noon to 5 am.
25 Nagymezö utca
Pest, District VI
Tel: 36 1 312 3823
Open from dusk till dawn, this red-velvet underground lounge and after-hours club babysits a diverse crowd of urban vampires—the comfortably unemployed, Central and Eastern European layabouts, and modern troubadours—all paying homage to the eponymous Gallic goddess of heartbreak. Pick your poison: There's smooth jazz at the piano bar upstairs, or obscure disco and '80s pop songs on the packed dance floor downstairs.
Open 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.