Global Gayborhoods: Budapest

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 26 2008 12:00 AM ET

Outside In

Despite being
connected by nine bridges and -- since the late 19th
century -- a single name, Buda and Pest are distinct and
sprawling cities. The former's giant, gentle green
hills, ensnared by concrete highways, hide challenging
hikes, a picturesque medieval village around Várhegy Castle Hill, the
best views of Pest's eclectic, spired skyline, and the
priceless, eerie Szobor Park where statues of old
Soviet and Communist leaders have been unceremoniously
deposited (XXII Szabadkai ú;t, Buda; 227-7446;
1500 Ft; 10 a.m.-dusk daily).

Across the Danube
river, Pest bustles with the Hungarian State Opera,
heartily spiced goulash stews, Europe's oldest metro, and
beautifully faded Art Deco architecture. By night, this half
pours itself outside -- weather permitting -- to drink
local microbrews in the open-air beer gardens it
claims to have invented. Together, Budapest is
considered one of the continent's most beautiful cities and
many will attest that it is currently undergoing a
lively renaissance.

While constant
controversy and violence have plagued Budapest Prides for the last
few years, the city remains among the most liberal, safe
places in Eastern and Central Europe -- matched by
Ljubljana, Zagreb, and Prague. In an important step in
2008, police were praised for physically protecting
marchers as protesters threw eggs, paint, cobblestones, and
petrol bombs.

Resilience is key
in Budapest, as much for capitol culture in general as
for the queer scene. The city's unique cosmopolitanism has
withstood Romans, Magyars, Mongols, Turks, Habsburgs,
and Soviets and will withstand recent homophobia as
well.

The city's LGBT
bar and club scene, while small compared to Paris or
London's, remains active, drawing queer folks from
neighboring Central and Eastern European countries,
and a form of civil unions has been legal since 1996.
Effective in 2009, new legislation will guarantee these
unions the same rights as married spouses except for joint
adoption.

Tips: Hotels
Owned and operated by an openly gay Hungarian
chef and former 5-star hotel executive, the Kapital Inn (1062 Budapest, 30
Aradi ú;tca, Pest; 36-30-931-10-23; 79+ Euro) bed and
breakfast is the top choice for LGBT accommodations in
Budapest. The 19th-century building offers wireless
Internet, a terrace, complimentary drinks and snacks
whenever you feel peckish, fresh baked breakfasts, and
priceless advice on current queer nightlife.

Perhaps the first
-- it opened in 1896 -- word in Budapest luxury, the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal
(H-1073 Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 43-49, Pest;
36-1-479-40-00; 150+ EUR) consistently ranks among the top
hotels in the world. Amenities include a hi-tech spa
that pre-dates the hotel, two cocktail lounges, two
restaurants, two streetside cafés, and regular
wine-tastings.

Tips: Budapest Bathhouses
Roughly 100 natural thermal springs erupt in
Budapest, accounting for the city's historical
association with healing baths. One of the oldest is
the Géllert Fürdo
(H-1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi ú;t 4, Buda;
36-1-466-61-66; 3100+ Ft; 6 a.m.-7 p.m. M-F, 6 a.m.-5
p.m. weekends), which opened in 1914 and remains a top
international choice today.

The old tradition
of separating women's and men's sections is still in
effect, but a range of á la carte spa services have been added,
from manicures and mud packs to acid baths and "healing
gymnastics."

Tying
Géllert Fürdo for top Budapest bath is the
neo-Baroque-style Széchenyi Fürdo (XIV
Állatkerti ú;t 11, Pest; 36-3-32-10; 2000+ Ft; 6
a.m.-10 p.m. daily), which opened in 1913. Nestled in
Pest's City Park, its massive open-air thermal pool --
by some counts the largest medicinal bath in Europe --
draws crowds of local families on the weekends who spend all
day soaking in its warm, "healing" waters.

Where
Géllert Fürdo excels at luxury amenities,
Széchenyi Fürdo is unique for its extreme
temperatures. A small cavern-like room just off the
moderately hot outdoor bath holds perhaps the hottest sauna
in the world, next to which lie an ice-water pool and
a utilitarian metal chute shooting out sheets of
actual ice.

Rubbing ice on
yourself, retreating to the sauna, and then repeating the
process every 15 minutes for an hour is supposedly very
healthy, but many Hungarian men seem to treat it like
a fun, masculine endurance course.

Tricks: Queer Beer
An 'authentic' beer garden, in which the
establishment's signature brew is pumped directly from
containers underground into the garden's outdoor
garden taps, can be hard to find these days. If possible,
ask locals, concierges, and especially students if
they have recommendations.

Queer nightlife
has taken a bit of a hit in the last two years, with
favorites like Angyal Bár and Bohemian Alibi closing up
shop. Coxx Bar (1072 Budapest,
Dohány utca 32, Pest; 36-1-344-48-84; cover varies; 9
p.m.-4 a.m. M-Th., 9 p.m.-5 a.m. F-Sa.) remains open,
its cruising backrooms attracting a mixed
leather/bear/muscle crowd. Also part Internet café,
sex shop, and art gallery, visiting Coxx by daylight can be
a useful way to pick up news of other LGBT goings on.

Most advice will
probably point to Capella Café (1056 Budapest,
Belgrád rakpart 23; 06-30-629-79-71; 10 p.m.-4 a.m.
daily, closed Tu.), which offers standard to
above-average quality gay clubbing and good drag shows
to House-inflected diva-stomping beats.

Lesbian-owned Eklektika Restolounge (VI ker.
Nagymezö, Pest; 06-1-266-12-26; 590+ Ft; 12 p.m.-12
a.m. daily) is another old-school hold-out, offering
tasty eats and solid cocktails for appetites of all
sizes and sexualities. Try their vegetarian-friendly
all-you-can-eat buffet from noon-3 p.m. Monday through
Friday.

Semi-monthly LGBT
parties have taken up the nightlife slack to some
extent, with the Candy parties leading the way.
Venues and cover charges may vary, so check their website
ahead of time.