Global Gayborhoods: Budapest

A leader in Central and Eastern Europeans' violently controversial charge for LGBT rights, Budapest's unique cosmopolitanism is none-the-less undergoing a lively revival.



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.

Tags: Travel