By Niel Casas
For years, Budapest has been the staple of Europe’s party culture. Cheap drinks, accommodation, and easy transportation has made Hungary’s capital a no brainer for the world’s party people to dance the night away. Yet with little to no ventilation, extremely crowded, confined spaces, and high humidity, clubs which were once the default venues for fun and relaxation, have now been transformed to the perfect incubator for coronavirus. In this article, we will discuss the main challenges and current landscape of Budapest’s club culture, before, during and after quarantine.
In the beginning of March, the Hungarian government strongly recommended hygiene practices in Budapest’s clubs, such as mandatory hand sanitizer at the entrance. Yet all was in vain, as only 2 weeks later, a strict lockdown procedure was implemented, where virtually all indoor events were completely banned. Failure to comply meant hefty fines for organizers, and possible jail time.
Then, in the beginning of July, the Hungarian government finally relaxed restrictions on its capital, regarding indoor events, being one of the few nations in Europe to allow clubs to reopen. With everyone staying home, and following social distancing guidelines, clubs such as Gaga Budapest, had virtually no income to pay running costs, and their employees salaries. Fortunately, the Hungarian government allowed the suspension of business taxes to a later date, and had government backed loans to help businesses survive the pandemic. However, is clubbing the same as before?
Milos Myers, the club owner of LGBT+ friendly bar, ‘Gaga’ said: “We barely survived the lockdown. I just thank god that the government had a payroll protection scheme in place, as a lot of my employees I consider my family. But now I do not really think that we can reach the same visitor count as before. We mainly had many gay tourists who would just visit us for a night then go. Not many locals come here, they actually go to another one. Also, its just way too expensive to pay for sanitizer all the time!” He is correct in this aspect that the financial burden of cleanliness makes the already thin profit margins of clubs virtually disappear. There are other things interesting observations to note however.
For example, on a recent visit to “Instant”, one of the most popular clubs in Budapest, it was as if there was no pandemic. No masks. No social distancing. No hand sanitizer. It is as if people just erased that a pandemic is still ongoing and opted to forget about it for a night. Personally, I wore a mask and airtight goggles, significantly reducing my chances of contracting it at the club. However, many are not so lucky, and it only takes one infected person to cough in a very tight, humid space to spread the virus. There is also a large chance that many around will contract the virus. Only time will tell if this lax policy on enforcing social distancing would prove detrimental to the government’s efforts in stamping out this virus.