The lads have bought a bar. A neighbourhood joint in the IXth district. I was surprised. They’ve put in their time as punters in hostelries around the world, but I’d never figured them for publicans. One’s an architect. Another works in disaster response coordination. The third’s an academic, and the fourth, well, he makes things happen. A Canadian, a Geordie, a Brit, and an American, all have been in Hungary for the best part of 20 years. They speak the language, they love the food, and they get the people. But perhaps most importantly, they have an innate respect for tradition.
The four live within shouting distance of Lónyay utca 62, home of the 6:3 Borozó, one of the city’s lesser-known iconic pubs, part of a dying breed of the Kádár-era (1956-1988) kocsma (pub). The rest have been gentrified to meet the more cosmopolitan tastes of the twenty-first-century tourist and resident.
The 6:3, though, is entrenched in 1953. November 25 to be exact. The day Hungary beat England in Wembley 6 goals to 3. In May the following year, England would travel to Budapest and receive a 7:1 thrashing by their hosts, a game that has been largely forgotten. It’s the 6:3 score that remains a celebrated feat in Hungary’s living history, one of 22 straight wins by the Aranycsapat (Golden Team) during Gusztáv Sebes’s tenure as coach.
Hungarian football was reinvented when WWI internee Jimmy Hogan was allowed to coach MTK. The canny Englishman introduced the players to the concept of passing, something he had learned from the Scots. After the historic win at Wembley, Sebes said of Hogan, “We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.”
Nándor Hidegkuti scored the first of three goals in the opening 45 seconds of the game, cementing his place in the annals of national and international football history. Back in those days though, with no discernible difference between the salary of a star football player and that of a local factory worker, other ways were found to reward such accomplishments. Hidegkuti’s reward was the 6:3 Borozó, recognition of his contribution to Hungarian football. When he went to coach in Egypt for Al Ahly, the most decorated football club in Africa, he left the pub in the capable hands of Márika néni who looked after it for years.
Before the great Ferenc Puskas returned to Hungary in 1991, he ran into Márika néni at the airport in Los Angeles. She told him of the pub and it was in 6:3 that he gave his first interview in years on home soil. In his day, the place became a living testament to the Golden Team’s achievement. In the years that followed, friends and fans would mark November 25 by coming to 6:3 to watch a replay of the match on its lone TV screen.
The lads dropped in occasionally for a beer and a chat. Márika wanted to retire, but although she’d received her fair share of offers for the place, she wanted to be sure that when she sold, she’d sell to someone who would see it for what it really was: a piece of Hungarian history.
Prospective buyers no doubt eyed the place, making mental notes of how they’d rip up the original flooring and dark-brown panelling, going for a sleeker, more modern look. I’m sure they looked at the high, coffin-shaped tables and low wooden benches and thought how they’d replace them with more efficient seating. The loos, the pictures and football paraphernalia, the sunken wine cauldrons, all would be at the mercy of modernisation. Perhaps some were put off by the location. That end of Lónyay utca is just a step too far from Kalvin tér to get much footfall, but those who’d done their homework would know of plans to rejuvenate the Baross tér neighbourhood in time for the city to host the 2023 Athletics World Championships. Such plans have massive potential for small enterprises like 6:3, when the middle of nowhere becomes the middle of somewhere.
The idea of buying a pub was a pipe dream of sorts, a what if that fell into the category of wouldn’t it be great. But after numerous discussions and conversations, the lads reached a deal with Márika. In November 2018 ownership changed hands. The 6:3 and its history had new custodians.
Around long enough to know their own limitations, the first move the lads made was to appoint a manager. They needed someone fluent in both English and Hungarian, someone who loved football with a passion, someone well-versed in the intricacies of running a pub in Hungary. They wanted someone who understood the importance of working the floor, someone who got the whole concept of regulars, someone who would personify the pub’s personality. They found it all in Zoltán Farkas, a popular local bartender blessed with the ability to banter.
When Sebes was at the height of his game, he was a great proponent of what he called socialist football, where every player pulled their weight and could cover all positions. With Zoli behind the bar, the lads take it in turns to be his point of contact. Their challenge is to maintain the pub’s unique identity while upping its game in terms of wine and food (their hidegtal is a voyage of discovery). Concentrating on Hungarian produce, Hungarian wines, and the Hungarian spirit, the 6:3 they envision is a place where Hungarians and expats feel at home, a place where conversation flows, a place where football (and rugby) is celebrated. They see themselves, not as owners of a bar, but as curators of a piece of the nation’s history. As for me, I’m glad they’ve taken the plunge. It’s a new year and I’ve a new local. Open every day from 2 pm, closing at 11 pm weekdays and 12 pm Friday and Saturday.
First published in the Budapest Times 15 January 2019