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People bustle through door and out of the icy wind. Coats are removed, scarves are unwound, gloves come off and hands grab at the trays of palinka that flow from the bar.
It’s dimly lit and smoky but the atmosphere is warm and busy; not unlike an eastern European version of Liverpool’s iconic Cavern. It’s only a Tuesday night but Könyvtár Pinceklub is gearing up into full swing.
Clearly no tourist spot, Könyvtár (The Library) is a place where an Australian accent and poor Hungarian gets many an inquisitive look.
Although there are many popular music bars frequented by tourists around Budapest, such as Gödör Klub and Fat Mo’s, Könyvtár prides itself on being a relaxed, authentically Hungarian place to see live music with a loyal local clientele.
Tonight those regulars are here to see Club Era; a popular band of street performers who hail from Esztergom, a small Hungarian town perched on the Danube bank.
Its 10pm when members of Club Era begin to become distinguishable from the rest of the crowd. Several men trickle onto the stage continuing their conversations and drinks while tuning up. The smooth soaring tune of a saxophone solo glides its way through the bar filling the small space and evoking whoops from the eager crowd.
Latorczai, a young man with a laughing face among a sea of dreadlocks, excuses himself from his conversation with Dot and I, and moves to sit cross legged on the stage; didgeridoo resting on his lap and beer stowed next to him.
With seven permanent members as well as guest performers, Club Era combines the sounds of the saxophone, violin, guitar, didgeridoo, bass guitar, flute and drums for a rich sound that gives a nod to the traditional music of countries including Moldova, India and even Australia. All with an Hungarian flair.
The group of instrumental musicians quickly became fixtures on the Hungarian live music scene after their formation in 2002 and have rapidly increased in popularity since the release of their first official full length album, entitled ‘Kicsi nékem ez a ház…‘ (‘This house is too small for me…‘), in 2008.
Frontman Páldi Zoltán murmurs a hello to the crowd in Hungarian, still laughing from a conversation with a friend from the audience. His guitar hangs haphazardly from his neck, the strap is tangled in his long hair which will soon be dripping with sweat from bouncing around the stage in his emblematic way. He stoops over the microphone, buzzing with energy and palpable stage presence as though ready to pounce.
Suddenly the room is filled with the sounds of a searing violin, the low chuckle of a didgeridoo and the beat of a raw acoustic guitar all served with a dash Hungarian fire before the hungry crowd.
For the next two hours the band performs a brilliant set featuring their own raw, vibrant compilations and as well as some traditional Hungarian folk tunes, to which the crowd roars in delight, singing along with gay abandon.
The floors shake as the crowd dances; not pushing up against the stage trying to get as close to the action as possible but dancing freely as if knowing that the action and the magic of the experience is all around them.
When the set and the Library closes Dot shows me the way to a tiny unsigned bar run in a house the bar owners inherited from a relative; complete with cosy couches, an old sewing machine and a friendly blind household dog who seems to knows all the regulars by smell.
I’m sitting comfortably reflecting on the gig when Dot comes over with yet another round of palinka. “Oh, come on, I can’t let you leave until you can drink like a Hungarian!” She says as I shake my head and laugh before offering my shot up to anyone who would like it. “I’ll take it,” sounds a voice. Standing in the doorway is Bakai Márton, Club Era’s violinist.
Welcome to Budapest, Princess.