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Walking Through Budapest’s ‘Doorway to a Higher Mind’

David Holzer overcomes his reservations to investigate what makes the BrodyLand concept work in Budapest.

Quiz night for club members.

I didn’t want to like Budapest’s BrodyLand. The whole concept felt a little too calculated and nice. Also, I’m with Groucho Marx, who famously said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” But I was intrigued so I arranged to meet BrodyLand PR and marketing person Julia Csonth at The Workshop, its downtown club space.  

Including The Workshop, BrodyLand spans five venues in the city and describes itself as “…a doorway to a higher mind and a creative spirit…”

Brody House is an award-winning boutique hotel. “The Hotel Guru” website called it: “The coolest place in the city”. The Studios offers spaces that can be used for events from parties to formal corporate bunfights. Located in the Buda hills, The Writer’s Villa is a restored 19th-century house that accommodates groups of up to 14 people and is popular with film crews. The Living Quarters provides furnished apartments in the city center.

As the group’s website puts it, “The Brody community, aka ‘Brodyites’ or citizens of BrodyLand includes a wide range of creatives, Hollywood types, entrepreneurs and anyone trying to earn an honest crust in Budapest that is drawn to BrodyLand’s convivial and private environment.”

The Workshop has clearly been designed for a funky, unpretentious vibe but it isn’t “quirky”. The beer pumps aren’t branded and don’t light up like giant alien fingers.

My host at The Workshop was Csonth, but we were also joined by Matthew Sanderson, who works as a cultural and marketing consultant for the group. They were friendly, charming and open.

Life in BrodyLand

I gathered that BrodyLand started around ten years ago. Members are aged from 18 to 70. Most are based in Budapest but they’re equally likely to come from Vienna or the United Kingdom.

BrodyLand’s social calendar is filled with events that include parties with DJs, English language stand-up comedy nights and an open mic Story Slam. I liked the idea that being a citizen of BrodyLand gave me somewhere to go in Budapest at night that wasn’t a bar, restaurant or music venue where it was impossible to sit down or talk at a normal volume.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why BrodyLand was so successful. The artistic types I’ve gotten to know in the city are always talking about how tough it is to make a living here. I couldn’t see them forking out for club membership. But when Csonth explained that BrodyLand works closely with the film industry, I began to get the picture. The Writer’s Villa is apparently a favorite location and, as “Daily News Hungary” put it, “offers privacy for even the most reclusive movie stars”.

If Hollywood and international business money is helping BrodyLand to offer a safe haven for artists in these challenging times, I’m all for it.

A significant number of the Brodyites actually provide content at some point in exchange for enjoying membership. BrodyLand says this is how it curates an open, progressive and artistic community.

BrodyLand is affiliated with 34 other clubs in 19 countries. One of these is London’s Groucho. I was, of course, reminded of my initial resistance to the entire BrodyLand thing.

I had intended my meeting with Csonth to be short and sweet, allowing me to poke my head round the door of The Workshop and get a quick feel for the place. As it turned out, it was so convivial that I spent an hour or so chatting and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

‘Plain Vanilla’

Csonth put me in touch with Peter Grundberg, co-founder and director of BrodyLand with William Clothier. Both men are in their early 40s. Grundberg’s answers have been edited purely because of space considerations.

Grundberg and Clothier got their start in Budapest developing properties. “We worked on what one might describe as our own ‘plain vanilla’ apartment renovations, bought and flipped a few units then set up an investment fund,” Grundberg told me.

“After the tumult of Lehmans in 2008, we elected to rewrite our game plan rather than return to London licking our wounds. Stubbornness, a belief in the city of Budapest and seeing a gap in the hotel market encouraged us to give our ‘fresh’ ideas a go. This outlook gave us an identity and, dare I say, some charm.”

What’s the origin of “Brody”? “We doff our cap to Alexander Brody – the Hungarian writer – after whom the street on which Brody House, our first hospitality venue, is sited. It wasn’t long before our ‘house on Brody Sandor Street’ became shortened to Brody House. The name stuck so there was no need for us to engage a branding consultant!”

I was most curious as to how Hungarian creatives benefitted from BrodyLand. “We hope to feed creativity in Budapest in all sort of ways,” Grundberg wrote.

“Our contribution has come in the form of rent-free studio space, showcasing talent, purchasing artworks and generally promoting people through the BrodyLand platform both locally and internationally. An artist called Ludovic Thiriez who started his painting career in Brody House ten years ago won the Luxembourg Art Prize in 2018. We were delighted for him and his dedication in his recent catalogue thanking us for the support over the years was deeply touching.”

And what about the future? “We would like to expand the BrodyLand format both in Budapest and potentially further afield. We’re putting in some late nights to make it happen. Fingers crossed and stay tuned!”

As a convert to the BrodyLand concept, I wish Grundberg and Clothier all the best. I walked away from The Workshop with a “Scribe Visa” that gives me a year’s membership of BrodyLand. I have to say I’m delighted.

Bar and drink consultant Dez O’Connell gives regular cocktail workshops at Brody.