I was a bit of a weirdo as a kid. I didn’t have any friends. Not really. I walked around school with blood shot red eyes hoping a girl named Laura might say aw’right to me. She never did. But I found another girl of sorts when I was fifteen and still very much friendless. James Ellroy brought her too me. Her name was Elizabeth Short. You may know her as The Black Dahlia. Or you probably weren’t/aren’t as strange as me and you have not heard of her at all.
I loved Ellroy. I always wanted to visit 1940s LA and shoot the shite with Elizabeth or some other fascinating relics of history. I never thought I’d get the chance. I’d tried for a long time to save up for a Delorean or a Tardis but no matter how much I tried, I never got enough cash together.
Then like some feel good movie, a girl told me about Black Swan. A cocktail bar on a side street in Budapest. It’s like something out of a noir fiction novel. Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson & Ellroy could easily have set one of their stories in here.
Split into two sections, Black Swan is elegant, original and without rival in the city. It stands out. As you enter through the dark entrance, you fight your way through a large black curtain. In front of you, you will see the bar. It will be stuffed with fancy people enjoying a night on the town.
The back though—Jesus the back—is where you want to go. There are three private booths, a mirrored ceiling, low lighting that may leave you blinking into the night air when you exit. All that is missing is the beautiful femme fatale and the smoke filled room. Elizabeth may be waiting there for you, or if you prefer you can bring a real date.
I did. She wore a green sweater adorned with metallic bugs, her lipstick was ruby red and her hair as dark as an inky black sky. I wanted to tell her about The Black Dahlia and my obsession with 1940s LA but it may have been too much for a night out with someone I met on Tinder.
Instead I prepared to order. The waiter approached in a leather apron, hipster beard. All stylish as hell. He offered us the drink list. Every week they have a different theme he said. This week was tequila.
Now, I hate tequila. Last time I drank it was in my University days. Me and a couple of pals had a day out to Brighton and I ended up spewing all over the train seats on the way home. I vowed never to touch tequila again. But something just seemed right. The waiter knew his stuff, seemed sincere and insisted I tried one of their signature cocktails. T&T, I believe it was called. Now, never mind that he was hitting on my date later (when I was in the bathroom no less) he was engaging and he inspired me to try the dreaded Mexican again.
And wow. Fuck me. He was right. Brighton was forgiven for selling pish drinks and being in England, and I was on a rocket ship of flavour that threatened to blow me through the roof. It was hands down the best cocktail I have ever tasted.
I wanted to order it again but my date talked me out of it. And I stupidly listened. Not to say my next drink wasn’t a masterpiece in itself, it was. It’s just it never got close to that tequila. If you are interested the next drink was a whisky sour. I am from Scotland. I adore whisky. I just don’t know how I feel about it being served in cocktails. This one came with egg yolk and a particulary peaty (smoky) wee dram. My date almost threw up when she took a sip from my glass but that’s another story.
Cocktails are not all these magicians of the Hungarian night can muster. There is an explosion of disruptive gourmet food that even this poor lad from Glasgow does not find the slightest bit pretentious. Well, just a little.
We started out on a shared popadom. It was crisp, came with a spicy sauce ready for the dipping and at 900 HUF, I didn’t feel like I was being skinned alive.
My main was popcorn shrimp. Whoever thought of making shrimp into popped corn should be taken around the back of Black Swan and given a standing ovation. The stuff was incredible.
The portion was about the size of a handful of pebbles and you will probably leave hungry but the experience is like no other you can enjoy in BP at the moment. Underneath the popcorn was a beautiful salad that was as fresh as warm milk.
The date went for the duck. She nodded her head in excitement after every bite but that could have just been because she knew I was paying for it. Black Swan offered us a handcrafted cheese cake for desert that sounded delish but that’s for next time.
The only thing that broke the chilled ambience was from the guy clearly having an affair in the adjacent booth (come on, mate it was so obvious) and the music. As much as I love MGMT, I am sure they weren’t bee-bopping to Electric Feel in the 40s. Stick on some jazz or Sinatra and that problem is quickly solved. I am nit picking though. Not everyone wants to be in their own Jim Thompson novel. Or do they?
Now to finish up before you get bored (if it’s not too late), Budapest is hardly known for great customer service, however Black Swan rips that notion to shreds. This is service. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is how we all want it.
Our waiter could not have been more attentive. I always get nervous when I speak to waiters (or any strangers for that matter) but a bond developed between us that night and that’s not just because we evidently have the same taste in the opposite sex. I trusted him. I trusted his choices. I tipped him man. I tipped him hard. So hard I swear I saw a tear in his eye when I left. That might have been because my date had decided to leave with me. We will never know.