No one would probably recommend visiting Budapest in the middle of January—the outdoor cafes are limited to indoors, there’s hardly any events or festivals to look forward to, and it’s friggin’ cold. However, one thing that does seem to thrive at any time of the year, is the city’s main gay nightclub, Coxx.
I met a local travel agent (gay, of course), who gave me a rundown of the city’s main gay venues: Capella for dancing; Brutko Disco, a rotating party that turns up in a different venue each month; Action Bar, where you can watch guys have sex on stage; Sauna 69 for…well, you can probably guess.
And then there’s Coxx, Budapest’s “largest cruising area,” on Dohány St, near the Blaha Lujza tér metro stop, offering “dark rooms, glory holes, wet room, cabins, and sling rooms.” Being an intrepid gay travel writer, I figured it was worth a visit.
As my friend explained, the front of the club was a regular bar, where you could sip on a drink, watch TV, chat up the bartenders. Beyond that space, however, is where I would be able to really “explore.”
“You can walk around,” he told me, “see lots of handsome Hungarian men, and maybe even pick up a little flower.” Clearly some euphemism had gotten lost in translation, but I got the gist of what he was saying.
Later that night, I showed up at Coxx, deposited my multiple layers at the coat check (where the attendant told me I had pretty eyes–off to a good start!), and headed to the bar. There, I planned to work up my courage with a glass of tangy, brown Unicum, a Hungarian digestif made from 40 different herbs.
Several groups of men drifted in and out, some there to cruise, some just meeting up with friends. Overall, the vibe was low-key, and I felt comfortable enough to ask my bartender to orient me on exactly what Coxx’s other areas contained. He smiled and pointed to a door at the right of the bar.
OK, I thought. I can do this. I gulped down the last of my Unicum. I was ready to delve into the depths of Coxx.
Pretty soon after entering, it became clear that this is where most of the club’s patrons gathered. I found myself in a dimly lit (and sometimes not lit at all) vaulted tunnel that split off into different directions, where shadowy figures loomed against the wall, faceless in the shadows but their intentions were clear enough.
I followed one tunnel to the end, where I came upon a small room with a bar and a TV. The bartender poured me a glass of water as I, again, tried to work up the courage to look one of these horned-up tunnel dwellers in the eye. I took a few sips, breathed deep, and decided to make my move.
The encounter happened so fast, it felt more like a drug deal than a hookup, but nevermind, I guess chit-chat isn’t really the point of these places.
I walked back to one of the corridors I’d passed through before, only this time I slowed my pace and tried to sense who might be checking me out. The guy who found me wasn’t very subtle: I felt a stray hand move up my inner thigh and I spun around to find a young-ish guy, in his early 30s, about a foot shorter than me, with a plaid button down shirt and a receding hairline. “Good enough,” I told myself.
He grabbed my hand and led me into a separate room, where we locked ourselves in one of Coxx’s “cabins,” (essentially just bathroom stalls without the toilets). Except the first one we went into had no lock, which I initially thought might be standard for this place, but my new pal wasn’t satisfied so we relocated to another cabin across the way.
There, we began doing all the things you’re supposed to do in an anonymous, men’s-only club under the streets of Budapest. And we did them loudly. I noticed his shoulder (or was it my knee?) kept banging into the door and I worried for a minute that someone might knock and complain about the noise.
Then I remembered I was in a place called Coxx, and all anyone cared about was ending up in one of these same “cabins” to make the exact same noises themselves. Here, we were more likely to be cheered on than thrown out.
We rattled the door for a total of three minutes, I think. Maybe more, maybe less. The Unicum in me had done the trick, and I was about as oblivious as could be. After it was over, he stood up and leaned in to kiss, but I let him hug me instead. We stayed like that for a long while, just standing there in that seedy little stall embracing like old childhood friends. It was kind of sweet actually. I got the feeling he was no stranger to the subterranean sex tunnels of Coxx, and yet….maybe there was something to be said for Hungarian hospitality after all? I tried not to overthink it and just enjoyed the hug while it lasted.
We began to dress, and he asked my name, where I was from, what I was doing here. “I am Laszlo,” he pointed to himself. “In English, Leslie.” I told him I liked Laszlo better.
And with that, I stumbled out of the cabin, still zipping up my fly, a sense of accomplishment flowing through me, like I’d just gotten through a final exam, or landed the lead in a play. I didn’t make eye contact with any of the dark faces on my way out, but I could feel more than a few eyes on me. Must be that post-anonymous-sex-in-a-bathroom-stall glow, I guessed.
I didn’t even bother with another drink at the front bar to wind down the evening. Mission accomplished, I emerged from the Coxx’ labyrinth, ascended up to the coat check, bundled up, and headed back towards my hotel. I needed a slice of pizza.