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‘Individuals dance on tables’: welcome to Belgrade’s kafana pub tradition | Serbia holidays



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I’m in old school pub, ingesting beer over picket tables and tucking right into a hearty meal. Besides the picket tabletops are lined in pink checked cloths, the decor is Balkan people.

As an alternative of a roast I’m diving right into a pile of minced beef sausages referred to as ćevapi and imbibing photographs of rakia, the native plum brandy. An accordion participant attracts musical breaths in a nook, his companion strikes Gypsy tunes from a fiddle, folks dance on tables. Welcome to the kafana.


Kafanas are Serbia’s tavernas: a restaurant, pub and music venue working from morning to late night time. Regulars come for a energetic breakfast earlier than work, households throw weddings and celebrations right here, enterprise offers are reduce and sorrow drowned in darkish corners. They had been so central to folks’s day by day lives that mates and the postman would come to search out you at your native kafana, not your own home.

Sadly, many conventional kafanas closed down within the 2000s, partly due to their reluctance to prioritise profit-making over letting regulars sit at one desk all day. Nonetheless, very similar to struggling British pubs turning to gastronomy, kafanas have tailored their choices to outlive, heralding a culinary comeback. I’m following a revamped kafana tour by way of the center of Belgrade with seasoned bekrija – kafana common – Goran Magdić from native tour operator Style Serbia.

A view of Belgrade from the Danube.
A view of Belgrade from the Danube. {Photograph}: Dmitry Evteev/Alamy

We start the day with breakfast on the metropolis’s oldest kafana Znak Pitanja that means “the query mark”, which began life within the sixteenth century as an Ottoman espresso home. A comfortable, wood-panelled restaurant in a low constructing with overhanging lintels, it sits reverse certainly one of Belgrade’s oldest church buildings. The patrons bought in bother for calling it “the bar by the church,” so caught up a “?” and by no means bothered to rename. Seated at low sofra tables, we’re served Turkish espresso roasted on a brazier adopted by a fiery shot of rakia – supposedly the important thing to Balkan longevity. After this come omelettes and pies laden with cheese, mushy folds of bread, fried dough uštipci and smoked meats.

This kafana’s Ottoman fashion is simply one of many many influences present in Belgrade’s assorted streetscape, the place east and west converge. Ornate artwork nouveau and neoclassical facades are offset by megalith communist-era blocks. The kafanas, too, have advanced into three distinctive kinds.

A detail of decor from SFRJ Kafana.
A element of decor from SFRJ Kafana. {Photograph}: Ed Godsell

Some are eastern-leaning, with hearty Balkan delicacies and raucous Gypsy trumpet bands. Others are Austro-Hungarian fashion, serving dishes like goulash, with stringed devices and accordions setting the temper. Extra not too long ago, nightclub-style kafanas have popped up, which amp up conventional music into turbofolk, and pull a youthful crowd bent on revelry.

Turbofolk later: for now I’m exploring Skadarlija, a cobbled road that was as soon as the town’s bohemian quarter. Right here, kafanas had been dwelling to poets, artists and singers, who drew inspiration from the energetic solid of characters they encountered and traded their abilities for sustenance. One of many extra legendary was the Dva Jelena restaurant’s singer Toma Zdravković. Grainy movies from the Eighties present him roaming from desk to desk wreathed in smoke and warbling to adoring patrons. Now he’s solid in bronze as a statue on Skadarlija, and other people lay flowers and cigarettes at his toes.

Live music and dancing are a feature of many kafanas.
Dwell music and dancing are a characteristic of many kafanas. {Photograph}: Ed Godsell

For a hearty lunch, we head to close by Srpska Kafana, a watering gap for the actors of the Atelje 212 theatre subsequent door. Goran tells me that within the Yugoslav period, Srpska would get so busy that one famend thespian Zoran Radmilović, a type of Serbian Terry Jones, used to take a seat by the bathroom cubicle if he discovered the place full – and entertain all current along with his impressions of the “WC mafia” – the penny-pinching Balkan lavatory attendants.

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