“Kafana” is one of the most important institutions in Serbia. It’s a kind of traditional tavern, closer to a pub than to a restaurant. For a heavy drinkers’ nation like Serbia, it’s a real epicenter of the society. Few hundred years ago, the wars ended in kafanas, and many poets have written their most romantic songs on the paper tissues, in the lightly intoxicated mood right there. People joined political parties, the exams were passed, and many great grandmothers have met great grandfathers there as well. In this story, I compiled an ultimate guide to drinking in Serbian kafana, to help you experience those remarkable moments in the Serbian kafanas, that often change people’s lives.
The first rule of drinking in Serbian kafana is you never go to kafana alone. Kafana is a place where you bring your friends and meet with your friends’ friends. Everyone shows their true intentions in the kafana. It’s a place where you become a family with the waiters and agree to be a godfather at a stranger’s wedding. The more people, the merrier drinking.
Bring money, and bring lots of it. You don’t just pay for yourself. Instead, everyone is expected to pay the rounds of drinks for the whole table. Be prepared to leave the hefty tip for the waiters, and give a big money stimulation to the orchestra to play your favorite songs.
There is a good old kafana that locals swear by in every city. It’s the best to ask the local people for kafana with the longest traditions, good food, and fair prices. The one like that, still preserving the authentic bohemian atmosphere from years ago is Kafana kod Rajka in Tinker’s Alley in Nis.
You may have a hard time deciding where to go kafana drinking when strolling through the Skadarlija District in Belgrade. The pretty promoters and orchestra members with their cylinder hats will invite you to every kafana, but don’t worry you can’t go wrong in Skadarlija. Most of them have a long tradition and an easily recognizable name for every local: Dva Jelena, Tri Sesira, Dva Bela Goluba.
If you want to make new friends instantly, enter kafana with your hands in the air while greeting the waiters and musicians as if you’ve grown up together in the suburbs of the town. It may sound a bit dramatic, but if you are insecure, please refer to the points one and two of this drinking in kafana guide. That much more if you are going for the second or third time to the same place, you can’t just break the bond with the kafana staff.
There are three optimal seats in every kafana. If you are the type to dance, order songs and cry, the perfect place is next to the orchestra. If you are a fast drinker and the one ordering most of rounds, it’s better to seat close to the bar, so that the waiters have their eyes on you at all time. The third optimal seat is a corner seat, perfect for a reunion after the decades of not seeing an old friend, or healing a broken heart, or philosophizing about life with a friend.
The most important rule after drinking rakia all night in Serbian kafana is “DO NOT DRIVE HOME.” Forget about driving, and before going to kafana, write down the address of your accommodation. Although, there are night buses, it’s better to stick with the taxi, as the drivers will have more understanding towards zig-zagging, feeling dizzy and sudden emotional breakouts on the backseat.
A place that connects a bankrupted alcoholic father, fresh teenage couple, secret service agent and artists looking for inspiration, is a must-visit to get to know the essence of the Serbian society. Prepare yourself for a heavy alcohol intake, and make sure you follow this guide to drinking in Serbian kafanas for the remarkable experience and lots of memories.
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