Updated: May 6
There you can wine and dine, daydream or fall asleep, love dearly or sob and drown your sorrows . There you can have the honor to be a godfather to a newborn baby or make wedding receptions. In kafana you can make friendships, say farewell to somebody dear to your heart and to your former companions. There you can forge alliances, take political decisions or organize formal balls. In it, emotions tend to be truly genuine, pure and bare to its core. The greatest poets, singers and writers have sought inspiration in it, for many it is either a sight for their sore eyes or sadly the venom for the heart.
Here it all began...
Did you know that the first tavern in Europe was established in Belgrade's municipality Dorćol? History tells that in Belgrade, in 1522. The first kafana was founded. It was founded by the Turks, in an old building on the Lower Dorćol, in which only coffee was to be had. Hence, the etymological meaning of the word café’ is the place that serves coffee to customers. However, its purpose, importance and beauty of the kafana seems to have defined its meaning by far. The official historical documents go to say that the capital city, at the turn of the century every 50th resident ran a tavern.
The greatest impact on the development of these duly named cultural institutions is believed to have been made by precisely the presence of people of different personal and multicultural tradition and heritage. When Belgrade, in the 16th century was recognized as a significant trading capital - Serbs, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Armenians and other nations have brought along a touch of their own culture. Until 1881, it registered almost 230 kafanas.
Today, there is a number of different synonymous terms for the kafana- pub, a bar, birtija, tavern, restaurant, café’. But the cafe is still associated to the good old days and the times deprived of any woes and worries and no prejudice against anybody’s family background, or assumptions that a person might be your foe plotting devious plans against you, but the belief that all people of all nations and nationalities are connected together to share their stories, adventures, to sing and sob along in unison and forge friendships and alliances. Kafana is there to connect and bring about reconciliations.
Tavern Sokolovic, photo source: www.b92.net
Anecdotes and trivia from a kafana...
For many pubs there is a plethora of interesting facts, and their origin is also somewhat peculiar. Did you know that in a restaurant - pub "Kasina", which to this day can take pride in a successfully run small business, the first cinema in the capital was founded? Did you know that in Dorćol, amid the old and run down dilapidated houses, close to the river, in the municipality of Braće Baruh there is café’ "Oskar", in which the most delicious boiled beans is served, the best chutney , "noble posh jelly" and the best rakija is brewed? Did you know that the famous restaurant "Proleće" ( the Spring eng.) were the first to have used the first electric light bulbs? Did you by any chance know that in the 19th century, the famous Belgrade kafana " Tri lista duvana ( eng . Three Tobacco Leaves) installed the first telephone operating headquarters? Did you know that the "Golden Keg", according to the popular belief , is one of the most visited kafanas in Belgrade? Some of the first scenes of some of the most popular films of Serbian cinematography were filmed there and their friendly staff will narrate the history of this institution with great enthusiasm.
Golden Keg, source: www.forum-serbia.com
Kafana"?" i.e. "Question mark" however, is the most recognizable. It seems to me that every foreigner, no matter where they come from, wants to visit this legendary place by far and wide . Located in the heart of Belgrade, in the old, cobbled road, located between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the picture perfect Museum of Princess Ljubica. In the spring, when you can smell the fragrance of white roses, you are bound to remember this place after the kafana music in the background, the chimes of the church bells and the buzzing sound of lively and playful children from a nearby elementary school, which happens to be the oldest in Belgrade.
Question Mark - the exterior, photo source: www.forum-serbia.com
Question Mark - inside look, photo source: www.forum-serbia.com
Feel free to go anywhere, but make sure you always come back to SKADARLIJA...
However, the center of the bohemian life is Skadarlija. There are not many dilemmas as to where you can go with your family, friends or business partners to spend quality morning, afternoon or evening. When you step on its sidewalks, you'll feel like you're back in the old days, when young ladies, in wide, colorful gowns walked the promenade, the main street, and the boys tried to charm them; music and good atmosphere can be felt in every corner. The sounds and smells of the old streets, mouthwatering Serbian cuisine is something you can experience only in Skadarlija. Bohemians and bon vivants from back in the day such as Djura Jaksić, whose house is the symbol of this quarter, is believed to have spent ‘half of his life’ only in kafanas.
Restaurants such as "Three Hats", "Two white doves" or "Two Deer" are just some of the places where you can feel the spirit and the friendly atmosphere of Belgrade. This street has been and still is one of the main tourist attractions.
Did you know...
…that the old tavern like ‘’Manjež’’, ‘’Madera’’, ‘’Majestik’’, ‘ Klub književnika’ and ‘’Lipov lad’’ got a new look? Although the facade looks more contemporary , it still maintained their traditional service, distinctive menus and reasonable prices.
In the book "Kafanas from the old Belgrade" dr Vidoje Golubović provided useful details associated with each kafana of relevance. Here are but a few... AMERICA - one of the most famous kafana, in the midst of the green market. It seems to have gathered lovers of oriental pleasures. The best Turkish delight served. TRANDAFILOVIĆ -a well-known cafe in Cubura, chroniclers of the fragments of our past cited as the most famous in this part of the city until the First World War, stating that the dishes narrated a tale of the whole Belgrade. One cannot seem to leave a kafana before dawn. MOSCOW - restaurant that features even in the Serbian and French literature. Set up in 1906, upon the completion of the eponymous hotel . It was built by the Imperial Russian insurance company "Rossi - Fonsiyer". It was the center of social and cultural life of the city back then. GOSPODARSKA MEHANA – a famous Belgrade inn in close proximity to the river Sava. It is believed to have been built in the 1920s ACADEMY - restaurant in the passage of the Academy of Sciences and Arts. Therein the local and foreign newspapers were read, and in the evening, according to the historic records , the orchestra used to play there . Kafana also had a designated area to play a game of billiard. BULEVAR - one of the most attractive Belgrade's coffee shops from the late 19th century. It was in the Terazije neighborhood. Belgradians were proud of its great hall where banquets were held.
Have you visited any of the kafanas in Belgrade? Tell us your impressions.
adapted and submitted by Natasha from Angloland
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