Is This the New Cocktail Capital of Europe?

5 days ago 42

In April 1929, the Orient Express bid from Paris pulled into Belgrade, arsenic it did regularly connected its mode to Constantinople. But this was nary mean time successful the superior of what was past called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. At the bid station, a assemblage awaited a well-known passenger, the African American entertainer Josephine Baker, who would walk a fewer days performing and reveling successful this Slavic metropolis of astir 240,000 people. Belgrade knew however to amusement visitors a bully time, acknowledgment to its fashionable, somewhat raucous nightclub and barroom scene.

One of those bars was successful the Hotel Srpski Kralj successful cardinal Belgrade. It was present successful the aboriginal 1920s that the bartender Milan Vujic created what is often cited arsenic the archetypal Serbian cocktail erstwhile helium combined a juniper-flavored plum brandy and soda h2o and called it the kleka soda. Baker would person encountered it connected the Orient Express cocktail menu.

A decennary later, the debauchery of Belgrade’s nightlife would adust up, acknowledgment to World War II, followed by the Socialist play from 1945 to 1992, and past the Balkan wars, which included the NATO bombings of Belgrade successful 1999.

But successful the 10 years oregon so, thing has changed: The superior of Serbia, present with a colonisation of astir 1.37 million, has go awash successful fantabulous watering holes, softly processing into 1 of the champion cocktail-bar cities successful Europe. Foreign visitors person begun to gravitate present to illustration some classical and cutting-edge cocktails successful intimate bars — successful opposition to the rowdier country astir a period agone erstwhile radical similar Josephine Baker were coming present to fto their hairsbreadth down.

On my astir caller travel to Belgrade, I sought retired immoderate of the city’s champion bars — and bartenders.


In the halfway  of a crowded bar, a pistillate   with blond hairsbreadth  and wearing a stylish, sleeveless achromatic  formal  holds a cocktail glass. The country   is tiny  with beige walls and a ample  reflector  hangs connected  the backmost  wall.
The Belgrade barroom Hanky Panky, which opened successful 2021, drew a stylish assemblage connected a caller Saturday night.Credit...Marko Risovic for The New York Times

It took a fewer seconds for my eyes to set to the dimly lit Hanky Panky, a 24-seat barroom that opened successful 2021. Candles and lights with lampshades successful the signifier of corsets radiated from the corners of the room. Speakers seeped classical blues tunes.

Hanky Panky has a cocktail menu, but similar galore bars successful Belgrade, bartenders improvise based connected each customer’s taste. I wanted thing classic, and a fewer minutes aboriginal the proprietor and caput bartender, Miroslav Popov, placed a gin fizz successful beforehand of me, made with the fantabulous Serbian Young Salt gin.

When I told him I was from New York City, helium asked successful a hushed tone, “Do you cognize Employees Only?”

Employees Only is simply a speakeasy-style barroom successful the West Village that opened successful 2004; successful 2015 it ascended to No. 4 connected the World’s 50 Best Bars list. One of its co-founders is the Belgrade-born bartender Dushan Zaric. Some 4,500 miles distant successful his hometown, Mr. Zaric has go a section hero.

I told the mustachioed bartender that I lived astir the country from Employees Only. “Come here,” Mr. Popov urged, waving maine down the bar. There, connected the backmost antagonistic nether a support of bottles, and lit by a azygous candle, was a tribute to the New York bar: a matchbook, a napkin, a pen and a photograph of the bar’s founders, each branded with the logo. Then helium pointed retired the curved signifier of the oak-and-metal counter. “It’s a replica of the Employees Only bar,” helium said, noting that the bartenders astatine Hanky Panky deterioration the aforesaid outfit arsenic their counterparts successful New York: achromatic shirt, achromatic necktie and vest.

Hanky Panky, Kapetan-Misina 2, cocktails astir 800 dinars, oregon astir $7.30.


There is nary printed paper astatine Riddle successful cardinal Belgrade. Bartenders trust connected customers’ preferences and their ain creativity erstwhile mixing drinks.Credit...Marko Risovic for The New York Times

“When we were young, we each wanted to beryllium Dushan,” said 32-year-old Milos Stefanovic, the proprietor of Riddle bar, referring to the Employees Only co-founder.

Mr. Stefanovic and I began chatting the 2nd I plopped connected a stool astatine the dark-wood barroom successful Skadarlija, a charming cardinal neighborhood. Why, I asked, is the Belgrade barroom country truthful great? “We each person a communal extremity of putting Belgrade connected the cocktail map,” Mr. Stefanovic said. And erstwhile helium said “we,” helium meant astir of the barroom owners and bartenders here. They’re each rooting for 1 another.

“There is nary stigma astir asking each different wherever they got a definite tone oregon astir a caller technique,” said Lazar Ruzicic, the main bartender.

At Riddle, determination is nary printed menu. Instead, the bartenders premix up drinks based connected what they deliberation you mightiness like, adjacent going truthful acold arsenic to see ingredients similar corn, miso oregon adjacent accepted Italian pesto. As James Brown played successful the background, I admired the framed medium covers — everything from Elvis Presley to REO Speedwagon. That’s erstwhile I saw Mr. Ruzicic rubbing the ends of his waxed mustache and sizing maine up.

“You look similar a Negroni guy,” helium said. I nodded and helium went to work, adding immoderate Vinjak, a benignant of Balkan cognac made from grapes, immoderate homemade bitters and chromatic into a beaker on with burning cedar sticks until it was nebulous with smoke. Minutes later, I was sipping a portion that was adjacent parts smoky, bitter and somewhat sweet. “It’s my instrumentality connected a Boulevardier,” helium said. I loved it.

Riddle Bar, Skardarska 9, cocktails astir 1,000 dinars.

Bar Central, successful the stylish Upper Dorcol district, is often boisterous, with radical elbow to elbow connected stools astir the U-shaped bar, oregon lounging connected the banquettes.

I was staying crossed the street, and I often began my evenings there, chatting with the owner, Damir Miladin, and the bartender Rasha Hindawi, who is besides the co-owner and bartender astatine different constitution called Lenja Buba. In 1997, the 2 founded the Bartenders Association of Serbia, which trains bartenders and helps them find jobs.

As I sipped connected a Bar Central Delight — a premix of vodka, rakia (a section brandy, this 1 made with apples and roseate petals) and lychee liqueur — Mr. Hindawi conjured the past. “During the wars of the ’90s, a batch of radical fled,” helium said. “They came backmost astir the opening of the adjacent decade, immoderate of whom had worked successful bars successful London and New York, and were highly educated and skilled successful making cocktails.”

Mr. Miladin interjected: “That’s erstwhile I realized that we person each this endowment present now, truthful possibly we should unfastened a bar.” Bar Central opened successful 2005. “I’d accidental that astir 80 percent of the bartenders successful Belgrade started astatine Bar Central,” helium said, acknowledgment successful portion to the grooming and apprenticeship programme that they inactive bash astatine the bar.

Bar Central, Kralja Petra 59, cocktails astir 600 dinars.

Around the corner, hidden down an alley, is Druid Bar. When you find the door, you’ll spot a enactment affixed to it that says, successful Serbian and English, to telephone a fig and idiosyncratic volition fto you in.

Inside, a acheronian country is bedecked with stained-glass lamps and decorative plates. The curvy barroom with astir 10 seats, a bartender determination told me, is besides a tribute to Employees Only successful New York.

Bartenders volition manus you a seasonal two-page paper of signature drinks oregon riffs connected classics, specified arsenic the Viquiri (Viljamovka rakia, achromatic rum and lime juice) and the Haze Collins (gin, greenish Chartreuse, orangish juice, elemental syrup and basil). Or they’ll premix thing peculiar for you, which volition astir apt get successful a heavy solid tumbler that would beryllium worthy of a photograph — if the barroom didn’t forbid taking pictures.

Druid Bar, Cincar Jankova 1, cocktails astir 700 dinars.


Kultura, successful the Vracar neighborhood, opened successful 2012. It is among the archetypal successful a question of stylish, innovative bars that person opened successful Belgrade implicit the past decennary oregon so.Credit...Marko Risovic for The New York Times

At Kultura Bar successful the Vracar neighborhood, Juraj Kozma, a co-owner, asked what I wanted and I pointed astatine the vessel of Becherovka, a Czech digestif. A infinitesimal aboriginal a highball solid arrived: Becherovka with pome liqueur, lime foodstuff and elemental syrup. It was an perfect substance to antagonistic Becherovka’s herb-heavy flavor.

I was perched astatine the bar, a woody and solid operation filled with tchotchkes, on with a young, mostly section assemblage sipping soiled martinis and fruit-laden cocktails. On 1 wall, a framed black-and-white photograph showed Elizabeth Taylor with Josip Broz Tito, the longtime person of Yugoslavia.

“We opened successful 2012 and were the archetypal bartender-owned cocktail barroom successful Belgrade,” Mr. Kozma said. It was besides astir this clip that the ingredients and spirits that had been lacking successful Belgrade became readily available. “Then astir 2018 oregon 2019, much bartenders opened their ain bars present excessively — Riddle Bar, Druid Bar, Lenja Buba, Bitters Bar, Hanky Panky, Barblija,” helium said, counting disconnected connected his fingers. “This helped make a captious mass, and the barroom country present went to the adjacent level.”

As I chatted with bartenders, the connection “hospitality” kept coming up. Mr. Kozma said it best: “Our consciousness of hospitality goes backmost to the home. When a impermanent comes over, we virtually instrumentality everything retired of the fridge and enactment it connected the array for them,” helium said. I tin attest to that, having been a impermanent successful respective Serbian homes.

But Mr. Kozma enactment distant an addendum: “There is lone truthful acold large hospitality tin get you,” helium said. “You besides person to beryllium bully astatine making cocktails.”

Kultura Bar, Kralja Milutina 4, cocktails astir 700 dinars.


To participate the 16-seat, speakeasy-style Beogradski Koktel Klub, guests indispensable ringing a buzzer. Drinks determination often see rakia, a Serbian fruit-based brandy.Credit...Marko Risovic for The New York Times

Around 11:30 1 night, I rang the buzzer extracurricular Beogradski Koktel Klub, a speakeasy-style barroom wherever Old Town and Dorcol meet. A darkened model adjacent to the doorway slid open, and the co-owner and bartender Filip Ivanovic poked his caput out. He smiled and slammed the model shut, and the doorway creaked open. “Hey brother!” helium said to me. It was lone my 2nd visit, but present again was that Serbian hospitality.

On my archetypal sojourn I had tried a kleka soda, and I wanted to spot what other helium could premix with rakia. Mr. Ivanovic acceptable down a tumbler of gin, pear rakia, pear cordial, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit foodstuff and soda water. “If Italians person Campari and amaro, Americans person bourbon, Caribbeans person rum, we person rakia,” Mr. Ivanovic said.

The narrow, 16-seat bar, which opened successful 2017, feels similar a backstage club. With jazz successful the background, Mr. Ivanovic and his member Uros Ivanovic chat with regulars. Filip is passionate astir the past of cocktails, and often evokes Mr. Vujic, the 1920s Belgrade bartender. The barroom adjacent has a postulation of aged cocktail books, including a reprint of the 1927 “Barflies and Cocktails: 300 Recipes,” by Harry McElhone of Harry’s New York Bar successful Paris.

One night, Mr. Ruzicic from Riddle Bar was determination and we started discussing the aboriginal of the Belgrade barroom scene. Before I took my past sip, helium said, “Now that I’ve reached a definite level of occurrence successful the bartending satellite here, radical often inquire maine if I’m acceptable to determination to a spot similar New York oregon London.” But why, helium asked, “would I privation to spell anyplace else? We are surviving successful the aureate property of cocktail bars successful Belgrade close now.”

Beogradski Koktel Klub, Uzun Mirkova 7, cocktails astir 1,000 dinars.

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