You don’t set your foot in it by chance, but only when provoked by a strong desire, or very often by alcoholic impulse.
It’s a place where the intelligence gathered, where the most beautiful songs and poems were written, where numerous negotiations were concluded, from marriages and multi-million dealings, to drawing up national borders and making decisions about entering a war. Kafana!
A mixture of a bar, café, and a restaurant, kafana is a distinctive phenomenon of Serbia and Belgrade as its part. The first kafanas were opened in the city of Meka in the 15th century, but the first one in Europe was opened by the Turks in 1522 in a building in Dorcol, nowadays one of the prettiest Belgrade neighbourhoods. Not until three decades later, contemporary Istanbul gets its first kafanas, whereas London, Marseilles, and Vienna get their own only after a hundred years or more. By the end of the 19th century, Belgrade had one kafana on every fifty habitants. Kafana has its own unofficial definition which says: “It is a traditional Serbian memorial, a place of great fun and even better rakija ( Serbian brandy ), a place where people go inside not knowing anyone, and walk out with four bes men!”
Kafana “Znak pitanja” (“A question mark”)
It is placed in the one of the oldest houses in Belgrade which was built in 1823 by a merchant who opened a kafana in the house groundfloor. Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic , the maker of the contemporary Serbian language, is mentioned as the most famous guest at the second half of the 19th century. Having changed a few owners, in 1885 it was bought by a merchant who called it “Kod Saborne crkve” ( “At the Orthodox cathedral” ). The name caused priests’ revolt, so the owner had to change the name. He temporarily put a question mark above the door which should have been there until a new name was worked out. After 125 years, that question mark still stands above the kafana’s entrance, which name bears even today.
Kafana “Albanija” (“Albania”)
Together with the clock that stood in front of it, it was for decades the centre of assembling of Belgrade bohemians and passerbys. Very ordinary in appearance, the house that had depicted the object of ridicule was “Eldorado for all renters”, as one great Serbian writer described it. It was a meeting place of various social layers, from personnel to road sweepers. In 1940 the first Serbian skyscraper was built at the very place, inheriting the name of the old kafana.