I’m hot. My jacket’s got some unidentifiable drink spilled all over it. I haven’t seen anyone I know for the last twenty minutes. The music, which was good at the last place, now just seems to have Get Lucky on repeat. And, to top it off, the women’s toilet queue is a mile long.
Where am I? Krakow or Lagos? Amsterdam or Zagreb? Why, I’m on just about any old pub crawl in Europe.
I’ve been on a number of pub crawls in my time. Some may dismiss them, but I’ll always remember that first one, in Barcelona. I toddled off by myself – quite the thing for someone to do in a foreign city – and met a whole bunch of fantastic people. At four in the morning, I had half a dozen others willing to walk me back to my hostel (come to think of it, I think we danced), somewhere in the maze of the Gothic Quarter.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, all those pub crawls started to merge into one another. I couldn’t tell one Hour of Power over another, which drinking challenge was where or which one offered a free tshirt. The bars all started to look the same, and you weren’t able to tell which city you were in unless you were verbally reminded.
That was until I joined a pub crawl in Belgrade. Now, this was one that was different. The reason why? It’s hosted by a man called Zeljko Petrovic, who pours his heart and soul into these tours. The man is a machine. His pub crawl is different, in that it is more a cultural tour of Belgrade by night. But not in a boring way. I’ve seen him stop us in the middle of the street to point out an old Yugo, which Time recently named as ‘the Mona Lisa of bad cars’. He’s taught us the correct way to drink rakija (slowly, don’t shot it). He’s given me birthday presents and made a whole pub sing to me. And no two of his pub crawls have ever been the same.
You’ll never see Zeljko sitting still on one of his pub crawls. He first delivers the toast that comes with the first of our rakija, the local firewater of choice apparently popular with workers alongside breakfast. Then he’s running around, getting people drinks, translating menus and is up there dancing at the kafana; a type of local pub found all over the Balkans and usually the first stop on the crawl.
I grew to love the kafanas; they were so relaxed and local. Picture a pub in the middle of the Aussie bush, and transport it across the world and plonk it down in the middle of bustling Belgrade. Then change the VB beer and replace it with rakija, turn off the cricket on the flickering TV in the corner of the bar and imagine football instead, and delete the poker machines along the wall and add buskers in their place. Then you’re perhaps fifty per cent of the way to understanding a kafana.
Zeljko would always request the first song from the roaming buskers. They’d often be in groups of four or so, and were complete with accordions, saxophones and so forth. They’d go from kafana to kafana, looking for people to request songs. Then they’d play them for small tips, sort of like the human version of a jukebox.
I learned to love these guys. Zeljko would always request Kafana is My Destiny first; a lovely, jolly song that I’ll take over Get Lucky any day. Then we’d get up and dance in that wonderful, no-dancing-ability-is-required way, where we would all link arms and kick our feet this way and that. Sometimes locals would stop and point; other times they’d laugh and join in.
Other bars would follow, all with their own unique character. A pub that brewed blueberry beer. A hole in the wall with a resident dog. What looked like someone’s home, with a tiki bar design in the backyard and a view over the Danube. A squatter bar on the eighth floor of an old apartment building with a view over the city, complete with jazz band and hipster locals. And a floating club on the Sava River, which would teem with locals and visitors alike during the summer months. You never knew what was coming next, and you never forgot you were in Belgrade.
I never bring my camera out on pub crawls, so I only have a few fuzzy iPhone photos and similarly fuzzy memories of my crazy nights in Belgrade. Plus I have my rakija glass. If I ever get in the mood for a Serbian breakfast, I’m all set.
Pub crawls – yay or nay? Have you been on a pub crawl in Europe, and if so, what were your impressions?