With recharged immune systems and psychological functions we get up from the VH1 lounge of yesteryear and flip on the Bardar. Just down the strip is a second story spot with seductive purple lights and music blaring from the windows. It might be called Libido Caffe. Let’s investigate.
Up the stairs and to a door, we open it into a smoke filled, purple lit room with loud, repetitive dance music playing. A hostess stops us at the door. We point to the bar and she shakes her head and points to a table. Oh ok, they must wait on you in here. We follow her gesture and take seats at the table. This is a weird set up. Almost feels like a sparse event space that’s been set up for a function. I think it’s a cafe though.
There’s a dude with a laptop that says Maki Show in one corner. He has a keyboard and mic and is playing along to turbofolk backing tracks. People in here are loving it and singing along. Must be hitting the Balkan classics.
This seems like a good locals joint, but it is crazy hot and insanely smokey in here. The server brings us a couple of beer. We hang for a hot smokey minute but it’s so loud we can’t even talk. MacKay yells at me, “Not feeling this joint!”, “But we’re getting a decades worth of second hand smoke!”
Ok, we’re back out to the street and continue down the strip. Seems like there should be a bar offshoot here somewhere. Yep there it is, looks promising too.
Oh shit, this is the real strip. Tons of mini club-like places with patios. Looks classy too. Lots and lots of people are out and about. We walk passed the first whole street of bars and patios and then there’s another one. Ok Niš is actually super lit. This either wasn’t here on our first trip or we were just adventure detective grasshoppers at the time. We walk passed strip #3 and get to some empty looking streets. There are still bars here and there, we backtrack a bit returning to the scene. “Let’s just get in one.”
We walk passed a giant wooden door just as someone comes out. Is this a dungeon bar? We go in and there’s a traditional band playing all in red shirts and black leather pants. The Host puts his hand up to my chest as we’re stepping in and says that they’re totally full. Sure, sure. Too classy for us tourists, it’s cool.
We find another good looking option a few doors down. Seems like a chill place. Open it up and take a peek. Looks rad. We’re in.
Yep, dope vibe and shisha. The place is called Bombay, hence the Indian theme. Very colorful and cool decor. Love the interwoven ropes on the ceiling.
There are two more levels to this spot above us. It sounds like there’s a party having a blast up there.
Uh-oh, drunk enough to be taking pictures of textures and colors now.
Lo-Fi deep house tracks dripping from the speakers and well mixed drinks. This place was a good find. We settle in and get to talking about what to do next on Plan B.
“Probably don’t need another night here, eh?”, “Nah. I love the place but we’ve done it before”, MacKay pulls up the map, pointing at Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, “These last four are a bit tricky”, “Right. Not sure what the best route.. order.. is. Maybe down to Kosovo first? Over to Albania and Montenegro, but then backtrack to Macedonia… ya I don’t know”, “I don’t think we should cross from here into Kosovo actually”, “No? Ok well that leaves us traversing across Serbia to Montenegro or continuing south to… Skop..je?”, “I know… is it bad that we don’t know how to pronounce the capital?’, “We’re so ignorant”, “But ya, Skopje works for me”, “I’m down”, “Settled. North Macedonia first.”
After another round the place starts to clear out. “Oh shit, is it that time already?”, “Get beers and go to the fortress?”, “Definitely.”
Unfortunately our favorite market, Idea, is closed at this hour. We find a nook of a market near the river and pick up an armload of water heaters and naughty leotards. We head back to the bridge.
Through the Stambol Gate again and passed the Jazz Museum. There is music blasting but nobody is in the courtyard here. Hmmmm.. Where’s the band? We were hoping for the same scene as last time. We’d done the exact same thing. Bars were closed so we brought beers to the Fortress, only to find that it was packed with people and a local jazz band. No such luck this go round. Ah well.
We meander over to the edge of the wall with our beers and look out over night time Niš
I take some time to deeply ponder the 5 Whys…
Finished our beers and not much on the haps, back into town I guess. There is still music playing here though. And it looks like there is a bar in the fortress walls passed the Jazz Museum. “Go check it out?”, “Yep”.
There’s a sign by an arched cave wall of an entrance that says Saloon. We duck inside. Open a door and classic rock is cranking. Well well, what do we have here?
It’s small but it’s kind of going off. Fuck yeah!
We stake our claim at the bar and order up some gins. A little G’n’F’n’R comes on and we’re just squiggled enough to karaoke along. This draws some attention due to our accents probably (or lack there of in this case). People are smiling as we belt out Sweet Child of Mine, fists are raised, “Yeeeeeeeah!” and we’re air guitaring the shit out of the Slash cream.
The bartender is loving it. He passes us two green shots for our efforts, “Like a cool breeze!”, “Wha?”, “Put your two fingers in. Like this. Ok? Then shoot and breathe through your fingers. Like cigarette”, “Ha ok. Never heard of this before”, “Yes, yes try.”
We follow the bartenders instructions, dip our fingers in the shot glass, shoot the green swill, and then breathe through our lubed up fingers like there’s an imaginary cigarette. “Whooooa minty!”, “I just brushed my teeth!”, “Ha yes, yes. You like?”, “Ya man, thanks.”
There is a shorter dude smoking at the end of the bar watching this cool breeze transaction with great interest. He nods at us, walks behind us and then goes around the bar. He is the manager. He likes the cut of our jib and wants to make us a special drink of his own. “Let’r rip, man!”
And fuck does he ever. He slams down two highballs and dumps ice in. He then grabs four liquor bottles at once, then switches it up and pours in four more, then tosses those away and pours another four, somehow layering colors the whole time.
He eyes up his mind melter… not quite ready yet…
Needs some green liqueur on top…
It’s a masterpiece! There’s really no mix involved in this situation, it’s just a fuckload of different types of booze
Oh wait, he’s not done yet. He says that the drink is too full and pours some blue stuff in another glass on the side. “Whoa whoa whoa, this is getting nuts, bro.” He just hands us two straws. Apparently it’s for us to share, which is a good thing cause it’s a completely fucking ridiculous drink. He motions for us to sip-chug while he pours the blue in to fill the glass back up as we drain it.
We strawslam the xmas drink and are now slurping our way through another whole glass of blue shit. He wants a pic. We douche it like milkshake dates.
We finish it off with a phwaf! and a kah! jeezaz! “What the fuck is that called?”, “The Change”, “Well… we’ve changed”, “We’ll definitely be changed in 20 minutes.”
We take a moment to re-evaluate our life choices. But soon the manager is back to find out whether we enjoyed our drink. Oh yeah, definitely. “Do you want a Flaming Lamborghini?”, “A Flaming Lamborghini?” MacKay’s never heard of it. I have, “Oh fuck yeah!” I’ve had three of these before and they’ve all been different. The commonality between them was an elaborate display, the color blue, and a lot of fire, so I’m curious to see what he comes up with.
He begins constructing this masterpiece…
…and then lights it on fire
So, how are we supposed to do this? He starts pulling them off the stack and handing them to us in quick succession. We do as we’re told and shoot each one until there’s no booze left. As the last one is emptied MacKay and I look at each other like “shit goddamn!”. Uh oh, he’s not feeling too good. MacKay hurriedly shoves his bar stool back and hustles off to the head. He comes back in a few minutes and admits to losing one or two Lamborghini parts into the plumbing.
Needless to say we’re solidly gooned at this point. The situation is getting blurry. “Selfie just in case we die from that?”, “Good call.”
We don’t remember leaving this bar. We enter a black hole and time passes us by.
Consciousness phases in again some time later and we’re following four Serbian dudes we must’ve met somewhere back in the downtown area. We’re returning to the river towards the fortress again. (So at some point we left the fortress and went back downtown and met these guys?)
We get to an old amphitheatre along the river and end up hanging out there for a while with these guys, all university students if I remember correctly. It’s a thick haze but I recall the vibe of getting along great. I put on a playlist of electrojazz house bullshit and we just chatted over it. Laughing and telling stories, they all spoke English well and were super friendly guys. I think we might’ve found some beers en route but maybe these guys were giving us beers too. And they kept offering smokes which we hounded like fiends.
Neither of us remember getting home. It must have been mega late. It may not seem overly obvious, but this is actually the best way to test how safe a country is. And now we know. Serbia – very friendly, very safe. Mission accomplished.