As many have noted before – myself included – Serbia’s capital city has developed a bit of a reputation in recent years for being a hard partying hotspot, and is now regularly vaunted as “the new Berlin” by virtue of its roaring nightlife, dirt cheap prices (by western European standards, that is) and general shabbiness. While direct comparisons with Berlin are excessively flattering, Belgrade’s night time economy puts neighbouring capitals to shame, and you’d have to travel as far as Leipzig or Athens to find a better place to get drunk while battering your eardrums with loud music. There are clear socio-economic reasons for this: most of the city’s youth don’t have jobs to get up for in the morning and even fewer have fulfilling ones that give them a reason to go to bed early. Clubbing has always had an element of escapism to it, regardless of geography, but in Belgrade that dimension is all the more pronounced.
City breaks tend to be short, so to make sure you don’t waste any precious party time in Serbia’s capital, here’s a guide to some of the city’s best nightlife.
Housed in a former military barrack, this multi-purpose cultural centre (that’s what the “KC” stands for) is an EU pet project that stages everything from art shows to debate panels. Situated in the heart of Savamala, Belgrade’s hippest quarter, KC Grad is widely credited for sparking the area’s regeneration over the last half-decade or so. It turns into a club most weekends and its location makes it a reliable starting point for a night on the town. There’s usually something going on, and if there isn’t, you can do a quick swivel on your heels and try your luck elsewhere.
Found just round the corner from KC Grad, Mladost/Ludost is actually two venues fused into one: the former being a bar where you can loosen your inhibitions, while the latter is a club with a dancefloor that you can stumble off to once sufficiently inebriated. One of Belgrade’s hipper bars/clubs, it caters to a more fashionable crowd rather than hardcore clubbers, and the soundtrack typically consists of deep house. Exposed brickwork, raw concrete walls and steel bars that are embedded into the ceiling give it that refined post-industrial look that has become so synonymous with gentrification across the world and it wouldn’t look out of place in Shoreditch or Soho.
An acronoym for “We Are The Shit”, Wats is found on the top floor of a nondescript shopping centre right by Zeleni Venac, the unofficial epicentre of town. Small on size but big on intimacy, its owners have done their best to create a house party vibe by surrounding the DJ booth with sofas and stacking a bookcase full of vinyl. A popular pre-party spot that opens and closes early, large glass windows stretch from one end of the elongated bar space to the other, offering a sweeping panorama of the city and frankly gorgeous sunsets in the summer.
Located on the opposite side of the river from Savamala, on the northern side of Branko’s Bridge that ties Belgrade’s old town to the brutalist urban suburbia of New Belgrade, 20/44 is widely regarded as the jewel in the city’s crown. Taking its name from the latitude and longitude lines that cross at its exact location, 20/44 is colloquially known as “the boat” because it actually floats atop a barge (known locally as a splav) on the murky, rubbish-strewn banks of the Sava. Having been a strip club in its past life, several poles are still fixed into its tiny dance floor and red, velvety drapery imbue it with an aura of knowing, tasteful sleaze. Stacks of old TVs line several walls, radiating a hypnotic glow that might make you wonder if someone has spiked your drink. In the summer months the terrace opens up and you can watch the sunrise over the old town. If you’ve only got one night in town, this is where you should spend it.
To put it simply, Drugstore is Belgrade’s attempt at building a replica of Berghain. It doesn’t quite match up to the original, but if you like your clubbing raw and dank, this is the place to go. Located just beyond Danube Port, the building used to be an abattoir and it hasn’t had much added to it in the conversion process. The main room is huge and imposing, with concrete ribs that jut out from the ceiling like the ribcage of a whale. The playlist comprises predominantly of techno, but you’ll get the odd gig by local rappers or foreign dignitaries like Ariel Pink.
All of the venues listed so far cater to Belgrade’s more Western-centric crowd, but Lasta is different: it’s totally mainstream and tasteless to the point of vulgarity, like a Balkans take on Magaluf. I know this hardly sounds like an endorsement, but if you want to experience an authentic Serbian night out, this is the best example of one. Located upstream from Savamala, behind the Belgrade Expo Centre, Lasta is the populist version of 20/44 – it’s the city’s most popular splav, where you’re likely to rub shoulders with both tabloid starlets and mob bosses. There’s a total absence of pretension and you’ll see the Serb propensity for excess on full display.
A much-loved neighbourhood bar in the inner city district of Vračar, this place offers as authentic a “Belgrade” experience as you’ll find without descending into folky kitsch. Saturday nights are the best time to go, even though it’s usually rammed. The sonic palette consists overwhelmingly of ‘90s hip-hop and there’s an ivy-strewn garden out back that offers a respite from the thick haze of cigarette smoke that inevitably clogs all of Belgrade’s drinking spots. The vibe is very chilled, just don’t act like a tough guy, lest you bump into some of the local hard men who frequent the place.