Cekaonica: Belgrade’s not-so-secret bar
Belgrade guide books often mention “secret bars.” In reality, they’re born more out of need than secret. Owners flaunt zoning regulations/papework and create bars in abandoned hospitals, basements, or empty apartment buildings. Some of these, like the Federal Association of Travelers, are exactly what you picture: they’re found through an unmarked door in the basement of an apartment building, and make you feel like you crashed a very civilized cocktail party. Others are tiny, loud apartment-sized spots. Some are actually in apartments, with very angry-or tolerant-neighbors.
They’re definitely bars, but not not exactly secret; many have websites or are commonly shared through word-of-mouth. Still, most people have a favorite “secret” bar, and I’m no exception.
My favorite not-so-secret bar? Čekaonica.
Čekaonica is located at the top of the BIGZ building, a half-abandoned printing plant that was built in the mid-1930s. BIGZ building is just off a highway in an area that’s part industrial, part late-night clubs, and part Senjak mansions. Typically Belgrade, really.
There’s no sign, so visitors simply walk in the building, past a sometimes-present security guard, and turn right down a dark hallway to find the freight elevator. There’s graffiti everywhere, and enough random noise and sounds that make you realize the building isn’t abandoned–but that the residents may not there legally. And if that’s not enough to make you feel a bit secretive, wait until you get into the elevator.
The freight elevator is my second-favorite thing about Čekaonica. It’s not for the timid, because it lacks interior doors, and it’s not for the uninitiated, because it’s operated by pushing the knob button on the bottom AND the floor button you want. Like a secret code, if you will. And nothing impressed my cohorts (Serbian and American) like showing them a crazy building, a scary elevator, and a secret code.
Until they saw the view.
This is my favorite thing about Čekaonica. It’s one of Belgrade’s few (only?) rooftop bars. From here, you can see the glory of the fortress, the brutalist architecture of Novi Beograd, or the seediness of the train yard. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset with a glass of wine and listen to live jazz. Because that’s right readers, it gets even better: Čekaonica is a jazz club.
The bar, I’m told, got its name (“waiting room”) because there’s a recording studio and jam space in the lower levels of BIGZ. Musicians would hang out on the roof while waiting for their turn to play, an enterprising person decided to put a bar up there, and Čekaonica was officially (unofficially?) in business. While this place isn’t so secret anymore, it manages to feel low-key. That is, until the new “secret” club next door starts blasting the bass at 1am.
Čekaonica is open from 10am-2am, and is located at the top of the BIGZ building. I don’t have the address, but ask for the BIGZ building and any taxi driver should take you there. You can find the bar’s Facebook page HERE.