Read, Write, Run, Roam


Cekaonica: Belgrade’s not-so-secret bar

IMG_5956Belgrade 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.

IMG_5979The 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.


30 Posts in 30 Days

30 posts in 30 days–completed! Now I have free time to stare at blobs of paint on walls, like this guy:


This mural is on one of my favorite Belgrade walks: Kneza Mihailova to Kalemegan Fortress.

I’ll keep up the blog (pinky swear), but not every day. I’m shooting for a Monday-Wednesday-Friday post schedule. Thank you to all the readers and commenters who kept me going, and for introducing me to your blogs for inspiration. Happy Friday to all, and super happy Friday to my fellow NaBloPoMo participants.

Yarn Bombing: this IS your grandma’s graffiti

I normally post about “traditional” graffiti using stencils or spray paint, but I thought I’d highlight a wacky form of the genre: yarn bombing. All over the world, people knit around potholes, bicycles, even trees to make an artistic statement. This tree sleeve is from Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, courtesy of the DC blog Prince of Petworth:

D.C. is no stranger to yarn-bombing. Bicycles and buildings have also fallen victim to the yarn bomb:

Image from Washington Post







I’m not sure how I feel about it. One one hand, it’s a fun, harmless form of expression (unless that’s your bike). On the other, this seems more silly and crafty than artistic. And I can just imagine all the Serbian grandmothers out there, shaking their heads and imagining all the papuce they could knit with this yarn.

Still, I have to admit, it makes me smile–especially when I think of some grandma planning to pull off a yarn bomb in the dead of night.

I guess Banksy put it best: “Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”

A universal word?

I tried to find another word for graffiti but came up short. Could this be a universal word, like shampoo, google and coca cola? Is there some nomadic tribe wandering around, complaining about little dobogoogoo’s graffiti tags?

I guess Madonna was right: life IS a mystery. So feast on the only graffiti I liked in Paris, wandering around the Marais.


American graffiti


In the spirit of U.S. election day, here’s a DC graffiti mural depicting people rising up against political oppression. Hopefully it won’t have to come to that after tonight…

For DC readers, this is right by the New York Ave animal shelter–sorry I didn’t write the street down. Hope the phone pic does it justice.

Graffiti in Belgrade-and Beyond

Belgrade is known for its graffiti, which can be both good and bad. Bad because much of it is uninspiring (or worse, gang-related) and good because you can see original art, political commentary, or just something to make you smile.  Most of the graffiti artists are Serbian, but I recently came across a mural by a Polish artist whose murals are in museums and on walls all over the world. Mariusz Waras’ mural is off of Kneza Milosa by the Canadian Embassy:

The mural is part of a 2009 Belgrade Arts Festival project. Waras, whose project or perhaps alter-ego is called M-City, has done similar work in Poland, Spain, Germany and Ireland. Not bad company for Serbia. Here’s a closer look at the mural:

You can see the artists’ other works here.

I found a little information on Belgrade street art at the excellent Vandalog blog, but I’d love to find a blog solely dedicated to Belgrade’s Banksys. Since I haven’t found one, I might have to console myself with a copy of Street Art Love, a photo essay of Belgrade’s more notable graffiti.

If you have any interest in Belgrade or graffiti art, it’s worth picking up a copy at Belgrade’s Supermarket store or on I guarantee it will be one of the more interesting coffee table books you own.

Lennon vs. Lenin: The “Peace Wall” of Prague

Regular readers know I can’t resist a good spot of graffiti, much less an entire, city-sanctioned scrawl wall. Welcome to the Lennon Wall in Lesser Town, Prague.

Shortly after John Lennon’s death in 1980, an honorary tombstone was painted on a church wall in Lesser Town, Prague. This was no simple act of vandalism; both rock music and Lennon’s messages of peace were deemed subversive by communist authorities and carried penalties of jail (or worse).

Though the initial messages were quickly whitewashed, more graffiti appeared. Over the next decade anti-communist slogans, murals, and other messages became commonplace despite videocameras and security guards along the wall. The cycle of graffiti and whitewashing continued until the 1989 revolution. Years later the wall is still a pilgrimage site for vandals, though the graffiti runs more to self-help quotes than political dissidence.

These days the wall has lost its subversive edge and is more popular with tourists than anarchists. Church authorities have removed the “original” Lennon tombstone and repaired the wall for easier painting. I’ve also read that church authorities will whitewash over messages they deem to be inappropriate. If true, it’s an unfortunate infringement on the free speech the wall is meant to represent.

I couldn’t resist a shot at making my own mark on the wall, so after borrowing a marker from a backpacker, I hastily scribbled this:

Later, I realized that I had committed the worst kind of rookie mistake–coming to a graffiti wall unprepared. After some thought, and a desperate search for thick markers, I came to the wall with the next best thing: a blog logo and sidewalk chalk procured at the nearest convenient store.

It’s not exactly a political slogan, but it will have to do.

Prague visitors can visit/contribute to the wall at Velkopřevorské náměstí (Grand Priory Square), Malá Strana/Lesser Town, just off a footbridge by Kampa Park.