Kafana (also: "Kahvana" or "Kavana"; plural Kafane, Cyrillic: Kафана, Kафане) is a term for bistro in some South Slavic languages that focuses on serving alcoholic beverages (and coffee) and sometimes has a live band. The word itself comes from "kafa" (coffee) and its basic coffee & alcohol concept has Turkish origins.


In the days of 18th and early 19th century, running a kafana (then usually called "mehana") was a family business, a craft, passed on from generation to generation.

As the Balkan cities grew in size and became more urbanized, kafana also shifted its focus a bit. Some started serving food and offering other enticements to potential customers since owners now had to compete with other similar establishments around the city. Most bigger towns and cities in this period had a "Gradska kafana" (City kafana) located in or around main square where the most affluent and important individuals of that city would come to see and be seen. Prices in this particular kafana would usually be higher compared to others around the city that didn't enjoy the privilege of such an exclusive location.

The concept of live music was introduced in the early 20th century by kafana owners looking to offer different kinds of entertainment to their guests. Naturally, in the absence of mass media these bands strictly had a local character and would only play folk music that was popular within a particular region where the city lies.

As the 20th century rolled on, Balkan cities saw waves upon waves of rural population coming in, especially after World War II, and kafane diversified accordingly. Some continued to uphold a higher standard of service, while others began to cater to newly arrived rural population that mostly found employment in factories and on construction sites.

This is when the term "kafana" slowly began to be associated with something undesirable and suitable only for lower classes of society. By the 1980s, term "kafana" became almost an insult and most owners would steer clear of calling their places by that name, preferring westernized terms like "restaurant", "cafe", "bistro", "coffee bar", and so on, instead. On the other hand, terms "birtija", "bircuz" and "krčma" are also used to denote, usually rural or suburban, filthy kafane.

The stereotype

It is not quite clear when the term "kafana" became instantly synonymous with decay, sloth, pain, backwardness, sorrow, etc. all across former Yugoslavia, but it is safe to say it happened sometime during the 1970s and 1980s. Pop culture played a significant part in this transformation. Massively popular folk singers began to emerge, spurred on by the expansion of radio and television, often using kafana themes in their songs. Since the connection between commercial folk and rural regressiveness was already well established, kafana, too, got a dodgy rap by extension.

Since 1960s, Yugoslav movies, (especially the "Black wave" movement) started depicting individuals from the margins of society. Run-down kafane would feature prominently in such stories. Socially relevant films like "I Even Met Happy Gypsies", "When Father Was Away on Business", "Život je lep", "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?", "Specijalno vaspitanje", "Kuduz", etc. all had memorable, dramatic scenes that take place in dilapidated rural or suburban kafana. Soon, a distinct cinematic stereotype appeared.

Visual stereotype

A stereotypical "kafana" usually has the following features:It makes use of square tables draped in checkered tablecloth with shiny tin ashtrays. The walls are wainscoted, whitewashed years ago, and the ceiling is yellow from the cigarette smoke, which makes breathing difficult. The bar is wooden, usually accompanied with showcase-type refrigerator. The waitress is a buxom, slightly overweight, worn out woman in her late 30s, though looking older, wearing washed out black-white uniform with mandatory big black wallet. She is often inappropriately addressed by regular guests but is not shy about talking back and telling them off. A calendar with nude women photos hangs near the bar, accompanied by a poster proclaiming "Čast svakom(e), veresija nikom(e)" ("Honor for everybody, a tab to nobody").

Beverages are served in widely produced barrel-shaped glasses of 0.5 dl, and juices in 2 dl variants of the same; the coffee is weak and served in small brass coffeepots on round brass plates, along with a small cup and sugar cubes or ratluk.

The band, if there is one, is fronted by a scantily clad female vocalist.

Social stereotype

Kafana is a place where sad lovers cure their sorrows in alcohol and music, gamblers squander entire fortunes, husbands run away from mean wives while shady businessmen, corrupt local politicians and petty criminals do business. As in many other societies, kafana is mainly a male activity, and "honest" women dare only visit finer ones (usually in men's company).

As mentioned, it is a very frequent motive of late-20th century commercial folk songs, perhaps the most famous being "I tebe sam sit kafano" ("I'm Sick of You, Kafana") by Haris Džinović, "Kafana je moja sudbina" ("Kafana is My Destiny") by Toma Zdravković and ubiquitous "Čaše lomim" ("Breakin' Glasses"), originally by Ljuba Aličić.

Regional differences


Probably the purest form of kafana can be found in Bosnia where no food is served (that's done in "ćevabdžinica", "aščinica" and "buregdžinica"), staying true to the original Turkish coffee & alcohol concept.

In Bosnian cities with large Muslim populations, one can still find certain old kafane that probably didn't look much different back when the Ottomans ruled Bosnia. They are now mostly frequented by local elders as well as the occasional tourist, and their numbers are dwindling.

Most of the old centerpiece "Gradske kafane" have been visually modernized and had their names changed in the process to something snappy and western-sounding. Most other establishments that offer similar fare target a younger crowd and prefer not to use the term "kafana".


In colloquial use, term "kafana" is interchangeable with "restaurant" for most of the older generation in Serbia.

Belgrade establishments that originated in the 19th and early 20th century like the famous "?" (Question Mark) and "Tri lista duvana" (Three Tobacco Leaves), as well as Skadarlija bohemian spots "Tri šešira" (Three Hats), "Kod dva bela goluba" (The Two White Pigeons'), "Šešir moj" (This Hat of Mine), "Zlatni bokal" (Golden Jug), "Ima dana" (There's Time), etc. were all equipped with extensive kitchens serving elaborate menues and are officially called restaurants yet most guests refer to them as "kafane". It's the same with places that became popular in mid-20th century like "Šumatovac", "Pod lipom" (Under the Lime Tree), and "Grmeč" in Makedonska Street (the so-called 'Bermuda triangle' [http://www.mtsmondo.com/entertainment/movies/story.php?vest=47423] ), "Manjež", as well as later establishments like "Madera", "Kod Ive" (Ivo's), "Klub književnika" (the Literary Club), etc. Even the traditionally upscale joints like "Ruski car" (Russian Tsar) and "Grčka kraljica" (Greek Queen) weren't above being referred to as kafana.

Things have changed, however, with establishments that appeared over the last 20-30 years, and especially as of late. Most of the Serbian younger crowd associate the word "kafana" with something archaic and passe so the owners of places that cater to them avoid it altogether. With gentrification taking root in many parts of central Belgrade, these new establishemnts mostly stay away from traditionalism. Good example of this would be the numerous watering holes that sprung up over the last 15 years in Strahinjića Bana Street like "Veprov dah", "Ipanema", "Kandahar", "Dorian Gray", etc., or various new restaurants in downtown Belgrade - none of these places are referred to as "kafane", either by their owners or by their patrons.


In Croatia, the term for kafana is "kavana" (as coffee is spelled "kava" in Croatian) and they differ widely between continental Croatia and the Dalmatian coast.

ee also

* Coffeehouse

External links

* [http://srxx.blogspot.com/2005/11/kafana-republic.html Kafana Republic]
* [http://www.jat.com/active/en/home/main_menu/travel_info/jat_review/januar_2006/inns.html Inns Were the Soul of the City]
* [http://www.pressonline.rs/page/stories/sr.html?view=story&id=30609&sectionId=43 Kafane pred izumiranjem] , "Press", February 23, 2008

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