Bosnia’s story with alcohol is a little more truncated than most.
A fascinating clash between Slavic peasantry, remnants of an Austrian empire and the Muslim world to the East makes Bosnia one of the most interesting countries in Europe to visit.
Its nightlife remains partly non-alcoholic as a result, as crowds gather around courtyard cafés to drink coffee and smoke shisha, an act which is so enjoyable in the right environment we almost feel like we should include those places. However, until we find a mind-blowingly good venue, we won’t.
Unfortunately many of the bars serving alcohol sway between unwelcoming looking smokey corner bars and being very poor facsimiles of what they believe Westerners are doing. The latter places are generally loud, brash, unstylish (in a tacky way) and serve poor drinks. It’s a template you will become familiar with the longer time you spend in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia.
However, Sarajevo’s main brewery happens to be a transplant from the Austro-Hungarian empire, meaning it still churns out decent enough lager, the sort that still tastes of beer rather than being chemically sterilised to the point nothing remains except a mineraly flavour. Their brewery tap is a fascinating blend of Ottoman and Germanic stylings, even giving off echoes of medieval galleried pubs. The locals are justifiable proud of it, and they export unpasteurised tank Sarajevska across the city and outlying areas.
Don’t despair about the bar scene however, as there are some spectacular and cool individual places to be found that singularly prove a diversity of character that is not immediately apparent in the more mainstream venues. In particular, the Ottoman period, Austro-Hungarian rule and Socialist era has given Sarajevo a fondness for the nostalgic, invariably resulting in cute antiquey bars (not to be confused with Tiki bars).
No nation in Europe has resisted the allure of the independent brewing craze and Bosnia’s own range of beers has expanded tenfold due to new small operations in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka, where finding local beer, good or not, has suddenly become a viable proposition. This inevitably has put a rocket up the local bar scene which – in the Balkans – is much needed. Yes, some may veer too close to the now familiar and dull Craft template, but in this part of the world that still constitutes a drastic improvement.
Aside of beer, expect to see plenty of rakija being drunk, the thousand-flavoured drain cleaner that you too will inevitably be coerced into trying.
Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked with (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|Spao Remen||Banja Luka||7||7||8||6||9||8|
|Black Dog Pub||Mostar||6||7||8||7||8||8|
|Sarajevska Pivara *||Sarajevo||7||9||8||7||7||8|
|Vucko Gastro Pub||Sarajevo||9||7||8||7||8||8|
Jajce, pop. 30,600
An isolated and hard-to-reach Bosnian town of 30,000 inhabitants (many of whom don’t drink because of their faith) wasn’t high on our list of likely places to go for banging hootin’-and-a’hollerin’ nightlife. There were plenty of other reasons to visit, with the place being an impossibly beautiful setting, the history, and that lovely feeling of calm when you’re enjoying good weather and local life far away from the familiar. We were all set for a quiet evening, after a stroll past the enormous waterfall that is the visual centrepiece of the city, when two busloads of partying women (both Christian and Muslim) were deposited by the footbridge into town. Saturday night went on until 4.30am. This is a timely reminder that some of the world’s outposts go berzerk on weekends.
Mostar, pop. 113,169
A city of two distinct parts, the modern city (modern as of 1980) and old city, either area offers competent nightlife. The modern city has a range of slightly bland venues, harmless enough, and a popular youth centre. Nearer the old town you’ll find a classic backpacker’s pub, with one of the most beautiful settings in the world, some atmospheric shisha bars and a new craft beer venue which is typically bland, but friendly and with some remarkably high quality wares. As Mostar is popular with daytrippers, the old town can be sleepy on some evenings, and you’ll find it takes some research to stitch together a crawl – however, that’s why we’re here!
Sarajevo, pop 440,000
A wonderful, captivating east-meets-west city, Sarajevo has still not recovered from the damage of a three year long siege in the 1990s; some of the scars, visual and emotional, are harrowing to behold. This was a distinct tragedy because the war was forced upon a city that otherwise largely wished to remain at piece, as part of a multicultural, tolerant and vibrant city. These days, the multiculturalism and tolerance remains, but in a more fragile, and perhaps superficial manner than before. Unbowed, you will still meet scores of people who hold the city to their heart as if it was their child. Visit the old town for atmospheric oriental/colonial themed bars in old ottoman houses, and beyond for smoky but nonetheless lively young venues. Avoid at all costs anything pumping out Eurodance or offering a “Western Pub” experience, which will almost certainly be tacky, full of tourists and only useful for people going out on the pull.