Back to Bosnia
Franjevačka 15, Sarajevo 71000
- Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
- Style and Decor – 9/10
- Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
- Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
- Value for Money – 7/10
- The Pub-Going Factor – 8/10
Updated: April 2019 after a recent visit
The best traditional brewery in the Balkans, a visit to Pivnica HS at Sarajevska Pivara for a beer and a nosy around is essential, almost regardless of the externalities.
Sarajevsko lager would be fairly anonymous were it sold in England or Germany but it just shows the paucity of real options in the former Yugoslav states that such a beer manages to stand out.
There’s no point being too sniffy about it though, they aren’t bad beers brewed here by any means, especially if you can drink the tank stuff which gets sent across the city, or if you visit the brewery itself, where the best tasting Sarajevsko can be found. They have recently added an unfiltered version to the roster as well.
The brewery is located close to the centre, so can be joined on to any pub crawl near the old town fairly easily. The building was a concern of the Austro-Hungarian empire, constructed in 1864, so you won’t have any trouble finding it among the apartment blocks and Ottoman buildings of the old town. Even if you have a poor sense of direction, don’t worry, the enormous backlit sign against the frontage will guide you there like a beacon.
The brewery buildings are a wonderful 19th century creation, lavish renaissance gothic design which compares among the most beautiful old breweries in the world.
Although anything Austrian was a target of hatred for the Bosnians while they were under the yoke of imperial rule, over time the locals have grown an attachment to this place, having gradually appreciated it to be a cultural asset and a source of jobs rather than grumbling about it being some imperial vestige. (Astonishingly some people still hold a grudge despite the Empire ceasing to exist over a century ago)
Once you arrive, keep heading through the doors to find the pivnica inside, which is a grand Germanic beer hall with a theatrical shape, a central area surrounded by balcony levels. This isn’t some modest or unconvincing imitation of another country’s style, it would be as impressive were it in Munich or Vienna. Opulent would be the word – it’s certainly there to make a statement. Take a seat and before long one of their ambling rotund servers will approach to take your order. Splutter ‘Pivo molim’ if you’re on your own, ‘piva molim’ if you’re in a group, some beer will then arrive.
Gender politics are perhaps not quite as progressive in Bosnia as they are in the UK, and you can still expect the marketing of their beer to feature a sizeable bosom, often with a plate of meaty food. If you meet any Bosnians aged over 30, the strategy will hardly surprise you. See below:
The beers are served in sturdy dimpled mugs and are fresh as you’re ever likely to get. The ‘tamno’ dark larger is much more generic, and probably best avoided out of winter unless you’re trying to increase your check-in count on Untappd. Sources reveal they have brought out an unfiltered lager since my visit, which will almost certainly be an improvement and is something I’d encourage anyone to try straight away.
It’s such a large venue, large groups are required to build the atmosphere inside. As it is rarely busier than ‘ticking over’, there is an unexploited potential here, however neither does it feel particularly abandoned. There’s a pleasant atmosphere as the disparate conversations bounce across the room. Take a minute or two to explore the bar area and the upstairs, as it really is a grand place.
A beer won’t set you back more a few Bosnian marks, so there’s no impediment to staying here for the duration and getting sloshed. Keep an eye out for the museum and lunch deal, if you’re coming during the day, which at 12 euros 50 represents pretty good value for western wallets.
It’s always interesting seeing attempts to transplant one culture into another, and this pivnica/pivara allows you to experience this AND go to the pub. A slight improvement to the beer and the atmosphere aside, this place is fascinating, good fun and comes highly recommended.