By Paul Rubio. Photos: Getty.
Belgrade is still partying like it’s 1999—literally. Then, the capital of a war-torn, economically downtrodden Yugoslavia faced an uncertain future, and residents sought refuge in a rather unlikely place: the dance floor. In a case of life imitating song, the Serbian party scene climaxed in apprehension and rebellion of a possible apocalyptic end. But in the end, it wasn’t as Prince sang in 1982—“two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time.”
Instead, following the end of the Yugoslav Wars in 2001, a new Serbia experienced rapid fiscal growth thanks to economic liberalization. And with this newfound prosperity, the intensity of Belgrade’s nightlife persevered, re-embodied as celebration. Dozens of new bars, clubs, and party-focused restaurants planted roots with seasonal intent: think brick-and-mortar venues in downtown Belgrade for the winter or the “indoor” season, and floating lounges known as splavovi (or splav, for short) anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers for the summer or “outdoor” season.
Flash forward to 2017, and Belgrade’s long-running Studio-54 moment is far from ending. This year, more than 200 splav will make waves across the city’s waterways for summer. Until the end of September, each will deliver its own incarnation of nightlife, armed with a specific musical genre and bespoke design aesthetic. Night owls can choose from intimate, design-forward venues to thumping, disco-ball bearing nightclubs that continue until dawn with progressive electronic, techno, and even “turbo-folk” (a fast-paced mix of Serbian folk and pop music).
Unlike nightlife in other major European or American cities, splav aren’t limited to weekends-only, or unofficially understood to be strictly for the pleasure of those 21 and under—it’s a city-wide phenomenon that’s part of daily summer life. Most venues typically hold between 300 and 500 patrons, and the house is more packed than empty all seven nights of the week. Most people are locals, not tourists; most are out to imbibe and socialize; and most actually have to go to work the next day.
In general, splav don’t house a defined dance floor—they have tables and furnishings—nor do they have overworked craft cocktail lists: Here, you’ll get old-fashioned vodka or champagne bottle service, or you can keep the night going by ordering local beers (national favorite is the pale lager Jelen Pivo).
While there are hundreds of splav to choose from, the norm is to stick to one for the night, rather than hop from one to the other. Expect to make advanced reservations—it’s pretty much mandatory for guaranteed entrance. (You can make reservations through local websites beogradnocu.com and belgradeatnight.com.) You won’t pay an entrance fee at the door, but are expected to purchase at least one drink per person if reserved at a bar table, and a bottle in the realm of €150-200 ($160-$212) for a group at a VIP table.
Looking for a place to start? Try the Shake ‘N Shake Beach Bar, where comfy, colorful couches, modernist swings, and overwater nets set the stage for all-out late night party. Revel in laser lights and live Turbo-folk performances at River open air nightclub, or take in disco balls and disco house tunes at the sleek, St. Tropez-inspired River Club Lasta. Don’t miss a night at the “grand dame” of the splav scene, the decade-old Club Blaywatch, which is the largest, loudest and arguably the wildest club on the water. Just don’t expect to get home before sunrise.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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