By Velida Svraka
As dusk settles across the downtown promenade, street lights flicker to life. On cue, the clickety-clack of high heels and the laughter of girls explode onto the newly lit stage. All around the city, cafés begin to fill and there’s a palpable energy in the air. Neon signs surge into action and cast a festive glow across building facades. Happy-hour chalkboards appear on sidewalks. Music starts to waft into the street from open windows. And the mandatory question can be heard on every terrace as patrons gracefully ash their cigarettes and make eyes at the next table: “Where is the party tonight?” This description may sound like a town pitching itself headlong into a festival week. It is not. This scene happens every night in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s second largest city. How evolved is Banja Luka‘s social scene? Enough so that the local tourism organization prints a special brochure devoted to it. In information offices, tourists can pick up literature about the best places to eat, monuments to discover, religious buildings to visit, hotels to patronize, AND the coolest spots to get their groove on.
Comparatively speaking, Belgrade, Serbia, has a reputation as the best partying city in the Balkans. But, with more and more travelers coming here – and with clubs and cafés opening to cater to the growing need – Banja Luka is slowly becoming a little Belgrade. And the reason is simple: Banja Luka is one of those cities where every day seems like the weekend. During the daylight hours, cafés are packed. And there is a café on every corner. There are so many people sipping their coffees, brandy, cocktails, beer, and wine in the middle of the afternoon that one can’t help but wonder if anyone works. But, of course, this is just the beginning. When the sun goes down, this burg comes to life. And, with so many places to choose from, each night out can be a completely different experience.
Pick Your Poison Mr. Black & Mr. Brown is a good spot to start the festivities. There, on huge terraces sprawling in front of the Hotel Bosna downtown, it seems everyone stops by for at least one drink. After, Shakers is a logical choice. Owned and operated by professional bartenders, Shakers has over 100 concoction types. Young girls with too much makeup slurp Liquid Cocaine. Guys on the prowl, with tight shirts and excessive hair gel, drink White Russians. Preppy types have Multiple Orgasms. Married couples drink their personalities via glasses of Bang the Incurable. With a club, café, or disco on every corner, it always feels like the weekend in Banja Luka inside 21 Waitress. The downside: Shakers closes at 11pm. The upside: by closing time everyone is loosened up and ready to cut the rug.
One joint that’s good for some funky gyrating is the Demofest club, which is home to an alternative and urban crowd. It’s also dark and artsy. Live bands perform regularly and like the equal-opportunity Demofest festival – (supported by the European Union) which inspires the club’s name – anything from punk and rock to rap and metal is possible here. The festival takes places at the iconic EU-reconstructed Kastel Fotress. On most nights, entrance is free. On the opposite end of the spectrum, two clubs – Capo and Underground – stick to the timetested pop routine. The crowd at these places is mixed but share one quality: everyone is ready to party. If you haven’t experienced Balkan turbo-folk music, you’ll do it at these joints … and likely with the aforementioned young girls from Shakers. The tight-shirt boys will be trying to chat them up. Older and possibly richer men will have more success. (Important tip: the legal age in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 18.) Even at four in the morning, are still packed. If you’re wondering – en route to the next soiree – what happened to the rest of Shakers’ clientele, there is a good chance they’re boogie-ing at the Boom Boom Room downtown. Funk, techno, and house keep the party going until the wee hours. Friday Corona specials don’t hurt. Officially, they close at 2am. Unofficially, don’t be surprised if it’s dawn when you emerge from this pit of hedonism.
If watching the sunrise is your goal, the Kanjon Rafting Klub, and its beach, is the choice. Located on the Vrbas River 12 kilometers from town, this un-disco-sounding spot (it is, by day, actually a rafting club) has become one of the hottest dives for casual types. Come in flip-flops and shorts. Leave in less. If you need another Shakers link, their late-night, satellite location is here. Expect an array of theme nights: sexy models, hip-hop concerts, foam fiestas, tequila nights, and “crazy hat” parties. As the sun comes up, the bakeries will start to fill. After a night of dancing and drinking, nothing tastes better than a warm croissant. Some revelers will go straight to work. The lucky ones will crawl to bed. One thing is for certain though: they’ll all be hanging from chandeliers again tomorrow … regardless of what arbitrary day the calendar shows.