Tonight, though, there’s no time to linger. They eat late in the Serbian capital and by 11pm we’re due at the Belle Epoque for cocktails among its opulent decor. Then it’s on to The Tube Club, as packed as its name suggests, and Club Magacin 3, a swanky winter hangout for Belgrade’s beautiful people.
There’s less posing and more dancing at house denizen Bar Baltazar, and Andergraund, in the catacombs beneath the Belgrade Fortress, has the contagious hedonism you’d expect from of one of the city’s most popular dance clubs.
The cold light of day
With the buzz of Belgrade’s winter nights, it’s almost a relief that, in the colder months at least, sightseeing duties during the day are minimal.
“It’s not a very beautiful city but it has the soul of survival,” says our guide Dina, whose city tour is padded out with a pecking order of public toilets.
Thanks to the Milosevic years and heavy bombing in 1999, Belgrade’s development stalled for a decade. Now, in a rush to make up for lost time, everything is under construction.
The National Museum and Contemporary Art Museum are closed for renovation. St Sava Temple, though open, probably shouldn’t be, or perhaps hard hats should be handed out while the interior is completed. The palaces of the Royal compound are open for business if you book ahead (how many of us are that organised?) and Tito’s tomb will take you all of five minutes.
The situation might be different in summer, when you can wander the cobbled bohemian quarter of Skadarlija, join the promenade from Republic Square down to shopping street Knez Mihailova or explore Belgrade Fortress and perch on so-called lovers’ wall to admire the view of the Danube and Sava Rivers.
While we’re there, though, the biting autumn wind, known as kosava, begins to blow and it’s no time to be loitering.
Instead, we seek refuge in a kafana — an authentic Serbian restaurant — called ? (yes, that’s right, question mark). Built in 1823, it opened as a tavern three years later and little seems to have changed since, including the menu. The many traditional dishes on offer include hearty stews, marinated peppers, corn bread and young bulls’ sex glands (or “balls!” as our confused waiter eventually exclaims).
Food for thought
There might be little to see at the moment but there’s plenty to eat and plenty of places to eat it in.
Zaplet takes us to the other end of the dining spectrum, with contemporary cuisine and a clientele of writers and film directors (the name means ‘plot’).
Reka is more of a novelty experience. “You don’t go for the food, you go for the atmosphere, the music and the good-looking people,” Gordana Plamenac, the director of the National Tourism Organisation of Serbia tells us. “It’s normal during the working week to stay there until 2am.”
“No, 5am,” her colleague corrects, before reeling off tales of table dancing and plate smashing.
There’s music and dancing, but before the crockery gets it we’re off on another adventure, starting among the antique sewing machines of Federal Association of Globe-Trotters and finishing at Teatro, a club with a peculiar combination of live turbo-folk and greased-up strippers.
Winter in Belgrade might be a different experience to a summer visit, but there’s no less variety for the nocturnal. If ever you needed proof of the local determination to have a good time, go now as the temperature plummets.