Every interesting city, which Novi Sad definitely is, has its secret chambers. Quiet whispers of old streets of Novi Sad, the tale of the first building of the Serbian National Theatre or of a Novosadian, European Beer Drinking Champion, get the spirits up quickly.
There’s quite a few tales to be told, but I have selected a tale of one man, one street and two pubs.
Đorđe Rajković, a teacher and writer from Novi Sad, was also the oldest chronicler of this city. He gathered documents on the city’s history and information on notable Novosadians, whose biographies he also wrote. He wrote poetry and was known for his work as a teacher and a productive writer. In 1861, the first issue of the satirical journal called “Komarac” (“The Mosquito”), which he edited, was released in Novi Sad.
During the day, Rajković would be cooped up in his home, but with the first dark, Đorđe would go next door, to the pub “Kod Alekse” (“At Aleksa’s”). Every night, writers would meet up in this pub and recount the anecdotes of the city life. In “Komarac”, Rajković published a story of a man from Srem, who drove two tax officers from Novi Sad, via Trandžament, to Kamenica. Horses were going very slowly, and one of the officers asked the driver: “Why, on Earth, are your horses walking so slowly?”
“They think they are dragging fertilizer to the field”, said the driver.
This was an awful infringement and the Austrian Marshal Court in Petrovaradin charged Rajković, believing it to be his own satirical allegory about the Austrian administration, sentencing him to eight days of house arrest. Today, we would call that “getting an ankle monitor”.
The first inhabitants of Petrovaradin Šanac, a smallish settlement that later developed into Novi Sad, had it easy – about thirty houses to show to a stranger, with no names or numbers on them. Once Šanac paid its tax and became free, and was given its modern name of Novi Sad, the streets first got numbers instead of names. But the problem arose when the city started to expand, as it was difficult to tell which number marked the street and which the house. Two centuries ago, you knew that if you went down the “hospital” street, the path would take you to a hospital; the “garden” street to some vegetable gardens and fields and one of the two oldest streets, the Danube street, down to the river. In Novi Sad, there are only two or three streets who have kept their names from over two hundred years ago.
One of the oldest Novosadian streets, formed around the same time as the city itself, is today’s Save Vukovića Street. It was named after the founder of the Great Serbian Gymnasium in Novi Sad. With a foundation comprising 10,000 forints of the time, he contributed to the signing of the document that established the Gymnasium back in 1810. Until the end of the 1880ies, the street was called “The Black Rooster Street”. It used to be the home of the impoverished residents of Novi Sad, small craftsmen and hired hands; after World War I, many respectable Novosadians, mostly doctors, built their homes there.
In Save Vukovića Street, as Zoran Knežev, chronicler and publicists, writes, there used to be a renowned inn, the pub at “Rac Gabor”. It was owned by Gavra Sremčević, but the inn and its owner were known only by the nickname “Rac Gabor”. The inn was probably named by Hungarian judges, who spent many a calm, pleasant moment there drinking fine white wine from Srem. In this pub, located in an idyllic, secluded alley, this was not a difficult thing to do – especially since “Rac Gabor” had two rooms, one for the poorer guests to have a quick drink on their feet and the other, cleaner and more comfortably decorated, for the patrons with larger purses.
After World War I, the pub “Gambrinus” in Njegoševa Street – known as “Gurman” (“The Gourmet”) after World War II, was a meeting place for many residents of Novi Sad, as well as for guests coming from all corners of Vojvodina. These were mostly merry men, looking for laughter, those who loved to sing to themselves and make jokes at others’ – but also their own – expense. There were two rooms in “Gambrinus” back then, as the contemporaries recall: a larger and a smaller room. The larger room was a meeting place for the chance guests, and the smaller, with its reserve table, gathered the regular patrons of Pera Gambrinus, as Pera Janičić, the owner of the pub, was known.
Pubs used to be the main landmarks.
At “Gambrinus”, as the elderly Novosadians recall, there was never a standing band playing; nevertheless, it attracted people who loved a good song. They would stop by “Gambrinus” in the mornings “for pretzels” and sometimes – of course, a little “juiced” – only for coffee. The regulars would come almost always at the same time, about five in the afternoon, and leave at about ten in the evening. They mostly dined, talked, discussed politics, but also told jokes and anecdotes. It was all casual, to go with a good supper, as Pera Gambrinus, a short, chubby man, with round cheeks and always pink in the face, was known for his great hospitality. He always had “whatever the guest desired”. Sometimes, as a jest, the guests would order something unusual, off the top of their heads. They would be certain that Pera would not have “it” in his kitchen, and he would always reply: “We have it, of course we do!”
In Novi Sad, everything is available, you just need to knock on a door and the most amazing stories will open up before you.
By: Aleksaandar Đuričić