The second album is a true test of a recording artist. Many of our favourite musicians of the last decade have come out guns blazing with landmark, groundbreaking, trendsetting albums, redefining their own sub genres (Blood Orange – Coastal Grooves, Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back) and then offer up seriously under par sequels that flatly let down their fan base (Cupid Deluxe, and the aptly titled ‘Oh No’ from JL).
A sequel is always more difficult to top than an original project. You have to satisfy your core faithful, attract a new audience, keep the feel of the old standby and explore new areas of originality to augment the experience.
I demand all of this, and more. I am a spoiled, entitled, 21st century consumer and intellectual snob, and I INSIST that a book be readable and engaging throughout its pages, that a movie entertain me visually, aurally and intellectually, that a restaurant feed me and please me with its flair and atmosphere and value, and that a bar fulfill its most important job – get me drunk in the right environment. 20/44 Bar is the “winter cousin” and 2nd installment of the notorious splav franchise, and the question is whether it lives up to the reputation of its predecessor.
Music. Drinks. Atmosphere. The three legs of the tripod upon which stand the virtue of a drinking hole. In Belgrade we have additional concerns: the lack of man-purse wearers and high heeled sparkly dress sluts with Instagram names like jecakeca, and the availability of a Club Mate on the drinks menu.
The majority of Belgrade’s alternative crowd are a picky bunch. Haters by nature the Serbian Hipster will automatically assume the Japanese approach to justice: guilty until proven innocent. It’s SHIT, until it proves otherwise.
The premise is a good one: bring the difficult to get to and out of the way 20/44 splav concept closer to the center of town.
Right on the cobblestones of Skadarlia cannot possibly get any more central, and the location is an excellent one. Under a hostel is an extra bonus, as it will allow for a greater level of efficiency in the transfer of foreign STD’s from European backpackers and travellers as the bar is now literally downstairs. Now there’s no need to risk the alcotest cops, pay the 500 dinar taxi ride or freeze your nuts off walking over Brankov Most. Literally 50 meters from the soothing sounds of a traditional Serbian quartet emanating from Tri Šešira you can relax, surrounded by impressive priest beards (seldom if ever groomed) and savour the mournful 80’s synthpop, vapourwave and minimal acid house bathed in the trademark heavy red decor and speed soaked urinals.
The bathroom needs another few months before it gathers the patina of various niche graphic design, obscure event promotion and underground craft sales ubiquitous sticker collage that slather the walls of every alternative spot. Rough Trade in Liverpool Street, 8mm in Prenzlauerberg, The Box in Monestiraki, and here at home in Tezga, Bivshi or any other dark and hidden place the bathrooms bare the same collection. It’s the calling card of the tribe, and it cannot be bought or installed, it has to grow naturally.
I can say that I got laid fewer times on 20/44 than any other spot in town, and it is by far the place I have visited the most. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy the tattooed and unwashed nature of the female clientele, I soak up the natural, heady aroma of a woman who doesn’t feel the need to shower before she goes clubbing with enthusiasm; In fact, I respect the approach. Society’s coercion in brainwashing people into showering and getting dressed is misplaced… 20/44 has long offered people the freedom in attending their establishments in whatever state of dress or cleanliness in which they happen to find themselves. Long may the tradition continue. Personally, I don’t like reeking of balls when I go out, but that’s just an individual preference. As with most things in life, it comes down to choice and compromise. Have yourself a leggy, toned, genetically blessed young woman at any mainstream establishment in town with a snap of the fingers. Suffer her incessant gum chewing, her chain consumption of Eve 100s cigarettes and horrific ‘style’ of long, cheap dress and sickly sweet perfume for the duration of your time with her. She inevitably considers tattoos to be for ‘junkies’ and her ex boyfriend is doing a 5 year stretch for Razbojništvo. Even when they get totally naked, you can’t take out those hair extensions or acrylic nails so easily. These are not concerns one has to deal with at 20/44. In the muted, fun-less and dance free environs of the place one can pretend to not pose happily amongst kindred spirits. The circle is so small that fucking anybody you don’t already know is next to impossible, and last night was always that awesome night that you should have been there. This simply confirms that you shouldn’t be here now.
Much like The XX’s second album Coexist, it was more of the same. 20/44 bar offers absolutely nothing new whatsoever, simply more of the same in a more convenient location. None of this is bad, it is what it is and what it always has been.
The original 20/44 has a lot of character, I believe it was number 9 on the Guardian’s list of the best clubs in Europe, an assessment with which I totally concur (in summertime).
This is something organic and not easily repeated, and people in this town are certainly creatures of habit, but simultaneously always eager for the next new place, the next new thing, and this is simply the same old same old.