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MARKO BASAROVSKI - CONNECTING THE UNCONNECTABLE, IN A FUNCTIONAL WAY
If you have ever visited Belgrade and stayed for more than one day, it is highly probable that you went to one of the restaurants and bars with his design.
He’s a friend, a pal, a colleague, an architect. But first of all, he’s a Belgradian. His task of guiding us through Belgrade was certainly the hardest, because he was the one, to our joy, to “break the ice“.
Indeed, it’s always hard to be on top, but Marko Basarovski got easily, and with no exaggeration, used to it.
He was the one to bring the industrial interior design to Belgrade. We remember SUPERMARKET, the place with an interior that has shocked everyone ten years ago, the place that remains, even after its closing, one of the most distinctive places that has ever existed in the recent history of Belgrade. When we asked him about the source of such concept, he boldly replied – that was not an issue of a trend but possibilities, since modest possibilities often create the right answers.
While he was guiding us through Belgrade, introducing us to places special to him, we talked about the city, about the Belgradians. What used to be an alternative, and what constitutes the alternative today. We talked about the city spirit, creativity and society, architecture, concrete and nature. Indeed, we discussed everything that makes Belgrade what it is. We talked about the side of Belgrade rarely known by the tourists, although it represents Belgrade’s richness.
We met Marko in front of “Pržionica” (the Kiln). Those who don’t know about this “city corner“, where you can enjoy great coffee, good music and fine company, may not call themselves “the alternatives”. At least, that is what people say.
We sat down on the stairs and started our conversation over a cup of coffee. I have to admit that we were both nervous.
II: What used to be the alternative, and what’s alternative now in Belgrade?
MB: Belgrade is so lucky to be alternative in its nature, and that is why it’s so easy to be alternative in it. Unfortunately, the alternative itself has become mainstream today. It’s better to ask what can now be the alternative for that alternative which we meet at every corner.
Today, any attempt to be happy and free is the alternative to all that’s going on in the “corporate” world, inversely proportional to everything freedom aims for. We are no longer defined by style, nor by music, which was, say, important to kids from the end of the 70s until the beginning of the 2000s. That what is interesting today, won’t be interesting tomorrow. There is no universal system of value anymore.
II: When we’d started do think about the very concept of the guide through the alternative Belgrade, it was clear that Pržionica was one of the locations that must be visited. Not only because of the concept of the place itself, but also because of a certain message this place sends, in sync with everything that is recognizable in the MINI brand. Of course, it was logical to have you as one of those who should “introduce” us, since you are one of the designers.
MB: That is as good a description of this place as any. This is not a bar, this really is a certain “lifestyle“. You are positive that you’ll get some quality when you visit here, whether it is a cup of good coffee or good conversation. The essence of Pržionica, just like the essence of any other alternative, is freedom. Here you can sit for four hours, and still drink just coffee. Simply, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but you can have quality time with your friends. Basically, that was our idea and our wish. Our freedom in creating Pržionica. We didn’t want to create a place with profit as its goal, we wanted a place for having good company. That is why all kinds of people visit here, from painters to football players. There are no imposed manners, just freedom in hanging out, talking and swaying to good music.
Somehow, the alternative makes no sense if it’s alone with itself, there must be some relation to the rest of the world. That was sort of a goal, and I believe we have achieved it.
II: Why is Pržionica so special to you?
MB: Among other things I’ve already mentioned, Pržionica is a very special place to me, since I’ve created there for the first time not only architecture, but also a product. This is a place that sells a cup of happiness.
After several cups of coffee and conversation that had lasted longer than planned, we left Pržionica with the following impression: “If you want to experience the spirit of Belgrade , do the things that make you happy, with no reservations or obligations“, so your “TO DO“ list should imperatively have Sunday Drippin’ – matinee in Pržionica. Words are not enough to describe the sum of everything that goes on then in 59b Dobračina St. But we strongly recommend you to experience it.
We hopped into our MINI and drove on.
Next stop: Bistro Grad Hometown Food. Another place created with Marko’s involvement. The bar with a motto: „Relax, lean back, enjoy. Live as Belgradians do.“
In the very heart of the city, in Uzun Mirkova St., where during the working hours there simply isn’t a place to park, our MINI managed to sneak in the very garden of the Bistro Grad, where we sat down. The real spirit of Belgrade!
II: Since this is one of my favorite places in the city, I simply don’t know where to start, but our topic is the alternative, so let’s start there. Why is this place important on the alternative map of the city?
MB: I’ve “done” this place together with my childhood friends who are incomparably alternative to everything, even to today’s alternative. We have all invested a lot of love into this place. We’ve created it because of us, for us. I for one come here to sit quite often. And if we say Pržionica is alternative, and it is, this place is “level up“. Maybe the most alternative that Belgrade has to offer at the moment. Nothing here is expected, starting from the interior, to the menu, and people that come here. We simply made it according to ourselves. Regardless of others’ opinions. I think this is most important. The essence of alternative spirit everywhere, in Belgrade as well. Although people may have forgotten all about it.
II: As someone who knows you professionally, since we are colleagues, but privately as well, I just have to tell you that when I came here for the first time a couple of months ago, I had no information whatsoever about who the designer was, but I even didn’t have to have it in order to know it was you. I’m under impression that you had left your soul in every detail weaved in the space of Bistro Grad. Somehow, this place IS YOU. CONNECTING THE UNCONNECTABLE. YET IT’S ALL FUNCTIONING. PERFECTLY.
MB: (smiles) I’m telling you. Bistro Grad was made by US for US. There was no client with his wishes and guidelines. Client was us. Thus, everything was a game, there was no pressure, there was no framework. So. Again we return to the topic of FREEDOM. I had freedom to implement absolutely everything I ever wanted in this design. Indeed, all that was done here had its motto: Relax. Lean back. Enjoy. The real spirit of Belgrade, is it not?
Since our time was running out, we reluctantly shortened our “stay“ in Bistro Grad. Besides lemonade and a quick coffee, we didn’t manage to eat anything, which was too bad since the menu was really interesting. Still, this is also the best recommendation for the morning after a “hard city night”. Let’s not spoil our impressions with words.
This is a place you simply must visit!
Our next stop is right around the corner. So this time, the MINI literally took a city corner and unbelievably found a parking spot again, right in front of the place we went in. Trust me when I say that this rarely ever happens.
This time it was NOT a restaurant or bar. That is why our stay there was quite short. Luckily for us, since we still had places to go, but we were running out of time.
TIKE. The first limited sneakers collections shop in Serbia.
II: OK, Marko, why are we her? (smile)
MB: The “Sneakers“ culture here does not belong to the “mainstream“, we’ll agree on that. Moreover, how many people you know who practice it, say, as a hobby?
II: Actually, I don’t know anyone. I never thought about it that way.
MB: When we were designing this space, again I had no guidelines, I had total freedom.
II: Why the gold?
MB: Why not? (smiles) This interior is just like your previous definition of myself, a “connection of unconnectable”, just like people who come here. Everything is possible. To everything you’d eventually ask me, my reply would be the same. Why not? People collect sneakers? People collect much dumber things that sneakers, so why not? Freedom to choose. The alternative. (smiles)
Here, along with potential sneakers purchase, with an espresso or a cold bear, you can hear the history of every pair of sneakers in the shop from the “sneakers guru“. In any other shop, this person would be a clerk. But which clerk knows the history of every pair of sneakers in the shop???
In conversation, along the way, they told us a short story about the Kralja Petra St. About the first Belgrade’s bookshop there, the first pharmacy and the first hotel. This street was the first one to be paved with granite cobble, and it stays that way even today. Old Belgrade shoemakers had long since established their stores in this street so today we have also the first shop oriented towards the “sneakers” culture, not only in Belgrade, but in the larger Balkans area as well.
We left downtown and drove to the part of the city where Marko grew up. New Belgrade. This time, we literally turn around the “city corner”, the same that had shaped Marko as a person, as he said himself.
The plateau in front of the magnificent Genex building. We set down on the neglected grandstand, before the fountain bed which hasn’t seen water for decades.
II: Marko, why are we here? In what way is this place special to you and especially for the alternative scene of Belgrade?
MB: Here, everything is special to me. First of all, the architecture, because that is what I do, and this place is a masterpiece of the brutal Yugoslavian architecture. This building is for me maybe the farthest spot Serbia had reached in any art. This building used to be a place of business for the company bigger than the state we are living in today, and in front of this building are the projects where, in the nineties, it happened that one pair of AirMax was more precious than life.
II: It is evident that in our generations, generations that grew up in the nineties in Serbia, where it came to be, as you say, that a pair of AirMax was more precious than life, in the society drowning in trash culture and turbo-folk music, many creative people came from these projects. Do you agree with that?
MB: Absolutely. When you have many people as a source, generally it spawns something good. It is a matter of hanging out, socializing. The concept of the state in which these projects were made, had been alternative itself. Equality as an idea. It is somehow logical that from such society, society of equals, creativity become an alternative. Such society was the basis for implementation of the most progressive and the most alternative ideas. New Belgrade and its projects are but a possibility of dwelling alternative to dwellings we’d had before. Again I’m coming back to it. It was not so hard to be alternative in Belgrade. (smile)
II: New Belgrade. The city of brutalism. We are talking about the creativity, alternative, while sitting on concrete. Doesn’t make so much sense today?
MB: People are mistaken when they perceive New Belgrade in such a way. Because every wide boulevard ends up in nature. My opinion is that there is no part of Belgrade more oriented towards nature in spite of all this concrete. Everything gives the impression of wide open space. There. I’m repeating myself. There is that feeling of FREEDOM.
I shall immodestly say that New Belgrade is perhaps a cradle of the alternative culture of Belgrade. Actually, it is one of the reasons we are now sitting here .
Considering the fact that this is a conversation of two aficionados of New Belgrade projects, we were reasonable and rational enough to decide to press on, since our discussion on this topic could have been a really long one. We grabbed our MINI and started toward our final destination – the Troika bar.
As it often happens in Belgrade, in the months of summer, we encountered roadworks in Njegoševa St. where Troika was located. So it happened, for the first time today, that we were not able to take the MINI with us to the bar. To increase the irony, we didn’t expect it here. But Belgrade is a city which will often surprise you. And Troika Bar is one of such places. Surprising.
We sat, actually lied down by a table near a window. Evidently, Marko’s design again. Connection of the unconnectable. There were benches around the tables, which were beds as well. Nothing was clear to me, except that this place left no one indifferent, you were either thrilled or confused.
II: Marko, finally, our last destination. I hope we didn’t tire you down, or maybe that’s the reason you brought us here. To lie down and rest. Troika Bar. The cocktails and caviar bar. We haven’t heard of such a place so far. What’s the story behind it?
MB: Well, this is one of Belgrade’s classic stories. The place that used to be here closed down. And a colleague of mine whose company has premises above found it convenient to make himself a bar here, instead of another coffee place to attract teenagers from the local high school. Thus cocktails and caviar. (smiles) Kids STOP! We are joking a bit, although... So, a couple of friends chipped in and opened a bar. A standard Belgrade story, I’m telling you.
II: If this place came up to be a city stereotype, why did you put it on the map of the alternative Belgrade?
MB: Primarily because of the people you may encounter here. And so we return to the topic of people. Today, people are the main ingredient of the alternative. You can make the most alternative design in the world, but if people who frequent such a place are, let’s say it this way, non-alternative, all that design has gone to waste. Design. Style. Today, all of that is ephemeral. What once was mainstream is alternative today, and vice-versa. But the people. The people give the real value to everything. Belgrade. (sighs) Belgrade is Belgradian women. They are all special and alternative.
And here, after dark, you can meet some beautiful, alternative Belgradian women. And so you can be assured once more of the beauty of this city.
We continued our conversation sipping some unusual cocktails, until closing hours. As it simply always goes in Belgrade