Čeka: a Cafe in Sarajevo

I have officially found my favorite cafe in Sarajevo, albeit rather late with our departure on Tuesday.

Čeka is on the main drag, Marsala Tita, directly across from the Banka tram stop.

I am sitting in Čeka as I write this. I just finished my mozzarella toast and glass of Schweppe’s tangerine. This is my view:

It is a local place; no tourists here. As you can guess from the photo, the space is subdivided into two floors. I prefer the back corner of the top floor. There is rampant smoking indoors, and recently the employees decorated the interior with Christmas lights and red and gold placemats. There is a television screen in the center of the dining space, and today they’re playing Animal Planet. Yesterday it was 24Kitchen, which is a cooking channel that plays in every other  cafe in this city. The radio is a disorienting mash of Balkan ripoffs of American classic rock, Middle Eastern dance, and folk songs.

There is a wonderful waitress here, with a warm smile and asymmetrical cropped black haircut. She speaks perfect English, and works most days between 2 and 4 pm. I recently learned she has a daughter, and that she took this gig for the lax hours. She has made fun of the nervousness with which I attempt to hail her attention when I want a second cappuccino. No matter how long I live in a place, I still feel weird about ordering food. I feel like a blatant intruder, with no disguise to cover my foreignness as I lack Bosnian vocabulary beyond “dobar dan” or “hvala,” none of the in-between words required to form a full sentence. I don’t know who I want to fool, but there is something that feels rather vulnerable about not being able to blend in at will.

But anyway, I want to talk about the best part of Čeka. The best part is the bathroom. In most respects, it is a normal bathroom, with a simple black and white color scheme. Standard utilitarian public toilet, with a hand dryer to the left of the sink and one of those soap dispensers with a pushable plastic flap. The only abnormailities exist upon the walls. The walls are coated in printed tiles, and each tile contains a different male model headshot.

The American in me automatically assumes this is an attempt at irony, but then I remember where I am. I think this bathroom is a genuine effort to design a private space catering to the ladies. Lucky us. Whatever the intention, it certainly is overwhelming and ridiculous. Such a strange aesthetic, specific to former communist countries.

I mean, yesterday I went to the central bazaar in Bascarsija to buy some Bosnian keychains. They were handed to me in a bag covered in black and white vignettes of “hot girls,” including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Avril Lavigne, and what looked like a former Calvin Klein model unzipping her pants. The bag seemed to come from the same hand that assembled this bathroom.

It’s all just…I don’t know, slightly off? And such a symbol of communism. It’s naive, like a sheltered child’s attempts to mimic the trends of his more worldly peers. Imagine you never once lived in the western world, but then you were told to create something “cool and western.” That would be quite a difficult task, right? You might create something paralleling this bathroom. Or worse, you might design a bag with Avril Lavigne’s face in the year 2018.

Anyway, that’s Čeka. I get to come back again tomorrow, before the flight on Tuesday.