Kotor- Bokeski Gusti
This is the first of what will undoubtedly be many posts about the city of Kotor, Montenegro. My husband Tony and I were lucky to live there for two years while Tony played for the famed Primorac Water Polo Club. Montenegro, a country which only recently gained full independence in 2006, is one of the greatest places we have been--- but more about that later. It's time to talk about a little gem of a restaurant called Bokeski Gusti, that literally changed our experience in the Balkans. Bokeski Gusti is a small, family run, "hole-in-the-wall" located in Prcanj, which is what I guess we'd call a suburb of Kotor. To describe how to get there I would say something like, "take the main road out of Kotor around the bay towards Tivat". After you pass the big white boat on the right, keep going, then look for a big stone house and then when you come to that crazy looking tree it's 2 minutes up on the left".
The restaurant is on the ground floor of what I'm pretty sure is the family's house-- it has a big bar in the back and then about six large wooden tables, covered with red and white checkered table cloths. The walls are dotted with maritime memorabilia and interesting old photographs.
If you come for lunch you can eat outside on the patio overlooking the spectacular Bay of Kotor, but the time to be at Bokeski Gusti is Saturday night. And be sure you have a reservation (ask a local to call for you) because boy does it get packed.
When you arrive, I recommend that you order a carafe each of the house red and white wine. It tasted different each time we went, but was always good, and will help later with the singing (more on that soon). To start, we would usually ask if they had the homemade cheese and these little fried fish served with lemon. In any case, just get whatever they recommend.
For the main, everyone on the table will share out of a giant shell-shaped bowl with several different compartments. Usually one compartment would hold this unusually good simple tomato pasta with shrimp, one with black seafood risotto, one with giant fried shrimp and another with the saltiest and most delicious fried calamari ever.
As you're enjoying your food, you will probably notice a group of about 3 -4 guys picking up their respective instruments--- and yes, the band has arrived. This small group of local men have an impressive repetoire of local tunes, nationalistic ballads and even (as we discovered) American classics. The first time we ate there, they realized we were American and immediately broke out into an interesting version of "Sweet Home Alabama". Next came "Hotel California", which, to our embarrassment, none of us knew the lyrics to. We tried asking for the Beatles but they shook their heads. Instead they started in on "When the Saints Come Marching In" which we've discovered is popular in the Balkans.
The band and their music is absolutely infectious. It helps that every single person in the restaurants stops eating for a moment to belt out the word to every song, clapping along and cheering. We discovered that we could pretend to know the lyrics to the national tunes just by singing random syllables and inflecting our voices and gesturing heartily with our hands. This, I must tell you, is extremely fun to do.
Once you start eating there often enough, as we did, you start to discover that there are certain Saturday night rituals. At about midnight, a guy who we guessed was one of the family's sons (and always looked hungover or ridiculously drunk) grabs a guitar that is hanging on the wall (it only has one string) and joins the band.
On one occasion, maybe our third or fourth visit, someone at our table decided to blab out that I played the guitar. This resulted in me being handed the main guitar and asked to play an American song as the band followed me. Seeing as I haven't played in years, I was mortified, but the flowing wine helped me to bust out a version of "Let it Be", that thankfully the whole restaurant started singing. My guitar playing then also became a custom, with one of the band's favorites being "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes.
Our friend Jake took the cake though when one night he took over the guitar and composed an impromptu ballad half in Serbian and half in English dedicated to the greatness of Bokeski Gusti. He was so loudly applauded and cheered that he played until his fingers bled all over and the guitar had to be taken away for "cleaning".
Nights at Bokeski Gusti would usually end around 3 am, and we would realize that we didn't even have time to go out in the city. After dinner, they bring out a homemade baklava and some type of delicious sponge cake, accompanied of course by more carafes of rakija (a drink similar to Italian grappa but stronger).