Ruled by the Ottomans for five hundred years, and a part of Yugoslavia for the majority of the 20th century, Pristina is a mash of contradictions. The official currency is the euro, but Kosovo isn’t part of the E.U. Most Kosovars speak fluent English, but, because they lack E.U. status, it’s difficult for them to travel outside of the country. The country’s population is majority Muslim, and while you won’t find pork on any menu in Pristina, you’ll have to strain your ears to hear a call to prayer.
Because Kosovo’s tourism industry, outside of diaspora Albanians, is minuscule, Pristina might be one of the few places in the world where you aren’t treated as a tourist. Taxi drivers won’t rip you off, and no one will jack up the price at a restaurant or shop. Instead, Kosovars will treat you like a guest with a kindness that borders on mania: Ask a local where something is, and they might insist on driving you themselves, as happened to me—twice. The bedrock of Albanian society is besa, a code of conduct that calls for trust, responsibility, and generous hospitality. (Approximately 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnically Albanian, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.) And that means that even in dark corner of a nightclub, where you might otherwise feel uncomfortable or weary, you’ll generally find only respect. Everyone is here for the music, after all.
An ideal night out in Pristina starts with a late dinner. Head to Renesansa, a menu-less, family-run restaurant that’s unmarked (but all the taxi drivers know it). Fifteen euros will get you that raki fix, plus wine, mezze, and an array of hearty main courses, like roasted meats and sauced-up vegetables. Properly fortified, head to Club M, a cosy bar and dance floor where you might catch a performance by Ilir Bajri, one of Kosovo’s most revered jazz pianists. For the next stop, check the listings at Zone and Bahnhof; they’re owned by the same group and split events. Bahnhof has a more intimate, underground vibe, while Zone brings in big-name DJs like Mirko Loko—and correspondingly big crowds.