"?" (Serbian Cyrillic: Кафана „?”, Кафана „Знак питања”, Кафана „Упитник”; Serbian Latin: Kafana „?”, Kafana „Znak pitanja”, Kafana „Upitnik”) is the oldest traditional tavern (kafana) in Belgrade, Serbia. Located at 6 Kralja Petra Street, the building is nearly 200 years old. One of the city's best known landmarks, "?" offers traditional Balkan cuisine with starogradska music played.
The building, in which the kafana is located, was built in 1823. It was built by the diplomat and merchant Naum Ičko, on orders and with funds provided by the Prince of Serbia Miloš Obrenović I. Ičko was son of Petar Ičko, a noted diplomat. It was designed by an unnamed Greek architect and was built by the builders from Greece, which is commemorated by the inscription on the wall above the preserved, old table from this period. Later Prince Miloš awarded it to his personal doctor Toma Kostić known as Ećim Toma for his efforts during the Second Serbian Uprising. Realizing its favourable location, Ećim Toma soon converted the property into a hospitality establishment that became known around town as Tomina kafana, "Ećim Toma's kafana". During early 1830s, the kafana was frequented by famous Serbian linguist and language reformer Vuk Stefanović Karadžić.
It was also named "Serbian kafana" and in 1878, the name was changed to Kod pastira ("Shepherd's"). It got its present unusual name in 1892, during a dispute with the Serbian Orthodox Church authorities over the new owner Ivan Pavlović's intention to change its name to Kod Saborne crkve (By the Saborna Church), which the church authorities vehemently protested, not keen on seeing the cathedral referenced as part of a kafana's name. So, as a temporary solution, the tavern's owner put a question mark on the door, and it soon became the official name of the place. For a while, out of respect for the nearby church, smoking was prohibited inside the tavern, but this didn't last.
In the post-World War II period, the bistro was still owned by Ivan Pavlović, but communist Yugoslav authorities nationalized the property in 1959, ultimately placing it under the administration of the state owned company UTP Varoš Kapija in 1962. Sometime during the next thirty years it was declared a heritage spot and given landmark protection by the City of Belgrade's Landmark Office (Zavod za zaštitu spomenika grada Beograda).
Talk of re-privatizing the previously nationalized property first started in 2003. Then the tender auction of UTP Varoš Kapija, which administered tavern "?" was scheduled for 25 November 2004. The starting value of the property was set at €2,500 per square meter. Ultimately, the tender was annulled as the building, in which the restaurant is located, is protected by the state since 1946 and, as such, can't become a private property.
Strong resistance from the tavern's employees, from various public figures (mostly journalists who frequented the bistro), and from some civil groups, paid off in February 2007 when the Government of Serbia decided to exempt the restaurant from the privatization process and signed it over to city administration as a heritage spot. A petition, signed by 2,563 people, called for the privatization to be stopped.
In May 2017, the Serbian Ministry of Finance confirmed the earlier Agency for Restitution's decision to award the ownership of "?" to the descendants of Ivan Pavlovic, the property's owner from 1892 until 1959 when the property got nationalized. One of the descendants said that they don't plan to change the purpose of the building but that he can't guarantee that one of them will decide otherwise. The Company Varoš Kapija also said that several celebrities and artists wanted to take the kafana from them, either claiming they are the descendants of the original owners or wishing to buy the venue. The company filed a complaint asking for the annulment of the decision, claiming it has legally paid for the premises, partially to the state and partially to the descendants.
The house was built in Balkan manner by “the Greek builders”. It was constructed in “bondruk” manner, with asymmetrically built interior and two bay windows on the main façade. It has a basement, ground floor and upper storey. It is situated toward the street and the lot depth occupies a garden and a yard. The basement was built from bricks and it has two massive vaults of 6x12m. The ground floor is arranged asymmetrically, consisting of three 4 x 9m, 2.5 x 4.5m and 7 x 7m chambers. The upper storey has six chambers: large 9 x 3m hall, two 5 x 5m symmetrically positioned rooms, forming bay windows over viewing the street, a 3.5 x 4m room and a 4 x 3m kitchen, with auxiliary room of 2.5 x 2.5m. Arrangement of rooms has remained unchanged despite of certain later partition works in the ground floor.
At first, it was called “Kod Pastira“(“The Shepard’s”), then it was named “Kod Saborne Crkve” (“By the Cathedral Church”) in 1892 but not for long. This name was neither in compliance with the Decree about Taverns, nor with a position of church authorities, who found this to be insulting for the Church. The owner put out just a question mark "?" as a temporary solution and as sign of protest as well until dispute with authorities was resolved. This name remained to this day.
- Nikola Belić, Dimitrije Bukvić (23 December 2012), "Zaverenici kod „Zlatne morune", vinari u "Čokotu"", Politika (in Serbian)
- Milan Janković (22 July 2017), "Pravna bitka za "Znak pitanja"", Politika (in Serbian), p. 14
- Belgrade's Famous Buildings
- Ana Vuković, Dejan Aleksić (31 January 2016). "Poslednji dan kafane "Naše more"" [Last days of the kafana "Naše more"]. Politika (in Serbian). p. 16.
- Monuments of Culture in Serbia: Кафана ’?’ / Kafana ’?’' (SANU) (in Serbian) (in English)
- “Znak pitanja” i upitnici, NIN, 31 July 2003
- "Znak pitanja" je nacionalno pitanje, Blic, 11 November 2004 Archived 14 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "OSTAJU KARIRANI STOLNJACI I KAFA S RATLUKOM Čuvena kafana "?" biće vraćena starim vlasnicima, NIŠTA OD PRODAJE". Blic. 18 May 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- Tavern "?"
- (Inter)National restaurants — list of traditional restaurants by Tourist Organization of Belgrade
- "?" nije pod znakom pitanja — article on privatization of restaurant (in Serbian)