The Serbian Cocktail Bar Inspired By NYC's Employees Only

Though Dushan Zarić left his hometown Belgrade for the bright, bustling lights of New York City, the people of Serbia — particularly those in the bartending world — haven't forgotten him. Zarić, one of the brains behind the West Village staple Employees Only, has made a name for himself when it comes to cocktail bars and mixology. Ever since World's Best 50 Bars began, Employees Only has graced the list, and Zarić himself has received a host of accolades, including Taste of the Cocktail's Best Bar Mentor and one of Forbes' top 50 tastemakers. 

While the West Village bar hosts burlesque shows every Sunday night, one bar in Belgrade is matching the sensuality and energy of the American speakeasy. Inside the candlelit Hanky Panky, bartenders are dressed in crisp matching uniforms of white button-downs, vests, and ties, and dark corners are lit by lamps in the shape of a woman's corset. Owner Miroslav Popov — who goes by Kimi — admits that it isn't only certain aesthetics that have been influenced by Zarić's Manhattan establishment.

A passion for service

Hanky Panky's bar, a curved design made up of oak and metal, is the perfect backdrop for custom drinks like Rose Marry Me, a gin cocktail made with passion fruit, fresh lemon juice, and rosemary (the recipe has since become a best-seller); and crowd favorites like the classic Negroni. The bar mimics the same countertop found inside New York's Employees Only.

As told to Tasting Table, Popov is a big fan of Employees Only — and not just the bar itself but the people behind the concept working to make the watering hole succeed. He admires their work ethic, he says, and dreams of visiting Employees Only one day to see the action for himself. "I am proud of all my fellow bartenders in Serbia and others who have made a name for themselves in the business around the world," Popov says. 

For now, Popov is encouraged by the support he has received at Hanky Panky and is grateful to his team for serving thirsty Serbians and visitors alike with memorable experiences. "This is the best bar I've been to in Belgrade. The service was exceptional, the cocktails were amazing. The standout was the chocolate boulevardier which was absolutely stunning — probably the best cocktail I've ever had," one visitor gushed in a review. It seems Popov's approach is working.