Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Explore the vibrant history of Novi Bečej's hospitality, from bustling market taverns to lively dice games in the renowned "Krka" tavern


Hospitality also represented a significant economic sector in Novi Bečej. In addition to about thirty tavern owners whose families depended on the income from this activity, there were also about twenty permanently employed workers (waiters, cooks, cleaners, etc.), and about twenty families had partial income from temporary employment in hospitality on Saturdays and Sundays. Approximately ten families of musicians also derived their livelihood from the earnings in hospitality, for whom music was the sole profession, and another thirty families considered music as a supplementary occupation or an additional source of income.

In the 1930s, Novi Bečej had numerous taverns, not only compared to the present situation but also for that time in relation to similar places in Vojvodina. There are many reasons for this, and I will focus on two or three. Firstly, the liveliness and trade traffic, which were stimulated by various factors at that time, some of which I have already highlighted in earlier chapters, contributed significantly. Additionally, Novi Bečej was a connection between central Banat and central and southern Bačka. All passengers coming from the direction of Sombor and Novi Sad by train typically traveled by boat from Stari Bečej to Novi Bečej and then towards Kikinda and Veliki Bečkerek, as well as other intermediate stations. The arrival time of the boat in Novi Bečej and the departure of the train from Novi Bečej did not always align. If the train was heading to Kikinda, passengers wishing to travel towards Veliki Bečkerek had to wait, sometimes for several hours. During this waiting time, they spent their time in taverns, and if they arrived with the last boat, they even had to stay overnight in the hotels of Novi Bečej.

The primary stimulus for the existence of about thirty taverns was the relatively large number of employed unskilled workers. It may sound somewhat incredible to emphasize unskilled workers, given that their earnings are usually significantly lower than those of skilled workers. However, in the case of Novi Bečej, unskilled workers were mainly cubic workers who performed one of the most physically demanding jobs. Due to the nature of their work, they had a higher basic salary than unskilled workers in other lighter jobs. With such a starting point, cubic jobs were contracted on an output basis. Since these were people accustomed to such great effort and were interested in earning as much as possible, their weekly earnings were, in many cases, considerably higher than those received by skilled workers in other positions. It was not only the relatively high income that allowed a good part of it to remain (spent) in Novi Bečej's taverns, but their modest demands and, consequently, a modest standard of living also contributed to it. The primitive unskilled worker, often illiterate, was modest in terms of food and clothing but often immoderate when it came to drinking. Due to this immoderation, they did not keep drinks at home but could only afford them in taverns, where they were beyond the control of their wives and other family members. In addition, drinks are more enjoyable when consumed in company, leading to more consumption than each of them thought when entering the tavern. The behavior of dockworkers loading grain onto ships and unloading other goods was similar when it came to taverns. Particularly because they also worked on an output basis, their earnings allowed them to leave a considerable portion of their income in the tavern. It is also worth adding workers from the then sawmill and brickyard to this group.

Exhausting work of cubic workers and dockworkers encouraged drinking as a way to momentarily forget the hardships of life, if only for a moment, in the company of laughter and song. Living conditions and strenuous labor dictated similar behavior regardless of the workers' nationality (cubic workers were Hungarians, and dockworkers were Serbs).

Cubic workers gave a distinct character to Novi Bečej, as they meant more to the town than industrial workers did to other cities. Having steady incomes and being deprived of land, they were freed from natural production and had to meet all their needs at the Novi Bečej market and in the town's bazaar. At that time, 500-600 adult male family members from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo mostly worked outside Novi Bečej on canal digging, levee construction, road building, and other so-called earthworks. I recall that around 1930, about 200 cubic workers were employed in Boka Kotorska, in Zelenika, draining swamps and eradicating malaria that was rampant there. Some of them fell seriously ill, and many left their jobs before the contracts expired. A few even died from malaria, causing panic among the families of cubic workers about the lives of their breadwinners. Large projects were also undertaken in Banat, building levees in the Pančevački and Opovački rit for the protection of the most fertile land from Danube floods.

All those who worked in Banat would return home every other Saturday for a change of clothes and food. They arrived on Saturday evenings and left by the early train on Monday, carrying full bags of food for themselves and their colleagues because they would take turns bringing food for each other the following week. They cooked and prepared their own food at the workplaces, often sleeping in sheds made of boards or even under the open sky during warmer days.

These living conditions, hard labor, and separation from home almost forced them to behave like sailors when they disembarked in a port after a long voyage and rough sea. To extend this joyful moment, they would start drinking alcohol in Agoč's tavern in front of the railway station, then move on to Sarvaš's, followed by Kruna's. Many, even if out of their way, would go to the town center where there were several taverns where they felt comfortable.

Perhaps the role of cubic workers in the development of hospitality is confirmed by the fact that all the taverns they regularly visited either went out of business or barely survived until World War II with the onset of the economic crisis and the cessation of levee and canal construction – cubic workers were left unemployed. The struggling establishments included "Belo jagnje," Agoč, "Rohonci" buffet, "Sarvaš," "Kruna," and Danka Marčić's tavern.

The relatively high incomes of wealthy farmers in Vranjevo were also not of lesser importance for the development of Novi Bečej's hospitality. As I mentioned earlier, their spending habits were different from those of Banat peasants. Their attitude towards money allowed for the existence of multiple taverns in Vranjevo, and they were not always content with just the local taverns; they also frequented those in Bečej.

In my opinion, these are the main reasons for the somewhat emphasized development of hospitality in Novi Bečej. Although there are more factors, these notes are not intended to analyze the life of that time but rather to record it as I saw and experienced it.

I won't repeat what was previously said about the Novi Bečej hotels "Vojvodina" and "Roval" and their restaurants. Instead, I'll list the taverns, describe them, mention their locations, and try to convey the atmosphere within them.

Adjacent to the Tisa River bank, near the dolma itself, was the "Bijelo Jagnje" tavern, located in the area of the grain market. Genci Ištvan owned this modest-looking tavern, mainly used by farmers when they came to the markets. Farmers from surrounding villages with their horse-drawn carts would wait for the unloading of grain onto barges, sometimes joined by fishermen and dockworkers, but most frequently by cubic workers, especially on Sunday mornings when they came to the markets.

Across from the present-day Workers' Hall, on the corner in Duško Nikolić's building, was the Gavrić Miloš tavern. It had regular customers in dockworkers and farmers from nearby villages who waited with their horse-drawn carts to deliver wheat to the barge.

It was emphasized that next to the dolma was the "Vojvodina," about which there is nothing more to say than what was presented in previous chapters. Right next to the "Vojvodina" was the "Rohonci" buffet. The buffet operated well, especially during market days, as it was right on the market. Its visitors were cubic workers and fishermen. This buffet also did well on non-market days due to its quality drinks. Across from the "Rohonci" buffet was the "Rojal" tavern and hotel, about which, as with the "Vojvodina," was already written before. Across from the "Rojal" was a fairly large tavern called "Lovac" (The Hunter). This tavern was packed during market days and was mainly for wealthier farmers from Vranjevo, although others, including travelers passing through Novi Bečej, also used it. The tavern had a large hall with spacious windows resembling a shopfront.

On the main street, on the right side when heading towards the railway station, were three taverns: "Bela Lađa," "Krka," and Danka Marčić's tavern. The locations were described in earlier chapters, so we will focus on providing more information about them individually, as each had its distinct characteristics. The description of "Bela Lađa" has already been given, so we'll concentrate on the other two.

The "Krka" tavern was the busiest and, in terms of service quality, the top tavern in Novi Bečej. The entire owner's family was involved in the tavern. The owner's wife was an excellent cook, and the tavern was known for its excellent cuisine. The owner, Lala, and his son Marjan, who had completed a trade academy (high school), worked as waiters. The service was fast and of high quality. Consistent with the service and the quality of the kitchen, the drinks were also excellent, resulting in continuous traffic from morning until 2 o'clock in the morning. What distinguished this tavern from others was a special hall that, from 8 pm to 2 am, served only for billiards and card games. There, a specific dice game with cards, known locally as "karametli," was played. Its essence involved one person holding the bank and selling cards from a special deck, with the price of each card depending on the buyer's preference. The lowest was 1 dinar, and buyers could go higher as desired. When all the cards from one deck were sold, the banker would take another deck, shuffle it, and start laying two cards on the table. The laying process followed a typical gambling ritual: it was done slowly, and the cards were turned over and placed on the table even more slowly to generate excitement among everyone who bought cards, including the present "kibitzers." The first two cards, turned over in order from the top of the deck, meant that the owners of the same cards from the sold deck received their invested money back without any profit. The second (next) two cards, in addition to the card price, brought their owners a 50% profit. The third set of two cards brought a 100% profit of the invested amount, and the fourth set of two (arranged in the fourth row) brought owners a 200% profit. The last ninth card opened from the deck held by the banker brought the owner of the same card from the second deck a fivefold profit. This process continued without interruption until 2 am when the tavern closed. Many left all their money on this game, and many travelers who stayed overnight in Novi Bečej left their last dinar there, so they had to borrow from the hotel owner, where they stayed, in addition to what they owed for accommodation, to be able to leave Novi Bečej. Throughout the game, a glass stood on the table into which the banker occasionally put money, known as "piksla," and the tavern owner's son immediately emptied and took it away. The tavern owner had double benefit from the game: one from the money received from the "banker" in the form of "piksla," and another from the sale of food and drinks that gamblers and their spectators consumed until 2 am. At that time, the most common "banker" was Ivan Juanin, the owner of a reputable barbershop in downtown Novi Bečej. He had to have a special memory to remember, as he sold each card from the deck, to pay the corresponding sum to the winners. This dice game was played with a 32-card deck.

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