A well-known restaurateur reveals what and how Croats drink



Author: Matina Tenžera

A festival is starting that teaches visitors how to drink responsibly: "We are a country with bad habits of drinking poorly made coffee, drinking bad lager beer"

A graduate professor of history without a day in the profession who actually wanted to work as a journalist became a restaurateur who changed Zagreb's hospitality scene in his own way. I believe that even to his friends such a description would sound foreign. Who is that person? Well, that's a character who deserved to be written about for the second time in less than two months.

First, at the end of July, he opened a new cafe in a hidden courtyard leaning against the Nama department store with the symbolic and above all significant name Pri Nami, and in mid-October he organized the ZGrappa festival, the first Croatian event dedicated to brandy and liqueurs . Ladies and gentlemen, you have nothing to introduce him to because you probably all know him more or less – Marin Levaj strikes again!

zgrappa festival marin levaj

And so Marine and I almost became fellow journalists.

That! I started at Večernji list, where in addition to being a journalist, I started taking photos independently. The editors liked my photos to the extent that I started earning more as a photojournalist than as a journalist! I mostly photographed club and corporate events, so that way I started getting to know the world of hospitality from a different angle. It bothered me that even then journalist salaries were unsustainable…. they were so low that in one evening I was able to earn my monthly journalist's fee as a photographer.

Eventually I quit my job. The first person I contacted was Mario Petreković. He just took the space in Katran and invited me to open my own office there. Very soon after I "moved in", an ordinary working day turned into an all-day arrangement of space for parties. I started my hospitality journey as the manager of the Katran club, where I worked for the first three seasons.

With the accumulated experience, the desire to open something of my own was born. I wanted to materialize my vision of the hospitality industry, guided by the thought that there is no place in Zagreb where you can drink a glass of top quality wine for little money. I imagine even today that Mojo bar, at least on a micro level, changed Zagreb's hospitality industry. We then started selling wines that we discovered ourselves, and we had 120 wine and 60 brandy labels on offer. I think at that time we had the strongest such offer in the city.

And here you are now with the ZGrappa festival.

The ZGrappa festival is something I've been planning for the last eight or nine years and this year I finally got the courage to make it happen. It is an international festival of brandy, liqueurs and other spirits. The vision is for the festival to become a central place in the region for this type of product. In addition to the classic exhibition program, it will feature an educational component with lecturers who will teach visitors how to drink.

And how do Croats drink?

We are a country with bad habits of drinking badly brewed coffee, drinking bad lager beer. However, over time, habits from Europe and the rest of the world have been adopted by us. From the introduction of specialty coffees, through the beer revolution with craft beers, to numerous types of gin and tonics. On the other hand, the growing trends in the consumption of tequila and rum, which have been a trend outside of Croatia for the last seven years, after the gin and tonic phenomenon was done, have still not caught on in our country. I believe that this is because these are complex drinks that Croats are not used to.

And of all the drinks, you drank brandy.

My ultimate goal is to market brandy to the world as our national brand. Which she is. Because, in my humble opinion, brandy produced by certain Croatian producers is on the level of cognac or whiskey, and often even better. When we take into account that the production of top-quality plum brandy requires at least ten kilograms of fruit or that it has been aged in oak barrels for five, ten or more years, it must have a higher price than cognac and whiskey.

The production of premium brandy is expensive, and we still treat it like mirogojček. To begin with, the ZGrappa festival aims to introduce the local audience to the fact that apart from wine, there is another equally "ancient" Croatian drink. Fermented fruit drinks are specific products for the Balkan region and this is not a practice in the rest of the world…