Thinky’s guide to help you get lost!
I’m not aware of too many things. I know what I know if you know what I mean. Fine. If that warbling bint is happy to wallow in her high-pitched ignorance and express it over the air waves in bad rhymes, then so be it. But it shouldn’t be it.
If we allow this sort of lack of awareness to pass as a life choice, then as far as I can see there is nothing to separate us from the hamster.
Admittedly, if I had a life expectancy of 36 months and was a furry thing with big cheeks, then I would hesitate before spending my time on pondering the bigger picture.
Questions such as ‘where does my cage come from?’, ‘who lived here before me?’ and ‘why is my 4cl water bottle always full?’ would be justifiably ignored in favor of running in a wheel and storing sunflower seeds in my cotton wool decorated plastic house.
But I am not a hamster; I am a human being. Yes, I have more body hair than I would like, and yes, my cheeks are not as pert as they should be. But I crave knowledge and understanding, and this is surely proof that I was not conceived by rodents.
Yet still I wander the streets of Prague as if I was in a well designed and beautiful cage. I stumble past a building whose history I know nothing about. I walk into a bar knowing nothing of its origins. I piss on a church whose significance I am oblivious to. And then I pass out in a gutter blissfully unaware of whose feet have trodden the ground where my head lies.
So I’m staring at the man in the mirror, and I’m asking him to make a change. And being my usual kindly self, I’m inviting you to join me, so put on your walking boots and quizzical expressions, and let’s see if we can’t get us some knowledge. We’ll start at Malé náměstí, the little triangular square to the west of Old Town Square that is often ignored on the way to Charles Bridge, but which is bloody old, and therefore deserves a bit more respect.
More than three times the combined ages of Mick Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor, this ancient crossroads was established as a market square by French merchants way back in the 12th Century, and I suppose it was sensible in a time without Amex, let alone a shopping channel, to have a place where you could meet other people to haggle with and sell your daughter to. The lack of plastic probably caused a lot of headaches though, which is why a bright Italian spark set up Prague’s first apothecary (pharmacy) here in 1353 in what is now a sub-standard Italian Restaurant.
The building that dominates the square these days is the russet red neo-renaissance Rott Haus, which was originally an ironmongers store founded in 1840. Now it’s a sort of department store selling lots of jewelry and decanters and whatnot, below the Hotel Rott (Malé naměstí 138/4, Praha 1, 110 00, Tel: +420 224 190 901). Bored assistants currently outnumber customers about 4 to 1, but I’m sure that this will change once people finally realize that “sparkly glass is the true road to happiness” (Luke 4: 12-14).
The rest of the square is a bit like a Bohemian Crystal Mall, with each store trying to outdo its neighbor for levels of tackiness and tourist entrapment, and is all very avoidable really. Before you leave though, it’s apparently good luck to pump a small amount of water at the 16th Century fountain positioned in the middle. This rumor is not widely known because I’m starting it now, but it would be nice to divert some attention from the clock, so please spread the word.
The streets that run south from Malé náměstí are a bit of a maze, but it shouldn’t take too much effort to find yourself on Jilská, where even more crystal shops reign supreme, next to countless puppet stores and a few crappy restaurants. Get past all this and make a dash for the Jilská Complex (#6 on map, Jilská 22), where up the stairs you’ll find a shopping experience which couldn’t be less tourist inclined.
The home of Alien Tattoo & Piercing, which boasts being the only Prague piercist to take part in The International Tattoo Convention, the walls are tastefully plastered with photographs of previously violated flesh.
Pierced tongues, pierced necks, pierced hands, and pierced nipples all greet you with a shiny hello and invite you to do the same. And if you do fancy a bit of metal decoration, this is rumored to be the best place in Prague to get it done.
There’s also a very talented artist ready to cover various bits of you with permanent graffiti. Again, photographs, not just drawings on paper, are on show to inspire you with confidence and to display the clever way in which your dull body will become interesting. Or cover up with some excellent street fashions from Katr (www.sketa.cz/sketa).
Further on into the shop part, at Maximum Underground (Tel: +420 724 307 198, www.maximum.cz), there’s a music section with plenty of vinyl nostalgia available, and a lot of punk rock albums which are worth purchasing just for the names.
“Assuck”, “Tumor Circus”, and “The Sky is Falling and I Want my Mummy” are all available here, as well as some decent and cheap clothes from Katr to strut your holey body around in.
Go take a look.
Following Michalska to its end in the direction away from Old Town Square will bring you to Uhelný trh, a pretty square which gets its name from the coal (uhli) which used to be sold here, and pure as driven coal are the hookers that are on sale now from dusk ’til dawn.
Most of them will haggle, but refusing their come-ons or offering to pay in the region of 150Kc will result in being called a homosexual and a high-heeled hobble off into the night.
By day the square is a pleasant little place to buy art work or simply rest weary feet. Bringing the tone of the area down a level or ten though is a branch of Dr Stuart’s Botanicus, the Lord, Master and Pimp of Mother Nature (Uhelný tr 10, Praha 1, #11 on map, Corner of Havelska and Michalska, www.botanicus.cz). Here you can spend many crowns on cosmetics made from natural things, but I still fail to see where exactly he found a gap in the market that appealed to so many.
If I want to wash my face with an orange, I’m more than capable, and if I want to stick a couple of dried up dead flowers in a vase and pass them off as decoration, I can do that as well. So why do I need some f*ckwit to wrap up a bar of fruit soap in a newspaper and then sell it to me in a paper bag? The answer is that I don’t, and neither do you, yet mysteriously it is constantly jam packed with cash wielding punters. A lot of Botanifuss about nothing, if you ask me.
If you exit the square via Skořepka, and then carry on past the two streets that veer right, you’ll be in Betlémské náměstí, which is another nice little square where the sun shines and tourists only occasionally venture. Its name sake and main tourist attraction is Bethlehem Chapel, which was originally founded in 1391, and was the largest chapel in Bohemia, with a capacity crowd of 3000.
It was the foot stamping ground of the legendary trouble maker Jan Hus, who had the audacity to go anti-Latin and preach in a language which ordinary folk could understand. He also used to rant on about how corrupt the Catholic Church was, and for this the cheeky little bastard was torched at the stake in 1415.
The Vatican was pretty swift in apologizing for this burning error though, and overturned the sentence in 1965. Nowadays the chapel is often used for concerts of the ever seasonal Vivaldi and the like, and if I had a clue what I was talking about, I would probably mention the extraordinary acoustics.
Betlémské náměstí is the beginning (or end, depending on where you start) of a short series of ex-pat bars. The James Joyce was at Liliová 10 many years until its unfortunate conversion into a hotel reception area, and at this location can be found the Blues Sklep (basement) www.bluessklep.cz now.
Next along there’s O’Che’s, the Cuban bar, (#3 on map, Liliová 14).
Cuban my arse. If it’s because they sell Cuban cigars and the boss is a rum-drinking dictator, then that makes the potraviny down the road a Cuban Potraviny.
But this lack of particular theme or country is apparently the point, and Scottish visionary Gordon Kowan deliberately set out to create a drinking spot that was limitless in its appeal. Indeed, one of the most immediately appealing characteristics is the high standard of bar tender employed here.
Combining an elegant mixture of good looks, charm, intelligence and efficiency, they give the profession a sophisticated edge that you may not find anywhere else on the planet. Uber-Barmen if you like. But this is just one aspect of what Gordon earnestly explains to be his deeply-rooted aim to please. “If a customer wants to be treated like a lady, they’ll be treated like a lady”, he says. “And if they want to be treated like an arse-hole, then we can cater for that as well.”
This sort of generous attitude is to be commended, as are the equally generous breakfasts served up by a multi-national team of chefs. The Apple Strudel is legendary within the Czech Republic, and the word in the coop is that two thirds of chickens dream of ending up as part of the unique O’Che’s Plate of Wings. It may even be the case that the legend of Liliova 14 soon takes over the legend of its revolutionary name-sake, and that in the future when Che Guevara comes up in conversation, people will ask if he’s anything to do with that pub in Prague 1. Not exactly an Irish bar, but it fits my analogy of a “looverly shamrock of pubs” to say that they are.
At what was once the legendary Gulu Gula Cafe and Bojj Celtic Pub is a new place, (#1 on map, Betlémské nám. 8) Papa’s Cotton Club, (http://papasbar.cz) which has been around for not that long really. It’s nice and airy during the day, and if you like live music from the likes of Phil Cleanhead, then you won’t be disappointed.
Stop by during the week for the ever changing Lunch Menu, featuring 2 courses and a drink for less than 250Kc per person, or the Happy Hours which are a great value for your drinking dollar. So if you’re a fan of great food, affordable drinks and soulful music, then you can get it all here.
On the corner of Liliova, where it meets up with the stream of tourists on Karlova, is U Malvaze (#4 on map, Karlova 10), a single-roomed pub not far enough from the Charles Bridge to keep their prices low. Apparently the building is of Romanesque origin, its current appearance being the result of a Baroque reconstruction in 1730, and this is apparently very interesting. The venue has walls panelled in wood to half their height, a plastered vaulted ceiling, and green and white tablecloths with a poshed up interior means the beers won’t be cheap… but then, neither are you, right?
Like a hamster, once drunk, you’ll find walking in circles appealling. Double back on yourself a bit to the hotel U Krále Jiřího (At King George’s, #2 on map, Liliova 10), where there’s one more bar worth a pint in. Once you pass at the front of the foyer is a small intimate affair where you can enjoy a drink, the Blues Sklep, where you can hear live music when the conversation’s run dry, and sit and laugh at people with ‘dem blues’ if you get the urge.
The most commonly sold beer in this part of town for some reason is Platan.
Platan is not a particularly popular or widely known brand, but at with the prices for a pint in the center of town, it’s an affordable risk to take. Personally, I can’t tell the difference, but those in the know say that the superior quality of the beer here is due to the short distance traveled between barrel and pump. Your glass will be filled less than a meter away from the keg, and apparently this means that the liquid is less ‘tired’ when it arrives at your table.
Also worth a try is a Klapak. This is a half shot of Czech rum sitting in a half shot of cherry liqueur. Or it may be the other way around – doesn’t really matter. What matters is that after the initial fear of the inner glass bruising the bridge of your nose, it’s a very pleasant tasting, easily downable drink.
Back out into the open air, turn down Řetězá for a quiet little alley with a couple more places to sit and imbibe. Recently opened at number 7 is Montmartre, (Řetěá 7, +420 602 277 210), a spacious cafe with a civilized air about it, but with not that many customers at times. Other times, good luck getting a chair. It’s an attractive enough spot, but it unfortunately has nothing to make it stand out among the many other places to drink in the area.
There’s a cool beer garden right next door which boasts being very old indeed, and whose main attraction lies in being very peaceful and a real sun trap.
It’s sunny even when there’s no sun in the sky, but if you find that sort of lightness unbearable, there are darker things available opposite in Damuza (#15 on map, Řetězá 10, Tel: +420 604 878 918 www.damuza.cz), which as well as being an atmospheric cafe and restaurant, also puts on moody amateur productions in a small basement theatre. As someone genuinely surprised that live drama still exists now that we have animated television, I haven’t witnessed any of the shows, but there are probably some worth seeing if you’re into that sort of thing.
At the end of the street, where it meets Husova, is U Dominikana, which was once an empty themeless bar until it stumbled on Savic Hotel (#7 on map, Across from Jilská 22). Then they spent their decoration budget, and hey presto, suddenly we have a cafe bar with one of the best sidewalk viewing perches to park yourself on a lazy summer day while watching fat tourist to pass by.
Further down Husova at no. 17, is U Zlatého tygra (The Golden Tiger #13 on map, Husova 17, www.uzlatehotygra.cz), where you’ll have to fight like a tiger with regulars for somewhere to park yourself. Famous for serving beer from a massive tank instead of the boring old keg, and also for being the second home of wordsmith Bohumil Hrabal, it’s probably worth waiting for a seat if you’re not pushed for time.
But pushed for time is what we are, and this is where the lesson ends for today. It’s been your pleasure as always, so I’ll bid you good night, wish you a good morning after, and look forward to catching up with you next time when we continue our voyage of discovery in Prague.
Three Other Places Worth Checking Out
Sanu Babu (#10 on map, www.sanubabu.cz)
This is definitely one of the classier places to buy yourself some stuff from the East. A higher quality of carving, an altogether superior stock, and little snippets of information with regard to origins lend the shop a more genuine feel, and the staff are friendly and helpful.
Architect’s Club (#12 on map www.klubarchitektu.com)
On the right of the chapel, looking at it from the square is a well hidden restaurant, Klub Architektu, which is housed in a Gothic cellar, and has tables set up outside in the warmer months. The menu is pleasant and filling, but it’s the food which really deserves a mention. Simple and tasty, with equally palatable prices. The Architect’s Club is a fine place in which to dine.
Country Life (#14 on map)
At Melantrichova 15 is a branch of Country Life, a rare cholesterol-free zone in the city of the deep-fat fryer. No meat and no heart disease are the orders of the day, and this appears to be a popular spot for a vitamin and fiber fix. It’s quite small though, and the main challenge is getting out of such a cramped space quickly when over consumption of lentils and beans takes noxious effect.