It is a well known and much lamented fact that as a generation, we have lacked a unifying occasion.
There has been no depression, except the Great Recession, to struggle through together, and in the latter, we're more divided than we were ever united. No world wars to write poetry about, I mean, seriously, the War on Terror is just not that inspiring.
And until Trump conned his way into the White House, there has not been many mass demonstrations to make banners for, for sure not in that dawning of a new age kind of way that brings together innovations in music, fashion, morality and drugs.
For those of us who were lucky enough to be in Prague at the beginning of this millennium, we were there to witness something major. Something that will provide countless stories for awe struck grandchildren by the hearths of the future. A revolution. A renaissance. An evolutionary land mark that will change the course of our lives forever.
I refer of course, to the recent and ongoing mass development that is growing to the South of Národní (or SoNa, if you're up with the lingo man), where beneath the shadow of The National Theatre, a quarter has grown that will soon make the rest of town weep with uselessness.
A lot of people have spent a lot of other people's money on turning this once quite dull area into a major city attraction. And now it's our turn to spend a bit of cash, but fret not, because ridding yourself of your hard earned wage is rarely as much fun as it can be in these alley ways of innovation.
One of the youngest of these new establishments was the Indigo Concept Space, at Opatovická 3 (which in true boheme style doesn't even bother to open until 2pm). Its a cafe with a secretly hidden bar. Or maybe vice versa. The kind of place where afternoon tea parties become midnight parties. Exhibitions, live performances, friendly staff and a family atmosphere.
The design mission was apparently to achieve the maximum in minimalism, and this is precisely what they have done. Stripped wood and unobtrusive lighting combine with fresh flora on the tables and big windows to create an airy atmosphere that is relaxing and bright with a classy soundtrack. It's a bit like wandering into an art exhibit, but after being impressed by the aesthetic, you suddenly get the feeling that unparalleled limbs will make the place look untidy.
For those who sway to the sweet or want something a bit more upscale in terms of a wine list, there's Café Jericho at Opatovická 26. Between noon and 10pm everyday, you can create your own platter featuring a selection of fancy cheesesand other Spanish-style tapas delights, to polish back a nice bottle of Moravian and international wines.
If you're looking for old school Prague, the kind of place dissidents would head over to after a tough interrogation by the secret police, then you should visit Café Rybka at Jirchářích 6. A slightly below street level view gives you the feeling a guy on the lam might enjoy a beer or two over a meal of cigarettes and rolíks with pickles. Luckily for you, the menu (and political climate) has improved over the intervening years, and you can enjoy your stuffed pickled sausage without the fear of torture.
For something heartier to eat, just walk down to the corner to Jáma Steakhouse, for big thick slabs of perfectly marinated meats that've spent some time on the racks being grilled before surrendering to your tastebuds.
Cooked on a lava grill, we higly recommend the star attraction of Ball Tip Steak from Uruguay, genuine Heritage Angus that has been dry aged to perfection. All dishes come with home style steak fries home meals, or croquets if you're feeling a little bit like a woosie. Or if you're in for lunch, make it a Surf and Turf (price, just 165Kč!) which features four pieces of grilled tiger prawns with herb butter, yummy!
If you're looking to stand out and impress your next date, be sure to check out Café AdAstra at Podskalská 8. French in flair with a menu and interior to reflect this, they feature a menu heavy on the crepes and cream, with fancy beers like Chotěboř. And to make it even more authentically "French" you can enjoy being ignored by the wait staff several minutes after you arrive, it's c'est magnifique!
They hold all kinds of cool events too, such as this Friday (28.04.2017) for example, where they will host a charity event featuring great food, pleasant company and live piano music, with the talented chefs Kochloeffel John and Linda Glanc, two great cooks who cook together in the cafeteria Bullerbyn to lead cooking classes in the "Dancing kitchen".
If you're looking for breakfast, in a traditional Czech style, then Czech out the original SoNa hotspot of Café Louvre. The omlettes are fantastic here, the eggs practically glowed with freshness, and seemed pleased just to be on my plate, proving the saying: 'Happy chickens, happy eggs, happy customer'.
Included in the price is a small selection of baked bready type things that come served in a little wooden box, and newspapers (typically in Czech, with the occassional Guardian some tourist left behind) are available for those bored with trying to work out what they have against the common plate. The service is attentive without being smothering, and before you know it, a quick bite to eat has evolved gently into a heavenly afternoon. This place has definitely earned its wings since opening in 1902 and seeing as Kafka didn't say anything bad about it, you know it's not to be missed.
The Globe Bookstore and Cafe (Pštrossova 6, open 10AM - midnight Sun-Thurs, and 10AM to 1am Friday and Saturday) which opened on March 1st, is another place that eats up your time in a completely unregrettable fashion.
An expat favourite in its former days in Holešovice, it moved into SoNa with more appeal than the 5am-tram-wait gyros that were the only dining option at one time down here...
But instead of being a pita bread filled with dead dog that squirts mayo down your favourite jacket, The Globe is a centre of self-improvement and stimulation.
The selection and organisation of books (on 2 floors), both new and used, has expanded enormously, and so has the menu (also edible on 2 floors). The only expensive thing on their menu I could find to eat was the Classic Globe Cheeseburger, (double sized version!) at 295Kč, and if the word "unrip-off" exists, then this is why.
All this makes me feel bad for the owners however, who have clearly spent a lot of dough on refurbishment. Mirrors, wood, plants, and a lot of space and windows have dramatically transformed what used to be a children's cafe serving surrounding schools, before it was carefully left to rot in the 50s by the Negligence Section of The Communist Party.
A hint of communism lives on here however, in the much ignored Marxist ideal of free electric socket access, which is, like the more popular of Karl's theories, open to abuse. I watched one selfish b*stard ignoring those around him as he surfed an Internet tidal wave while charging every mobile device he had in every socket available.
This sort of degenerate behaviour could be avoided by installing an electric shock system connected to a timer, but for the moment I took it upon myself to punish the abuser by dropping spoons on his table from the upstairs seating area until he left. Justice was done.
The layout is fantastic, with a massive horse-shoe bar, unstealable bar stools, and a regularly changing gallery exhibiting the work of local young artists, but there are a few odd things about this place, and the fact that it's always so busy makes you feel like you're the only one who doesn't get it.
For a start, the decor is similar to a mild S&M den (that was once described to me by a friend, of course), with fiery red walls and plenty of black metal, and a stage area for Madam Crunch. The stage here is for regular live music, however, the genre of which varies from night to night.
Then there's the bright yellow motor-trike parked by the entrance for absolutely no reason, and for even less reason, a .4l Krusovice 10° costs 45Kč. A point four liter beer, what the hell is that about? The English translation of the name, Solid Uncertainty, implies that maybe they don't know either.
It doesn't really matter though I guess.
What is important is that there's plenty of space, plenty of atmosphere, and do things like salsa lessons during the midweek nights. The place is often open until 6 in the morning, and nobody has told the boss that he really ought to be charging a cover. Another example of generosity open to abuse I guess, but if it is an S&M club, then maybe that's what he wants.
Another joint, U Matěje Kotrby at Křemencova 17, has the kind of decor that looks like at any moment you could expect a Tarantino style shoot out. With its massive windows and soft lighting, many passers by have thought it to be an Amsterdam style brothel. But U Matěje Kotrby is a restaurant that offers a huge variation of classical Czech dishes, and specialties from the international cuisine scene.
If only. Hot dang, but those waitressing ladies is fine, and with cheap beer during happy hour, its not even expensive to stare and dribble for a couple of hours.
Of particular note is a young brunette who catches your eye, makes clever movements with her lips, and then saunters over to your side. Some people call that a waitress asking if I'd like to order something, but I call it seduction with a capital Sssssss, and I'll definitely be back for more.
Also look out for the girl who looks like she's from Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element. How on earth do they get their staff?
Drinks-wise, there's an impressive wine list (Czech, Chilean, Spanish, with prices from a couple of hundred to more than double that), and most of the cocktails hover on the right side of 100Kč, like the fantastic Long Island Ice Tea for just 75Kč. Their speciality infused vodka is like punishment for former sins, however, and is probably best avoided.
For eats, there's a lunch menu (available 11AM - 3pm) which is almost as attractive as the people serving it, and which includes soup, a main course and a bottle of water. One of the main courses is the roasted pigs knee it's massive if you are hungry, but I didn't try it because my girlfriend said she just wanted it to be the two of us. They also do a rather fine pasta, which was simply gorgeous, and enjoyed solomente on a later visit. The chicken is too. My fave was the roasted goats cheese with walnuts.
In the summer months, they open their garden area in the back, where typically you can find the hard-core old school Prague denizens smoking away. With seating for 40 people, its a lot a more sophisticated alternative to the street cafes of Old Town Square. This sophistication is a large part of SoNa's raison d'être, so take time to go stroll-about.
Traffic is rare, and you'll never have to compete for foot space with hoards of people trampling the sidewalk. What with this, the sunset casting a hazy atmosphere from behind Fred and Ginger's fox-trotting heads, and the Vltava oozing tranquillity into the neighbourhood, the charm is clearly in the calm, so relax and enjoy.
And all this right next to the cess-pit we call Národní trida, where every surface has been pissed on or puked on at regular intervals since the beginning of time.
Juxtapositioned with a city jungle where only the strongest and the drunkest survive, SoNa is a veritable oasis.
This can be seen in the slowly but surely rising accommodation prices. Still significantly cheaper than a comparable apartment in other parts of Prague 1, the increase in business interest has forced up rents substantially. As a place to live to experience the heart of the capital, it has everything that you could need and nothing that you don't.
Some of the architecture could do with some restoration, but this is being seen to, and it will soon be top of the list of any property developer or estate agent worth their clip-board.
If a resident's home cocktail machine broke down, and a serious substitute boozing experience was required, down a little bit from U Matěje Kotrby is Bar 23 at, you guessed it, Křemencova 23, which has been serving up the hooch to late night discerning types for many a year. Very well received and well reviewed by everything with a dry tounge, so I was keen to find at least a dozen disappointments, but my only one was that I couldn't find eleven others.
Regular customers, and even those who just stare in from outside with their noses against the window, rave about the barman's skills, but nobody mentions the somewhat simpler pleasure of the coffee drinks they serve.
If you're a cheapskate, or the notes in your pocket won't quite stretch to the demands of U Matěje Kotrby, then exit, take a left, another left, and when you get to the end of the street, a final sharp left which will take you effortlessly to the entrance of Universal (V Jirchářích 6).
A big feed here won't cost you much at all, and this is surely one of the things that keeps their numerous customers in a vibrant mood as they chat over bowls of potato au gratin and large slabs of meat. Even the salads are generous affairs, causing concern for the myth that they only exist as a course in themselves for women and gay men.
Service at Universal strangely varies in inverse proportion to how busy the restaurant is. On a busy Saturday night, when I had to wait for a free table, my order was taken and delivered more promptly than I thought humanly possible, but returning one quiet Sunday lunchtime, it was as if the waiter decided to fetch my coffee direct from Columbia.
If you only have a short amount of time, I suggest you head straight for the dessert menu, and point at the Bavarois s omáčkou z lesních plodů. This is a remarkable culinary achievement, that will halt even the most fascinating conversation, with its light creamy texture and its slightly tart accompaniment.
I would describe it as an orgasm on a plate, but for the more literal minded reader, this may conjure up an image that is not in the least appetising.
Talking of shops, which we weren't, but are now, I don't think I would be sued for saying that this is generally not an area for which SoNa scores highly.
There's a book shop that mostly sells material on English grammar, which doesn't excite me much personally, there are portravinys, which are unexciting by definition, and there's a small shop selling baby toys for the youngsters, which is exciting if you've just given birth, but of no great concern to the rest of us.
There's also an interesting and modern looking hair salon which seems friendly enough, and an antique shop or two lurking inconspicuously in the shadows. But SoNa is overwhelmingly a place for the hungry and thirsty, and for quality per square cobble, it cannot be bettered in Praha.
The only problem with describing it is that you start to run out of superlatives, and everything starts to sound a bit advertorial.
But don't take my word for it.
Treat yourself to a few hours exploring, and you'll be refreshed and entertained as much as I was. And as a final note of gratitude to the proprietors of these businesses, let me just add that in these days of fear, injustice and violence, it's an absolute pleasure to be able to report on something that doesn't remind me of 'Nam.
Cool bars in the SONA area
U Fleků, Křemencova 9/11
U Fleků, (with a beer garden at no. 11) is worth a visit, but make it during the day, and make it brief. It's been brewing it's own dark beer since the 15th Century, so they've had time to get it right, and you'll pay extra for their ancient expertise.
The court-yard is pleasant on a sunny day, but the long benches are usually covered in arses that have just been sitting on a tour coach, and will be replaced by many more as soon as they leave. Definitely worth a pint, but there are cheaper and nicer places to go where you won't be asked to take holiday snaps of fat Germans.
U Bubeníčků, Myslíkova 8a
SoNa is full of places with a heavy international influence, so it's reassuring to find this little Czech gem. Prices are Czech style cheap, the beer is Czech style wet, and the writing on the wall is also Czech. The only thing that appears un-Czech is the amiable service, which in most similar hospodas, varies only in its degree of scariness.
Pizzeria Kmotra, V Jirchářích 12
Booking is recommended at this popular pizzeria, which by all accounts was the first of its kind in Prague. The pizzas are large, and made with fresh ingredients, so no complaints about a lot of value for not a lot of money. The name means The Godmother, and as if this wasn't film buffy enough, the restaurant was also featured in a recent Czech movie called Septej which nobody English speaking I know has seen.
Hospoda "U Nováka", V Jirchářích 2
This an easy way of experiencing the heart of Czech popular culture without even realising it. U Nováka is at first glance a large pub serving good food and plenty of Gambrinus, at quite good prices. Then someone will tell you that the pub is owned by the Czech TV station TV Nova, and supposed to be a replica of the pub in one of their more popular series. Then it feels like Cheers mixed with The Truman Show. Sad.
POINT YOUR MAP APP AT THESE JOINTS:
6. Universal, V Jirchářích 6
7. Indigo Concept Space, Opatovická 3
8. The Globe, Pštrossova 6
9. Solidní jistota, Pštrossova 21
10. Café Vltava, Masarykovo nábřeží 22
11. Pizzeria Kmotra, V Jirchářích 12
12. Groove Bar, Voršilská 6
13. U Fleků, Křemencova 9/11
14. Louvre Cafe, Národní 20
15. Rock Café, Národní 20
16. La Patio, Jungmannova 30
17. Knihkupectví Academia, Národní 7
18. U Bubeníčků, Myslíkova 8
19. Hospoda "U Nováka", V Jirchářích 2, 294 674
20. Boat rental co.'s (where you can while away the day!)