The narrow, winding streets of Prague become even more confusing when you add alcohol, but with the abundance of great pubs, it makes no matter, just let Luke Salkeld show you the way!
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 at No. 13 Malé náměstí in 1353 in what is now a wine shop, U Zlaté koruny.
The building that dominates the square these days is the russet red neo-renaissance Rott Haus (Rottův dům, No. 142), which was originally an ironmongers store founded in 1840. It's probably the best-known building in the Little Square.
There is a Romanesque basement inside and the facade is decorated with paintings, made by the Czech painter Mikoláš Aleš in the 19th century. They depict crafts and agriculture. The Rott company, a most renowned Czech ironmonger´s, was situated in the house for several decades.
The house used to be called “At the Three White Roses” in the past. It is said, that it was called so after three sisters who lived there. They reportedly longed for wealth very much, until one day they were robbed and impoverished by a foreigner and they died in poverty.
Now it's a sort of a monument to American culture, otherwise known as The Hard Rock Café. Bored waiters often outnumber customers about 4 to 1, but I'm sure that this will change once people finally realize that Jesus said "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Luke 4: 12-14).
While you're here, pop on into The Hard Rock Cafe and check out the metal work on the balcony railings of the second floor, and see if you can see the not so hidden swastikas the commies missed removing after kicking the Nazi's out of their occupation of the place. Now that's history right there before your eyes!"
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 Jilska, where even more crystal shops reign supreme, next to countless puppet stores and a few crappy tourist restaurants.
Your first stop to get the day going right, will have to be the hit sensation for every Prague visitor, the Absintherie Prague at Jilská 7, where they serve the divine Justifiée & Ancienne blend that is not your typical absinthe. I could go on and on to fill your brain with the details, or you can check out this quick video;
Get past all this and you're still walking, make a dash for the Jilska Complex (Jilska 22), where up the stairs you'll find a shopping experience which couldn't be less tourist inclined, unless you happen to be one of those tourists...
The Arcade Gaming Bar, a more recent arrival on the scene, is a very cool start, full of retro video games, where you can have mad fun for an hour or two, should you choose. Not exactly a museum, it's a fun bar to spend a couple of hours in. Located underground with two rooms of retro arcade games such as Tekken and a dance machine.
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.Upstairs is the home, since 1992, of
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.
Maximum Underground, 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 at Indica Shop to strut your holey body around in.
Indica shop is located next to the Allien tattoo studio and the Maximum underground music shop.
Here, you'll find quality "crumpled" T-shirts imported from Thailand. They also sell UDG, Funny, and unique Hippobloo flip-flops from 100% natural rubber that can be easily recycled or composted. And also, they're notable for specializing in the sale of Cannabis seeds. You will find seeds from leading world companies such as Dutch, Passion, Sensi Seeds, Paradise seeds and others.
Go take a look, seriously.
Uhelný trh, a pretty square which gets its name from the coal (uhlí) which used to be sold here, and pure as driven coal are the hookers that are on sale now from dusk 'til dawn.Following Michalská to its end in the direction away from Old Town Square will bring you to
Most of them will haggle, but refusing their come-ons or offering to pay in the region of 150Kč 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 at Uhelný trh 9 is Jack's Legendary Bar the Lord, Master and Pimp of karaoke, alcoholic imbibing and grilled things made of meat.
Here you can spend many crowns on burgers, grilled salmon or turkey strips, while listening to Czechoslovakian 80s disco, but I still fail to see where exactly they found a gap in the local market that appealed to as many patrons as they have. Seems 90's Czech disco isn't dead after all.
On a nearby corner, is Culinaria at Skořepka 9, which makes what might be the best damn lasagna in the country. But if I want something authentically Indian, well, I'm more than capable of doing better than their Chicken Curry, which ponders the question, how can a place that makes one dish as awesome as they have while making a curry like a f*ckwit? The answer is that I don't know, and neither do you, yet mysteriously this place is constantly jam packed with cash wielding punters.
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 Betlémská kaple (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 b*stard 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.
On the right of the chapel, looking at it from the square is a well hidden restaurant, Klub Architektů (Architect's Club, Husova 17), 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, and is in the process of, like a butterfly, emerging as a new more beautiful place called Dutá Hlava (Half-Wit, best translation).
Betlémské náměstí is the beginning (or end, depending on where you start) of a short series of expat bars. The James Joyce bar was the ORIGINAL hangout spot for the business expat scene in Prague, but has sadly moved on, while O'Che's (at Liliová 14) is not "exactly" an Irish bar, but if you check out their Google street view, there's a Guinness truck parked outside it for f*ck's sake, making it fit my analogy of a "looverly shamrock of a pub" to say that they are indeed Irish.
In one famed location which started off as part of 90s legend Gulu-Gulu, is the Bethlehem Chapel Gallery (Betlémské náměstí 8) which has been around for a long time. It's a nice place to get something groovy to hang above your couch, and focuses on Czech postwar and contemporary art.
Once you're done buying some art to prove you're not an uncultured ass, its time to get back to drinking, and what better place to do so than the Blues Sklep (Liliová 10), where you can catch the likes of the Atomic Blues Band and The Kingsize Boogiemen, just to name a few.
After the show, head on back to O'Che's, the Cuban bar, (Liliová 14). Yea, as I hinted before, its 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 Liliová 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.
On the corner of Liliová, where it meets up with the stream of tourists on Karlova, is Good Food (Karlova 8), a restaurant that specialises in those Chimney cake things that are all the craze now. Their claim to fame is that they serve The Only Original Chimney Blizzard, and even though there will likely be a line out the door - it is worth the wait!
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.
Double back on yourself a bit to U Krále Jiřího (The King George, Liliová 10), which used to be a famous smoky beer joint, but in getting with the times now serves as a Tapas Bar. The first one you pass at the front of the foyer is a small intimate affair where you might mistake the place for a hotel, and just across the way is 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, after all this wandering back and forth eating and drinking.
If you're still in the area (and that ain't hard to do), at the start of Liliová near Betlémské náměstí, is Restaurace U Betlémské kaple, for a touch of authentic Czech chow and beer.
Pilsner Urquell is not a particularly popular or widely known brand globally, but at 32Kč a half litre 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 Řetězová for a quiet little alley with a couple more places to sit and imbibe. Here is the sublime Montmartre, (Řetězová 7), a spacious cafe with a civilized air about it, but with not that many customers. It's an attractive enough spot, if a little stale looking, 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 (Řetězová 10), 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 Pivovar U tří růží (Husova 10), which was once an empty rotting building until it stumbled upon the microbrewery trend in the spring of 2012, and now offers itself as one of the best places to have a beer in the center of Prague.
Further down Husova at no.17, is U Zlatého Tygra (The Golden Tiger, Husova 17), which is as old school Prague as you'll find left in the tourist infested centre. Here 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.
One last word of advice, that after such a long grueling day of drinking, and eating fried and meaty things while exposing yourself to so much culture and shopping opportunities, is you'll need to up your health levels a bit.
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.
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