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The Chaotic Rhythm of Prague's Busiest Crossroad

Text: Photo: Libor Petrášek Styling: H&M

Have you ever wondered how could it feel to live right around the busiest public transport hub in Prague? The I. P. Pavlova metro station (abbreviated IPP), built in 1974, serves the most people of all; in reality, though, it’s less Local Piccadilly Circus and more Violently Random Beehive.

The axis between IPP and the nearest big city square, Náměstí Míru, creates a border between The New Town and Vinohrady city parts. Geographically, things can get a little murky here — the whole area is officially a part of Prague’s second district (Praha 2), which stretches further beyond Náměstí míru where a residential neighborhood of Vinohrady lies. We’ve covered that one in a separate article, so in this text, our goal is to explore the tangled streets clutching to four major roadways that dominate the area around IPP: Ječná, Žitná, Sokolská and Legerova.

This area also includes a narrow patch of Vinohrady sandwiched between another three boulevards, Francouzská, Korunní, and Vinohradská. That… that was a messy perex. We’re sorry. Prague’s geography can be a mess sometimes, especially in the city center. Which is where we are.

All seven aforementioned boulevards have several things in common, the most obvious one being the fact that they can be really hard to cross sometimes. That’s basically the first thing you’ll notice when you get off the subway at IPP: while IPP itself is technically a small square, it looks more like a random patch of dirty land surrounded by thousands of hurtling cars, trams, and amphetamine people.

To get from one point to another — for example when you’re hurrying to catch a tram — can thus turn into a local remake of Waiting for Godot, as the constant stream of traffic around you threatens to swallow you whole and spit out the bones an hour later.

Logistically, the placement of public bus and tram stops is pretty confusing, too; it’s generally not recommended to just assume you’ll know your way around if you’ve never been to IPP before. If somebody tells you to meet them there and doesn’t provide any further information, they will probably be waiting either in front the infamous non-stop McDonald’s or next to the florist stand at the adjacent Tylovo Sq. That’s the place where obnoxious, unnecessarily loud buskers sometimes praise Jesus Christ and ruin the day for everybody.

"It’s basically a fluid area of expats, vegans, gays, people like that," says Girl, the female half of our editorial unit, as we pick out the places we’d like to visit. It’s fitting, then, that this is the place where GoOut has its offices. On first glance, the area looks filthy and filled with the homeless and junkies; this creates a potentially entertaining melting pot. Our friend was once trying to get rid of some leftover shrimp, so she figured she’d give them to the homeless:

"The first one got offended and said he’s not homeless, he’s just playing a guitar. I asked him why he was playing at midnight at the subway at IPP, and he said he was practicing alone because he wanted to perform in front of people one day. Then we found another one, but as we were trying to pass him the food, he took his dick out and started to piss. The third one took the shrimp, though, so happy end, I guess."

Apart from GoOut, the main building of Český rozhlas (Czech Republic’s public radio station) is also located here; two years ago, its branch called Radio Wave (aiming at the alternative culture and youth in general) opened a shiny new building at the junction of Balbínova and Vinohradská streets. It has glass windows, which means that you can actually watch the radio crew working as you pass by. When the building opened, there was a huge party at Balbínova street: a music festival frontlined by Hugo Toxxx, a famous Czech rapper, who crowned his performance with a stage diving effort. "You better catch me, you fuckers, or else…," he proclaimed as he leaped from the podium. They caught him. Them fuckers.

A Brief Culinary Guide to the IPP Area

"To live here has precisely one advantage," says Andrea, a resident of Legerova St. "Everything is close. Oh, and the flats are fairly inexpensive. The buildings are old and people generally don’t want to live next to a huge road."

Andrea is not an exception; a surprising number of people live here. It’s kinda logical that the big, old, tall buildings would be filled with flats, even though you don’t think about it as you pass by. It’s a pretty similar situation to Wenceslas Square. Alternative culture is sparse, though; lately, a pop-up place called Drive House opened on Rubešova St, but besides from that, the cultural atmosphere of the neighborhood is much more mainstream and disco. Even the beautiful Transgas building, a shining example of architectural brutalism, is scheduled to be torn down soon.

Given the hectic atmosphere of the surrounding streets, people rarely stop here for more than a quick lunch or a morning coffee; thus, most of the restaurants are in fact small bistros. Like the elegant Hashashira at Španělská St, Puro (a vegan bistro), or Mamy (a Korean restaurant). They all follow the same rule of thumb: you come in at twelve, eat, and by twelve thirty you’re already on your way back to the office.

Coffee lovers will highlight Pražírna, longer business meetings can be held at Kaaba café or the Japanese joint Momoichi, the best burgers you’ll probably get at Dish, and during summers, the focal point moves over to Riegrovy sady, a huge public park that also marks a natural border of our explored area — venture further and you’ll end up here.

Right next to IPP lies Bao Bao, a small Vietnamese bistro that scores with its authentic cuisine; the owners are directly linked to Sapa, Prague’s central Vietnamese neighborhood, so the ingredients are always fresh. "It’s a cool place to have a quick dinner if you’re nearby," Girl reviews. "I’d recommend their shrimp soup, served with tomatoes, coconut milk, noodles, cilantro and garlic. It’s just enough spicy and really strong, which is great if you’re coming down with something. They can even prepare a vegan version, too."

"By the way, Francouzská St is truly a highlight of multiculturalism," adds another local guy. "It looks almost like conceptual art: there’s a Russian deli, some Greeks, some Turks, the ingenious Indonesian bistro called Javánka… oh, and on top of that, there’s the downright legendary supermarket called U Vávrů. It’s located at the corner of Francouzská and Uruguayská, and everyone living around here will wax lyrical about it, because they’re open 24/7 and accept credit cards. Words cannot describe how great it is to return home at 3 AM and be able to get a sandwich, cigarettes, and Fanta, although you’ve spent all your cash already."

"The most frequent visitors at U Vávrů are local cops on night shifts. They survive solely on sandwiches they buy there. That’s right: Donuts are basically not a thing in Prague, so cops here have to invent their own stereotypes."

"This one time, a drunk driver parked their car directly in the window at U Vávrů. It didn’t shut off the store. You just had to beware the marked investigation area, but you’d still get your snacks and beers, no problem."

But all the hip bistros, foreign delis, and Iron Man: The Supermarket still lack swag when compared to Pivnice U Dandů. This pub, which officially calls itself a ‘snack bar’ but it sure as hell is a pub, is one of a dying kind — it opens early in the morning, peaks during lunch and closes at 10 PM, presumably because the patrons are mostly workers that have to wake up early. Also, by that time, they are already more beer than people.

While U Dandů offers cheap and surprisingly good lunch menus (as well as a laundry list of pickled things and other beer snacks, which is a thing that’s sadly rare nowadays), its main selling point is still the beer, the people, and the atmosphere. "I have to be leaving in six minutes," a lost soul at the bar complains when they’re given a beer without asking. They went in for a quick pint before heading to one of the nearby theatres (Divadlo U Hasičů or the more polished Divadlo na Vinohradech) and ended up stuck with a waiter who won’t let them go: "Six minutes? That’s enough time to drink TWO beers!"

"My mother thinks I’m straight"

Demínka is a legendary old-timey restaurant that remains one of the most well-known ‘typical Czech’ pubs in Prague, but by now, it has lost almost all of its underground charm. It still looks majestic and nice, but a safer bet for us would be the nearby Balbínova poetická hospůdka – a dive bar that’s basically pure underground. Pictures of Václav Havel on the walls are omnipresent, as are numerous artifacts from the Soviet era’s dissent, and concerts of local (mostly folk) artists. "Oh look, it smells here," Girl says, two seconds after we enter, and she means it as a compliment.

Shortly after 6 PM, the place is almost serenely calm, but the overall vibe remains. It almost feels like the eighties never really ended here. "What do you want to drink?" the bartender asks one of the barflies. He arrived early; his pals are not yet here. "I want to quit," the barfly replies, sadly, and gets a shot of vodka.

The most famous hangout spot located right at IPP is probably Radost FX, which we like to call Schrödinger’s Place: everybody was there at some point, everybody knows where it is, but nobody visits it frequently and nobody has any emotional connections to it. There’s a restaurant that serves fine food, a club that holds fine parties, but on the whole, the place just sort of… exists.

"If you want beers, try Kulovej blesk adds one of our respondents. "And Nota Bene has great food. Especially if you consider the price."

Náměstí míru is home to arguably the best hot dog stand in the city; this is something lots of Prague citizens simply accept as a fact. It’s a small stand that became a true part of the city’s pop culture. Further behind, as you continue walking past the gorgeous St. Ludmila’s church, between the Francouzská and Korunní streets, lies a booming hub of cafés, pubs, and bars inhabited almost solely by artsy hip people.

One of them is called Ideál, a cult-ish café on Sázavská St that became a favorite spot of Vinohrady’s art scene. Which here doesn’t mean that there is art stuff going on; just that the local creative people like to go there to get buzzed.

Lately, Ideál got some serious competition: Bullerbyn, a café slash bar that opened last year on Moravská St, manages to hit that sweet spot between ‘a haven for freelancers’ and ‘a great option for drinking with twenty friends’ perfectly. But Bullerbyn is still pretty kitsch on the surface, which wasn’t always true with Ideál:

"There are legends about a bartender who had this rule saying she always had to be one shot ahead of you. She was able to down two bottles of spirit in a single night and still be more sober than everybody else. Like Radek, who, at 3 AM, sat on the bar, musing: 'Dude, if I was single, I’d seriously hit that bartender. She’s so great. She’s got great tits and personality.' The fact that she was standing three feet from him the entire time didn’t bother him at all."

A few hundred meters uphill, right on the border between Vinohrady and Vršovice on Francouzská St, lies a bar called Boudoir U sta rán. It is a legendary place, an extremely pleasant gay-friendly dive bar that doesn’t close till the wee hours and often serves as a last resort for Vinohrady residents looking for a few last drinks before going home.

Boudoir is dimly lit, its huge windows open right at the street, and there is an upper story located right above the bar where you can lie down on a sofa like a beached whale and never want to go anywhere else ever. The only downside is that its beer garden, while elegant and cozy, is located in the courtyard shared with the residential buildings around. But that’s a small price to pay.

The ironic banner that said 'We don’t serve homosexuals' was taken down, but the unisex toilets carved with the heartfelt statement 'MY MOTHER THINKS I’M STRAIGHT' are still there. Boudoir is such a cult that the lounge bar located literally one building away, called B52, is always almost empty. It was empty even at New Year’s Eve at midnight, as people who didn’t get to the packed Boudoir stood outside Boudoir, choosing to drink on the sidewalk in the December frost rather than go anywhere that’s not Boudoir, even if the place was right fucking there.

Retro Club and Other Nightly Pleasures

While Boudoir can be labelled as ‘gay-friendly’, Termix, one of the most famous nightclubs around, is a proper gay bar. Depending on who you’re asking it’s either a cool place to hang out and get blasted, or a horrendous homage to the fluorescent decadence of the nineties. It can also be a safe space for girls who don’t get harassed there.

"Termix is great, if you’re in the mood," a local artist tells us. "Yeah, there’s stupid people sometimes, but there’s stupid people everywhere, even in the best of places. If you know you won’t like it there before you even get in, chances are that yeah, you won’t like it. But overall it’s a cool bar. You come in with some friends, dance all night between the mirrors, and go home at 6 AM."

"I used to go to Termix for shots when I was around twenty," another artist replies. "Lots of gays thought I was seriously hot, so I would go there and let them buy me whisky. But I was young and a shithead, yeah. I never let anyone touch me."

Our idea of a nice, laid-back drink on a weekday evening requires something less… histrionic, though, so Girl says we could go to Martinez, a newly opened bar on Budečská St. It can be tricky to find, as the place is underground and not very flashy, but inside, you can sit under a huge palm tree in a glass atrium, so that’s 10/10 for hipster-ish-ness in our book.

We sat there, but Boy had to wait for ten minutes outside in the freezing cold first because he was afraid to enter. "It seems so nice and posh," he argued, waiting for Girl to come pick him up. "You can go alone, they won’t bite you, but if you’re already tipsy from that thing they call a beer at U Dandů, it’s probably better if you wait," she replies. Seems legit.

Besides Termix, there’s not a lot of your typical, run-of-the-mill nightclubs around. The newly opened Tresor Club got off to a good start, but the other two fall miles behind our social niche: they’re called Le Clan and Retro, and they’re both basically discotheques.

It’s a shame, too, because Retro is historically one of Prague’s oldest clubs, on par with Roxy. But while Roxy still hosts tons of great shows and parties, Retro has steadily succumbed to garden variety EDM bullshit. Guys in white collars, drunk kids, these kinds of things.

"Retro is bizarre," says Jonáš, an insider we’ve contacted specifically because of his knowledge of this place. "You’ll run into people high on everything in the world, and nobody is older than 25. Some will even come to Prague for weekends just so they could go to Retro. Groups of Indians, orange-skinned predators looking for young girls, Barbie People, Bench-Press People…"

"Oh, and the bouncers. This one time, a bouncer literally grabbed me by the neck and threw me out because he thought I was pissing in a garbage bin."

"Overall, guys go to Retro mainly to pick up girls, and vice versa. I’ve seen countless times that a girl randomly leaned on a wall for a while, and in twenty minutes, somebody picked her up, presumably to… you know. It’s not a subtle place. Oh, and there’s only boiling water in the restrooms, so that people wouldn’t drink it for free."

As the evening turns into nighttime, the IPP area slowly morphs into bona fide human ZOO. The local McDonald’s can dabble as a MMA cage between midnight and 6 AM, the only non-stop bar around (Život je hrou on Tylovo Sq) has only one table, so if three people come in, nobody else can sit there, and the circulation of night trams causes drunks to run around in panic.

But event in this festival of chaos, genuinely nice things can happen. To sum up the article on a positive note, here’s our Girl’s story that will recharge your optimism — a story about love born out of the madness that is IPP.

"In Kateřinská St, there’s a building that served as a HQ of PWC for a long time. The building has a great advantage: a huge terrace on the last floor, with a superb view over Prague’s center. You won’t notice if you just walk along, but it’s there. A friend once invited me there for a birthday party. It was a decadent night: 150 well-off kids drinking everything in the world, looking at the majestic Prague Castle towering on the horizon."

"I didn’t know most of the people, though, so it started to bore me quickly and I wanted to get out. I was eating a celery salad I brought from home. A random stranger noticed that and praised my salad. Then, we started talking. Then, the night advanced, and boom, suddenly it was 6 AM and I was waiting for the morning subway with a new boyfriend."

"So the moral of the story would be something like this: Don’t judge a place too quickly. Oh, and hail celery. Always carry celery."

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