The Hidden Gems of the 'Roxy Area'

Text: Editors Photo:

Twenty five years is a long time. For human beings, it is around that age that we usually start slowly realizing we’re not gonna stay young forever; for music clubs, however, to live past 25 marks a Mr. Yoda-esque level of longevity. In Prague, this privilege belongs to Roxy, located in a rather unassuming building on Dlouhá street. Roxy might be the only club in town that’s actually older than, like, half of its patrons. And as such, it deserves its own article.

There are two basic ways in which you could enjoy your pre- or post-Roxy evening around here. The first one we’ve covered in this article which comprises of the log of our visits to James Dean, Kozička and Bombay Bar, three of Prague’s most famous bars for local celebrities and annoying rich people in general; those are places where your social credit is determined by the orange-ness of your tan, and a successful night out means you get to find someone to smack each others' genitals with at 4 AM. This article is about the second one.

The general problem with covering ‘the Roxy area’ is that Dlouhá st isn’t situated in any distinctive neighborhood — sure, we can talk about Prague’s city center around the focal square (Náměstí Republiky), but that’s still a very vague term. In the end, it all boils down to 'that place everybody’s walked through a million times'. There is no clear aesthetics that’d define the area, no local street life, no sense of a ‘local way of life’, so prevalent in quarters like Žižkov or Letná, and almost no residents.

It’s the area around Prague’s two biggest railway stations (Hlavní nádraží and Masarykovo nádraží), bordered by the crooked streets of the Old Town, the wide boulevard life of Václavské náměstí, and the Vltava river. Always full of people, but their faces keep changing every hour. Always easily accessible, but seldom attractive enough to actually spend any meaningful time there. The borough of trains and parties.

And even though there are cafés and trendy bars for freelancers to spend their days drinking coffee and gin tonic – Tobruk, Atrium, EMA, or the beautifully cozy Citadela spring to mind — the ‘typical’ hangout spot in this part of town looks more like that legendary Internet café on Masarykovo nádraží, basically a small pub equipped with a questionably lo-fi router. Alas, it’s been closed now for some time, so there’s really no point of hanging around the railway station anymore. The remaining options? A bizarre Chinese bistro and a deli selling sandwiches that look like they remember Stalin’s heyday.

There is a big silver lining to all this, though. Given that the area is spoiled by crossroads and heavy traffic, it’s almost impossible to complain about noise there, which, in turn, lends an ideal opportunity for underground culture venues. Plus, if you are going to Prague, chances are you’ll be getting off either at the Main Railway Station (Hlavní nádraží) or at the Florenc International Bus Station, which are both located a few minutes from Náměstí Republiky. And once you’re there, Roxy is right around the corner.

The Perks of Being a Roxy Promoter

Arguably the single most famous of Prague's music clubs was opened in 1992; for more than a quarter of a century, Dlouhá 33 is the address to go for a party. Topically, Roxy focuses mainly on electronic and dance music, but you’d be hard pressed to find a genre that didn’t send its ambassador there during all those years. If you spend more than a few weeks in Prague, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll wind up there at some point. There’ve been furiously intensive metal gigs, countless local indie folk troubadours, house parties that lasted for days, and everything in between.

Upstairs above Roxy, there’s a large café & experimental venue called NoD – primarily a gallery and a small theater (focusing on conceptual and performative art), it also hosts smaller concerts, run-of-the-mill lounge parties, and more. "The funny thing is that NoD is supposed to mean NO Drugs," says Girl, our editor. "Too bad that guy who tried to score points with my friend by asking her to go to the bathroom to sniff coke with him didn’t get the memo. Luckily, usually all that it takes for these guys to back off is telling them you have a boyfriend. It worked."

Adéla is a Roxy promoter and event planner; her job is to find out suitable artists, bring them in, and make sure people will come. Working in such an environment is never boring, as she tells us. "Sometimes, fans would be waiting in front of the door from the early morning. The gig doesn’t start in another ten hours, but they’d be there, waiting patiently and totally UNWILLING to move an inch."

"During the day, the queues will swallow several adjacent streets, so good luck getting to work if your shift starts in the evening. It’s insanely hard to convince a bunch of fanatic, dehydrated, anxious fans that they simply have to let you go through, otherwise the gig they’ve been waiting for CANNOT START. Yeah, start working here and you’ll soon learn not to rely on logic and reasoning."

The symbiosis between Roxy and NoD works greatly: there’s a good chance that after a concert, the artists will hang out upstairs, enjoying NoD’s fine selection of drinks and chatting with fans. Adéla says that it’s not uncommon to run into a guy who just finished a gig twenty minutes ago, downing shots in a sweaty t-shirt.

"Yeah, we do that," she explains. "Sometimes, we go to celebrate right after a gig, the band and the Roxy crew. When the band is on tour, they’d oftentimes jump into their tourbus around midnight and leave, but we’ve had artists who partied with us till, like, eight in the morning. NoD closes after midnight, so we’d continue drinking at our office. Another thing is that foreign bands don’t usually carry Czech crowns with them, so we end up paying for the bills, then we sleep for an hour or so, wake up monstrously hangover, hit the ATM and go work again."

We have said earlier that not much people live in these parts — but those who do can attest to the overall ‘nonstop party’ feeling that permeates the whole area all year long. Boy, our other editor, was one of them; he lived at Soukenická st (right at the crossroad of Dlouhá and Revoluční) for a year. "It’s pretty great that everything is so close," he remembers. "You don’t even need to use the public transportation, because you can walk almost everywhere. But, on the flip side, there’s the noise… oh God, the noise."

"I would wake up in the middle of the night, thinking a Mongolian horde is torturing a thousand whales to the background of every Nine Inch Nails song playing over each other. Then I’d look outside and see that it’s just a few impossibly drunk English dudes destroying a traffic light. This happens all the time, and it’s terrifying."

Theaters, Butchers, and the Toilet that Vanished

So, let’s say you’re going out later. A proper party, no less. And because it’s not recommended to drink on an empty stomach, we have some tips handy – Naše maso, a high-end butchery / restaurant that makes a point of using up every possible part of an animal, is a solid choice, given you’re not vegan. Our Boy is vegan, so he avoids this place completely, lest he’d feel like a Catholic priest at a black metal festival. But hey, they offer authentic dinner ‘packages’ every week, and you need to make a reservation weeks in advance, so they must be doing it really good.

A similarly wholesome attitude towards food — that it’s no point killing an animal if you then throw half the stuff away — can be found at two other local establishments, Maso a Kobliha and Sansho. Located on Petrské sq, they are connected by the persona of Paul Day, a famous English chef. Boy, letting loose both his vegan attitude and a penchant for deadbeat punk rock nostalgia, champions the Pakistani non stop supermarket at Revoluční st and its ever-present stack of oily samosas. They sell for 20 CZK, so for a price of a dinner at one of Day’s places, you could get approximately eleven million of those.

Apart from Roxy, the biggest cultural blueprints here are the theaters. The biggest and most famous one, Divadlo Archa, is in fact more well-known for its concerts than theater plays. It opened in 1994 (not as far back as Roxy, but pretty close) and boasts one of the most wide-ranged programmes among Prague’s venues in general. Also, the sound system there is otherwordly. Go catch a post-rock band or something like that there.

Other venues, such as theaters at Dlouhá and Celetná streets, are more conventional; they offer mostly smaller indie plays, as opposed to Divadlo Hybernia, which is a huge palace focused on musicals and other big stage productions. The Spanish Synagogue and Obecní dům are downright fancy, which goes well with the nearby presence of two of Prague’s Michelin-awarded restaurants: Field and La Dégustation Boheme Bourgeoise.

"And also, L'Fleur. That’s a great posh place for drinks," Girl adds, providing another tip for those who don’t want to spend their evening in sweat-soaked techno dungeons and dive bars. "Local champagne, great cocktail menu… and a nice team of bartenders as well. Miloš Danihelka, the head one, can make, like, eighty variants of negroni." He can also share great toilet stories, which is a quality you wouldn’t normally expect from a person of his rank, but here we go:

"Suddenly, a totally wet guy emerges in the bar, asking: What the fuck do you have for toilets here? These ain’t no toilets, I went to take a piss and look what they did to me! Those must be the most retarded urinals ever! I told him we had no urinals, and it turned out that he’d pissed into a hand drier machine. Tough luck."

A few blocks away, in the direction of Florenc, lies Lidová jídelna Těšnov, a cheap diner that offers lunch menus at next-to-nothing prices. Traditionally, the place is popular with local workers, but a few years back, when the normcore boom hit Prague hard, hipsters started to enjoy it as well. "It’s a beautiful place," says Jana Pakočka, of Vývařovna fame (a Czech indie food blog focused on such alternative things). "Pre-cooked food served on command, practically for free. All kinds of people gather there — student, left-wing activists, blue- and white-collars alike, young mothers with their children… Also, you’ll always find a proper Czech tomato salad on the menu, with onions and vinegar. What more do you want from life?"

Apetit, a little sandwich place at Dlouhá, offers a similar ontological safe space. You can even assemble your own sandwiches there, which is a fact Girl knows all too well: "I’ve never felt so proud of anything I’ve done than that one time when I ordered a cheese sandwich and a salami sandwich and slapped them together. A party of bricklayers, drinking cheap coffee over at another table, were visibly impressed. Too bad I had to run for a meeting and couldn’t bask in the glory for as long as I’d wanted to."

The Ultimate Party Guide

When you drink in this neighborhood, it’s very likely you’re gonna end up in one of four places; the first, and by far the less glamorous one is the Tučňák non-stop bar, located in Nekázanka st. We have fond memories of this place, mainly because of this one friend who provoked some coked up hipsters there, got mauled, and tried to hide his freshly broken nose by pretending he’s not bleeding all over the place. "Look, dude, I’ll give you another beer, but at least swipe up the blood first," a stoic bartender told him, handing him a pile of handkerchiefs.

But Tučňák is still a sparring partner for the three big guns: Chapeau Rouge, Bukanýr, and Druhý patro.

"Okay, the censored story for all these places would be: I was so XXX that I have YYY’d with ZZZ," says one of our respondents. "The variables stand for alcohol, drugs, and random girls." He’s not the only one to say something like that, and, in fact, the sheer volume of stories we’ve managed to gather persuaded us to just give up with trying to come up with something of our own, so we’re now gonna end this article with a series of testimonies. Starting in Chapeau Rouge, a legendary club that spans three floors and Girl says it’s sort of an initiation ritual to go there, kinda like when the kids in Namibia have to kill a lion with their bare hands in order to become men.

"We used to visit Chapeau with a friend. Every Wednesday, there’d be a dubstep night. We’d stand by the toilets and watch how many people are going there to fuck. A great drinking game, if you ask me. The record belongs to this blonde girl, who managed to fuck five guys during a single evening, one of them twice."

"The best Chapeau gig was this dark ambient / noise evening. The artists were mostly Scandinavian psychopaths. All of the sudden, a Gipsy guy emerged, trying to sell roses to the guys who went there with a woman. He was totally thrown off by the atmosphere — an immobile crowd, shrouded in dark, not saying anything, just enjoying the painfully overwhelming noise around. He was really keen on selling his roses, but soon he realized that everybody in the crowd is depressive, suicidal, and filled with animosity towards everything. The music was painful, and the projections consisted of things like cannibalism and graphic torture scenes. He fled the scene before you could say Burzum."

Stop number two: Bukanýr, a party boat anchored at the feet of Štefánikův most that connects the ‘Roxy area’ to Letná. At Fridays, the bar officially closes at 8 AM Saturday morning, and a friend of ours once managed to buy weed from a bouncer there by simply going to him and asking whether he had some, and he did.

"Imagine, like, six drunk guys blocking the stairway. There are other rooms at the first floor, but you couldn’t get there. Another guy came up to them and yelled at them to get the hell away, because his wife was waiting behind the door, along with their small baby. The drunk guys said ‘Sorry man’ and cleared way, upon which the other guy simply fell at the stairs and immediately fell asleep. Clever tactics."

"Once, there was a party at Bukanýr, where people would jam to DJ’s music. Random people passed the mic to one another, some rapped, others did some beatbox, others sang. I was waiting in line to get my fifteen seconds in the spotlight, but just as I grabbed for the mic, this sixty-year-old homeless guy stole it right in front of me. Later I learned he was calling himself MC Weed. I never forgave him since."

And lastly, there’s Druhý patro (The Second Floor), a cultish hipster drinking place right across Roxy. During its heyday, you could only get in if somebody buzzed you in; lots of young artists learned important life lessons there, such as that it’s okay to make a complete fool out of yourself as long as you do it behind a hermetically sealed door, surrounded by your own kind.

"Around 3 AM one night, the bartender at Druhý patro started to explain to me that I should do something with my life. So I told him he’s being a smartass, and asked whether he’s telling me that because he found Jesus that morning while taking a dump, and Jesus fucked him in the ass. He punched me in the face, which is understandable. We cleared everything out some time later."

So… that’s it. Usually, at this point of the article, we try to close everything up by saying something symbolically clever, to sum up what we’ve learned about the area and what was our overall opinion of it. But not now. The area around Náměstí republiky, Roxy and Chapeau is… well, pure chaos. An explosive mixture of late night parties, gigs, hellish noise, and running to catch your train. The one word we’d use to describe it would probably be ‘intense’. So who’s up for an intense party this weekend?

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