The Inseparable Dance of Dejvice's Highs and Lows

Text: Editors

The word ‘Dejvice’ literally means ‘give more’. Needless to say, this neighborhood does not lack ambition. And, sure enough, there’s little more Dejvice could possibly give you: it’s not that far away from the city center, yet still far enough to be unaffected by the Great Tourist Hordes. It is a vibrant students' district, and at the same time, a quiet haven for young families. The sheer number of local parks could rival the number of chords in a jazz song. The airport is located nearby, as well as the metro, and everything in between. Give a random marketer some generic ‘design an ideal environment for our developer client’ bullshit and they’d spit out a perfect copy of Dejvice.

The best part is that none of this feels particularly forced. Dejvice is a high income area (Wiki says so, so it's axiomatically true), but it doesn’t give out that privileged smug vibe some cities radiate so strongly it breaks the realm of what is and is not real and turns itself into a TV show. In fact, lots of popular spots here are basically pure underground.

Not all of them survived to this day, though. As soon as Prague started flirting with the concept of free market, some had to give way, like that supermarket on Lotyšská tram stop that, having been open till 3AM, had saved countless lives and home parties. (Today, there is at least a non-stop kiosk at Vítězné náměstí – not quite the same, but people are seldom picky when they start craving for cigarettes and terrible sandwiches in the middle of the night.)

On a more romantic note, Vítězné náměstí – colloquially called Kulaťák (‘A Roundabout’), because it’s a roundabout — once housed a stylish Glasnost-era café and candy store, stock full of things like hot cocoa served in glass or dubious erotically themed cookies. Never forget.

Thankfully, we have a secret weapon: Girl, the female half of our editorial unit, lives in Dejvice (well, Bubeneč, but those two quarters merge together and lots of people don’t even know the difference) for about a decade. The catch here is that the area is large, and she knows about everything, so in order to not blow this article completely out of proportions, we had to make some cuts. "There are tons of places worth seeing," she shares. "Like that turquoise / brown round building next to U Slamníku, which used to host a vintage car saloon and now serves as an Orthodox church. Right next to it, there is a statue of a bulldog with a boner. Or Wüchterle’s square, a chill little place with its own church."

"Or Hotel International — that’s architectural history right there. It’s located near the Podbaba station. Or, or, how about that pastel-colored panel housing next to Diplomat? Or Nikola Tesla’s statue?" Girl is unstoppable, going on for several more minutes before she finally runs out of energy and suggests we go for a beer.

Our first place of choice is called Kavárna Potrvá, which means “Café will go on” (clever). As far as alternative gig venues slash cafés go, this one is a must. The waitstaff is blasting Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain from the jukebox, while our waiter, a mustache-sporting guy who looks like a character from a hipster encyclopedia, automatically presumes we’d need a Wi-Fi password and gives it right away. We were there in April, though, so it was still too cold to enjoy the beer garden and some jazz band had a sound check inside. "Kick drum I can handle, but once that saxophone starts playing, I’m out," Boy concludes. Then, the saxophone started playing and we went out.

Too bad that Na Slamníku, a famous pub that inspired terrible Czech pub rock in the 90's (warning: NSFW), was currently under reconstruction. You can visit it now, though, so don’t hesitate. We had to settle for some place less ingrained in Dejvice’s recent history, although U Kraba, Boy’s pick, has its fair share of memories. For example, one of the reason Boy favored this place so much was that they let him undress there once ("Everything was cool until I tried to take off my boxers. Until then, the bartender didn’t care at all, which was refreshing because in the city center they rarely let you take your clothes down while drunk"). Girl intervenes, however, because it was U Kraba where she’d lost her beloved Nokia 3510 – the thing could display COLORS, a sign of wealth during Girl’s teenage years.

At Národní technická knihovna (The National Technical Library), you can visit a great gallery or enjoy a fine coffee, if you don’t mind being displayed like a goldfish sharing space with students and alternative people. Girl suggests we visit Marpek, a Scottish chillout zone / whiskey bar at Jugoslávských partyzánů; it’s also both a whiskey shop and a small club, but they unfortunately close at 9PM. The only exception to this rule are randomly organized parties with bagpipes and patrons sharing stories about people doing mildly illegal things for amusement. "Well, what if there’s such party going on right now?" Boy wants to know. "There is not. I would know that," Girl replies, insulted.

Finally, laziness gets the best of us and we end up in the closest pub available; thankfully, this one is called Království piva (A Beer Kingdom), so we’re good. Located underground at Bubenečská, the place welcomes its guests with gusto: the first thing you’ll see inside is a bright red toy firetruck, an emblem that reads DEJ BŮH ŠTĚSTÍ (“May Lord give us luck”) and an avalanche of beer-related literature. We also got a group of students asking for “some desítka” – ‘desítka’ being the volume of the weakest lagers commonly sold in Czech pubs. The bartender, by all account a proud beer geek, sighed at this lamentable display of ineptitude and brought them the cheapest ones.

One of the great things about Království is that they have almost perfect tables to power sockets ratio, making this place a great hiding spot for people who tend to take two tablets, an iPhone, and several electronic musical instruments to pubs. Also, the beer is really good. We had a few and started to feel hungry, which prompted Girl to explode again: "Well you have Pod Juliskou and Na Urale, which are typical Czech pubs. Váleček and Martin & David are more conceptually interesting, while Bistro a Table is… well, look at the name. German it ain’t."

Her diabolical plan was clear, though: to really get to the bottom of what Dejvice has to offer, we had to visit Katsura. To introduce this place, it should be enough to note that Girl’s biggest worry was that as soon as we write about it on the Internet, people might start to go there, which would disrupt her hard-earned status of Dejvice’s Hipster Queen.

Don’t Go to This Restaurant, Like, Seriously (It’s Great, But Will Only Remain Great when Hidden from the General Public)

So imagine the most authentic, cliché-laden Japanese restaurant you can. The personnel is 100% Japanese, instead of chairs, they have cushions on the floor (and avant-garde sofas designed to melt your muscles in), you have to slalom through mango trees to get to your table, and the TV is filled only with Japanese channels. That’s Katsura in the nutshell, although realizing that Japanese TV is not all anime schoolgirls and Pikachu (we got some weird-ass show about a guy going to Italy to interview fucking fennel farmers) seriously hurt our stereotypes. Good thing they had kimchi sushi on the menu, which is like taking two of the best things in the universe and ramming them together with blatant disregard of consequences. Just the way we like it.

The catch is that from that description above, Katsura looks like it should be carefully designed and placed atop a lotus hill or something, with Shinto shrines guarding the sanctity of the place. Instead, it’s located two floors underground at hotel Diplomat and shares its floor with a huge, bizarrely psychedelic parking garage. So, yeah.

The stench of Katsura’s kimchi is not that bad; it’s actually quite pleasant, as the sushi rice and shoyu help absorbing it. What a change compared to that one store-bought kimchi Boy and Girl took with them to Místo – a really nice bistro and café, locally famous for being the hangout spot among Prague’s blossoming foodie scene. Those people must have seen (and smelled) some shit, because the very fact that nobody chased us out with a pitchfork says more than it probably should. If you, for any reason, find yourself in a situation that your mere presence could choke a cockroach, yet still want to feel like a valuable part of society, try it (but it weren’t us who told you).

The Tale of Luděk Zelenka, a Football Great who Drank

It should be noted that the atmosphere in Katsura is so chill it might get in the way of your further drinking plans. You know the drill: Around eight, you’re bothering everybody with your late-night MDMA-fueled techno fantasies, then a few hours go by and you suddenly find yourself at home sipping fine whiskey and listening to Scandinavian music so ambient it could infect sloths with the concept of boredom. We’ve all been there.

But sometimes even Katsura’s magic isn’t enough to distract you, in which case you have a few places to pick out from. It all depends on your idea of a party. If you’d like to have a few beers and not much else, consider U Pětníka, or, as it’s known among locals, ‘that red pub on the corner’. A great selection of spirits can be found at Nahoře. That’s officially a vegan café, but come on, this is Czech Republic we’re talking about — even vegans here find it normal to down rum at the bar after midnight, which is a common scenario in Nahoře.

Still, this place isn’t for everyone; it doesn’t serve, for example, dead things and drinks that taste like moonshine. For that experience, we kindly recommend Oáza – the name literally means Oasis, but instead of Noel Gallagher and his nonsensically abstract rants, you’re more likely to come across 'drunk barely legal chicks, man' (this is a direct quote).

To be open past midnight is relatively rare for Dejvice’s pubs. Oáza is an exception, as is Cotton Club, a delicately decadent non-stop bar located right at Kulaťák: while other similar places in Prague hide their existence behind little more than a bar sign and filthy windows, Cotton Club announces its presence to passersby with two golden lions, smugly screening across the interior. Luděk Zelenka, a former Czech footballer famous for being a huge striker with a bald head strong enough to crack open a coconut (also, it looks a little like a coconut), was spotted drinking there more than once.

"But it wasn’t weird or anything," Girl recalls. "This is exactly the place where you’d expect to find Luděk Zelenka. I have sincerely no idea what we were doing there that night, my friend and I. We could have been drinking at home. I guess we wanted to chat with Jana, a masterfully sculpted bartender with the nose of an eagle and gigantic tits somehow packed inside a tiny top. She could outshout seven burly men, but she was always kind to us and even brought us cigarettes," Girl’s voice cracks in nostalgia.

"Anyway, Luděk Zelenka. Yeah, what I’m saying is that this was his home turf, and we were the away team," she reconnects with the story via a lavish football metaphor. "I instantly thought his face looked familiar. Then my friend asked him which team he played for. Somebody answered: Dukla Prague (Dejvice’s own football team). I asked which league was Dukla currently playing in, and the person replied: ‘Dukla is knee-deep in shit. Shit league, for shits.’ Luděk Zelenka was sad, because it was true."

Railway Station Pub Extraordinaire

When talking about Dejvice, we cannot possibly omit Nádražka – but to our foreign readers, this calls for a little foreword. Nádražní restaurace, or ‘nádražky’ (sg. ‘nádražka’), are a distinct Czech phenomenon. They are pubs, often of dubious (or downright non-existent) quality, located right next to train stations. In Czech republic, a country with one of the densest railroad networks in the world, ‘nádražky’ are a beloved cultural heritage: places where everybody, railroad workers among traveling diplomats, could always share a table over beers and cold cuts while waiting for the next train. Although the very concept of ‘nádražka’ is somewhat romantic and becoming obsolete, there are entire blogs dedicated to keep this tradition alive, and lots of these pubs still operate to this day. Some of them have even managed to step up and became legendary melting spots of social and cultural lifestyles. And Dejvická nádražka is their queen.

To get there, you must exit either at the Dejvice train station or Hradčanská metro (but not Dejvická metro; that station is situated on Kulaťák, because fuck you, logic-seeking tourist). First and foremost, it is a pub, and an extremely prolific one — the sheer volume of alcohol being drank there could probably be nominated for some record. But, as patrons will lovingly tell you, Nádražka is more than that – it’s a lifestyle. During summer season, its beer garden gets packed by punks, who also like to annex the platforms with boxed wine and yell ‘SID VICIOUS WAS INNOCENT’ at trains.

The real appeal of this place reveals itself once you step inside. There is something inherently poetic about a large pub that serves beer for under a Euro and has once hosted the gig of a punk band called Topičův křivák ('A Stoker’s Jackknife'), yet has walls decorated with menus offering SALADE DU CHEF and MOULES FRITES. If you understand Czech, check out the Apollinaire-esque scribblings carved into the toilets' walls, too. When we entered, a man in a filthy tunic tortured a guitar, but nobody heard what he sang, because the level of noise inside resembles a beehive on steroids. We are too scared to ask for the Wi-Fi password, so we try ‘nadrazka’. It works.

A few years ago, Bohdan Bláhovec, a famous Czech indie filmmaker / documentarist, lived literally across the street — and his house parties often included Nádražka, as Boy recalls: "We were drinking at Bohdan’s and suddenly we were out of booze. So, naturally, we decided to go here for refills. The problem was that it was nearly midnight, which is the closing hour. So Bohdan gave me a nice ceramic tea kettle and drunkenly ordered me to storm it and get as much vodka as I could. I ran to the bar at 23:58 and asked whether it was possible, to which the bartender didn’t bat an eyelid and filled the kettle with remainders of whichever vodka bottle he found. It cost us 200 crowns."

To set the closing time at midnight is a clever way to ensure nobody will die falling under a freight train in the middle of the night — or, at the very least, it won’t be Nádražka’s fault. But Czech drunks, being regarded for their creativity, found a way to circumvent this problem: they’d simply storm in before noon and enjoy a whole full day with their heads buried in pints of beer. It’s summer now, so we should definitely try it, as should you.

But when we wrote this article, it was already too late to fully indulge all of Nádražka’s vices. Moreover, we definitely didn’t want to Cotton nor Oáza, so we had to skip forward and pick out the last place every cultural map of Dejvice highlights in bright red ink: Klubovna (‘A Clubhouse’). This combination of a pub, a beer garden, a D’n’B sanctuary and a punk venue is mostly just people yelling over each other to the hypnotically loud and never-changing streams of Amen breaks, but sometimes, the dramaturgy takes a detour and introduces great alternative theaters, summer movie projections or that Israeli DJ who performs wrapped in red lycra from head to toe while playing theremin and doing weird dances.

"Hey, Klubovna is great! I should know, I live here. Like not somewhere in Dejvice, but here. In Klubovna," an aspiring student of architecture shares with us over a shot of plum brandy. That makes sense: not far away from here, Campus Dejvice is located, housing two technical universities and Charles University’s theological faculty.

"This one time, we were drinking here after school and my friend wanted to go home, but he was so hammered he forgot something else than Klubovna even existed. He went out, willing to head home, but instead found out that to get outside Klubovna, you have to go through the beer garden first. So, in front of the building, he saw fifty drunk people, staggered and waltzed back inside. 'Dude, that’s weird. Inside, people drink. But outside, people also drink,' he went, so confused that he had no choice but to start drinking again. Then, nobody remembers anything anymore, but we woke up somewhere under a tree at Břevnov for some reason."

How did the Wiki put it — a relatively luxurious residential area for Prague’s upper middle class? Yeah, sure. But, it should be noted that Dejvice is in fact a perfect post-modern blend of old and new, fancy and ugly, expensive and cheap. And that’s really the greatest thing about it.

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