The Insurmountable Coolness of Upper Vinohrady

Text: Editors

The current trend dictates that of most (aspiring) artists residing in Prague, half of them live at Letná and the other half in Vinohrady. Two of the city’s most artsy boroughs share somewhat of a rivalry — it’s more cute than anything else, but still, you don’t simply switch sides. And if someone introduces themselves as ‘indie painter’ or ‘freelance graphic designer’ or ‘edgy techno producer’ or whatever, you can practically bet your limb they’re from around there. In Vinohrady’s streets, the collective Jungian cloud of creativity is what people breathe every day.

We’re talking specifically about the lower part of Vinohrady, bordered by Bělehradská street and Havlíčkovy sady (a huge park colloquially called Grébovka). Being a residential area, nights there are rather quiet. Although the adjacent boulevards like Ječná, Bělehradská or Francouzská brim with life — which, frankly, can sometimes be a little too much, as is the case of Retro Music Hall (a discotheque) or Radost (a less annoying discotheque) – the atmosphere that permeates the streets where people actually live is serene even in the wee hours in the morning. You do see scores of young poets drunkenly flap around, trying to find their way into their rented apartments they share with thirteen other people, but they are still quiet. Behaving like drunken assholes is frowned upon here.

This is the area we’ll be exploring today. It’s quite challenging, too, because you have to do your homework first; in Upper Žižkov, for example, one can simply step outside and there are about a three dozen pubs, galleries and bars within sight, so that even if you didn’t have any idea where to go beforehand, all it takes is to look around and jump from one place to another like a hipster mountain goat until you find something that seems interesting. In Vinohrady, the most popular outdoor activity is to do nothing. Either in a park, or in a café.

It’s common here to RSVP to seventeen Facebook events a day and go to have your first espresso at 2 pm, only to fuck around for three hours or so, realize they also have beer on tap there, have four of those, then suddenly it’s half past nine so there’s no reason leaving. Finally, you’re happy that you get home safely without getting punched by a tree (but you still do that quietly, because Vinohrady). We’re not patronizing here, either. This is literally how this article was shaped up.

Even if you wanted to get cultural here, the options are scarce — these are streets people live and drink coffee in, not a creative hotspot of theaters and clubs, the notable exception being Divadlo D21 (a theater). Moreover, rental prices aren’t very cheap, so there’s that. And thus, with this knowledge in hand, we re-shaped our concept for this article, which can now be summed up as 'A Guide to Doing Nothing in Vinohrady'. ‘Nothing’ here actually means things like ‘read a book’, ‘take selfies in front of trees’ or 'develop marketing ideas that will never be completed because you’re too lazy and probably on your way to get drunk and forget everything'.

The Basics: An Essential Guideline for Having a Nice Morning

So you wake up, you’re at Vinohrady, the weather is nice… what do you do? Go to work? Clean up your room? Take out the trash? Might be, but if that’s the case, you probably don’t fall within this article’s target audience (also, congratulations on being a responsible adult individual). Another option is to go to Zanzibar, a cozy café situated on the crossroad of Záhřebská and Americká streets (we dub it 'The Square That Isn’t Called a Square, Although It’s Clearly a Square').

Zanzibar offers a hearty vegan breakfast (among other things), which still isn’t that common in Prague. If you, however, turn up your morning laziness to eleven and leave the house around noon, consider Madame Lyn, a great Vietnamese restaurant, Mr. Banh Mi (for a quick bite), or Las Adelitas at Americká. The options here are aplenty.

Sometimes, the weather is just too nice to wander the paved streets; in that case, grab your beer and snacks and head for Grébovka, the aforementioned park that offers a beautiful view over Prague’s less picaresque districts of Vršovice, Nusle and Pankrác. Also, there’s a man-made cave, a stylish winery, and approximately seventeen hundred people walking their dogs and/or spouses of preferred gender. The focal point of Grébovka is Gröbe’s Villa, a large building that used to house Hitlerjugend during WWII. Well.

Grébovka is located in a steep hill between Vinohrady a Vršovice; on its upper end, Šafaříkova ulice starts, and looming over the park is Restaurace Zvonařka, a restaurant big enough to land a Boeing in. On its terrace, where we planned out the rest of the day, the atmosphere was lazily quaint, up until the moment when sixteen old ladies appeared and started taking photos of each other. Their husbands, presumably drunk, chatted jovially about things that seemed oddly out of place for a spot in the center of Prague, yet their collective swagger didn’t feel forced at all.

"I wanna take a picture with the guys!" one of the ladies proclaims, navigating the terrace like a retired figure skater, asking everyone whether they had some flowers to spice up the impromptu photo session. "Radka, watch your steps, you know you have knee problems," her husband worries, but Radka has negative fucks to give. "Take a picture of us, Honza!" she pleads. "But girls, can you afford it? I charge five grand for a photo! Ehehe he."

The fact that Zvonařka has a terrace is not uncommon in Vinohrady. Au contraire — most places here have, so during summer season, the hood gains a distinctive Mediterranean vibe, if you can overlook the fact that the nearest sea is several hundred kilometers away and in Poland.

Šafaříkova street is best known because of Café & Knihkupectví Fra, a small café / bookshop / drinking spot that gained large cult following during past several years. Its patrons include aspiring poets from a nearby Jewish high school, young actresses bathing themselves in wine, local conceptual artists that can (and will) get drunk, put down their pants and call it ‘performance art’, as well as a fluid group of barflies hailing from several art scenes. Those are the people whose idea of ‘fun’ consists of things like watching a football friendly between Azerbaijan and Norway on a cheap laptop right there at the bar, or listening to bad French hip-hop, or celebrating Christmas by playing abstract board games that do not formally exist.

Another thing: There’s a drink called Láska (‘Love’), which is a beer mixed with raspberry soda. It is awesome.

Under Šafaříkova, there is Bělehradská street connecting Vinohrady with Nusle. Its location on the edge of our defined area means that the ‘no artsy places’ rule ceases to apply there, which is why, smack dab in the middle, you can visit A.M.180 Gallery, a place so conceptually post-modern that Jamie Stewart (of Xiu Xiu fame) had a haiku recital there once. Boy, the male half of our editorial unit, recalls:

"Jamie just sat there on a chair, with his trademark tight shirt, cargo shorts and M.A.S.H. haircut. Also, knee-high socks, one of which was bright pink and the other one turquoise. A guitarist from Larsen accompanied the reading by banging on ancient Japanese instruments, while all the poems were about things like Jamie Stewart jacking off in his bedroom and wiping it off with socks, that sort of thing. All five hipsters in the audience looked like they’re having a great time."

So, the Evening Is Approaching & You Need a Place to Hide

In case you’re within the reach of 'The Square That Isn’t Called a Square, Although It’s Clearly a Square' when the evening chill hits, consider the suprisingly spacey, yet still cozy Literární kavárna Blatouch as a hiding spot. (You might be there already, given that Blatouch, of course, has its own outdoor area.) Girl recommends more wine, which is a need that can be fulfilled in La Cave d'Adrien or Flavours – just bear in mind that fizzy wines might be great as a hangover cure, but it’s equally possible to down like three bottles there and forget the outside world even exists.

A hidden gem on Bělehradská, Večerní kavárna Souterrain offers alternative folk gigs, homey settings (like armchairs, lamps and a library) and a hippie-ish underground vibe. After the curfew, which in Czech Republic is legally set at 10 PM, you can still get in, but you have to ring the bell first (it helps if you know somebody who’s already inside). Sometimes, Boy gets drunk there, barges in behind the bar and tries to overthrow everyone else’s music taste by playing Weezer and Bright Eyes at an uncomfortable volume.

Souterrain is still more an elegant café than a bona fide drinking spot — but those are there as well. Try Žlutá pumpa, a place where time simply does not matter, as Girl explains: "We were having a lunch with some colleagues at Zvonařka and they said they’d go back to the office, finish up some stuff and then head for the riverbank. Six hours later, I found them at Pumpa, all drunk out of their skulls. Nobody knew the time, day, or where the riverbank even was, but they were all happy, because that’s what happens when your amount of beer drank reaches double digits."

If you fancy a true 90’s vibe of typical Czech pubs, be sure to grab a beer at U Holanů, which is basically 1993 Incarnated. Just avoid Tuesdays, because that’s when there are authors' reading at Fra, forcing the barflies to flock U Holanů with their ironic penchant for cheap beer and out-of-touch blabbing about Foucault, Houllebecq and pick-up artistry.

At U Holanů's beer garden, behind massive wooden tables, a wide selection of characters shares space. During summer season, you have your garden variety bike tourists, as well as sixty-year-olds looking bitter over the fact that their jealously guarded meeting spot is now flooded with other people, a lesbian nun, and The Most Passive Aggressively Uninterested Waiter in the Universe. He will take your order, don’t worry; he will even deliver it faster than most of his colleagues. But he won’t enjoy it. Which you will notice. In about two seconds.

At Koubkova street, near Fra, there’s a place called DIO Music Bar which looks like something you’d rather not visit, thank you very much. It used to be called Báza before. One of our friends, a guy that is half Russian, stepped inside once and immediately realized that the pub caters specifically to Russians, which triggered his nostalgic longing for a childhood spent in Volgograd and prompted him to ask for the toilet in his native tongue. Which, simply put, was not a good idea.

"These guys, the patrons… they were all ex-soldiers. Marines and such. Men who’ve been to war, shot at people… now, they were sitting there in a pub in Vinohrady, drinking vodka, chatting. I interrupted them — I weigh about 70 kilos, that guy had more muscle in his arm than I have in my entire body — and asked where to take a piss. And they snapped. ‘Who are you? Where did you came from? Who are you working for?’ I had to tell them my entire life story in full detail, squinting my legs, so that they would let me be. One of them had a knife in his boot."

The Midnight Approaches, But You’re an Artist Living in Vinohrady, So Presumably You Don’t Have a Job That Would Require You to Wake Up the Day After

"What’s the day today? Monday? How the fuck can it be Monday, it was Saturday yesterday," a drunken patron tries to deal with the concept of midnight at Vinohradský parlament. The place is divided in two parts, one of which serves as an upscale restaurant; this is the other one, the bar that stays open till 4 AM. The waiter — dressed in a tuxedo, as Parlament wants you to know this ain’t no heckin' dive bar, although really, it is — tries to confront him. "Don’t touch me, I came from Prague!"

When your evening reaches the point where the only possible option is to have the last (few) beer(s) and head home, Parlament is a good choice. The thing is that most cafés in Vinohrady close around midnight at best. Thankfully, the hood is so small that you’re never far from the nearest option. One of Parlament’s biggest selling points is that they accept cards, but you are obliged to pay after each order, which, in retrospect, can lead to a depressingly detailed log of your slow descent into part-time alcoholism.

Wait… did we say ‘the nearest option’ a paragraph before? Yeah, well, there aren’t that many options after midnight. Only, like, two. The other one is Ghetta Bar, located right across Fra; the two places look like complete antitheses of each other. Fra is light, there are flowers and candles and cider and poetry readings. Ghetta… well, take a hint from the name. Basically, imagine a bunch of rappers sitting in a dark cellar, and the bartender looks like two bartenders sewn together in some Cronenbergian body experiment. Yet, the place is really not bad. It has a distinct Žižkov vibe. The bartender is, in fact, a nice guy. You just won’t find many jasmine-scented literary theorists there.

They don’t go to Ghetta because after the cafés close, it’s time to head home. Either continue outside the inner Vinohrady residential area, or get a shut-eye to recharge batteries for the next day. That’s a good thing to do. Those lattés and wines ain’t gonna drink themselves.

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