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The Irrevocable Genius Loci of Žižkov's Main Street

Text: Photo: Libor Petrášek

Žižkov is a neighborhood of many different faces. The more polished one, located on a steep hill just behind the Main Railway Station, profits from its proximity to Prague’s center, which means that the place is now full of art galleries, trendy bars, and people who have willingly chosen fixed gear bikes as their preferred mode of transportation, essentially picking image over basic human logic (see steep hill, above).

In fact, the eclectic nature of Žižkov, along with its size and popularity among young people, led us to split the whole area in three parts. Behold, the Žižkov Trilogy: First part (the aforementioned hip one) is covered in an article here, this article will focus solely on the infamous Koněvova St and its surroundings, and in the final part, we will delve into the streets that lie farthest from the center.

Koněvova (or Koněvka, as it’s known colloquially) has a vibe that’s radically different from Žižkov’s hipper streets, like Bořivojova. Lying in the ‘canyon’ between two hills, it serves as a major hub for the whole neighborhood — and if you were unsure just what kind of neighborhood we’re talking about, let’s just say that Koněvka holds the privilege of being a street with the most pubs in the whole country. The logic is sound: If we can dedicate an entire article to other famous nightlife hubs, Krymská St and Dlouhá St, then Koněvka has to have one, too.

The slight problem here is that while there are tons of pubs, most of them are pure dive bars, which adds to the general punk-rock-night-out potential but sacrifices variability.

For example, if you wanted to go for a date in these parts of Žižkov, Koněvka itself probably won’t do. Try the nearby Parukářka public park: granted, it’d be a more… alternative date, since there are no nice restaurants or theaters there, but the view is seriously great, and not everyone wants to be all stiff and fancy. For us, an afternoon at a minimal techno party (outside in a scorching summer heat), or a visit to a legendary pub called Bunkr would definitely be an instant YES. You can find all kinds of people at Parukářka, including aging folk singers with Spanish guitars that look like they remember the Roosevelt administration and hold together by a combination of rusty nails, duct tape, and hope.

If we’re talking proper gig venues, we have to venture a little farther, but there are three of them around, and all three are downright legendary: Modrá Vopice, Chmelnice, and Storm. Given that all of them concentrate mostly on punk/HC and metal music, it’s not unusual for shit to hit the fan there; this is especially true for Storm, which is basically the Voldemort of Žižkov pubs — everybody’s been there, it’s an inseparable part of the neighborhood, but people tend to hush their voices when speaking about it.

"This one time, in the wee hours at a techno party, I encountered this guy," says a local contact that wanted to remain anonymous for reasons that will soon become clear. "He was high on something, obviously. He went to the toilet, sat down… and started throwing shit at random people. Before the bouncers got to him, he managed to hit a few of them. With literal shit. Out of the toilet."

Nikola Džokić, a stand-up comedian who is a part of the Stay Zmrd team, speaks about their parties held at Storm; Zmrd is basically Czech for ‘scumbag’, and his crew specializes in extreme black humor and brutal satire, kind of like the human version of Cards Against Humanity. For them, Storm seems an ideal place. "Promoters love it because you can easily fit 500+ people there, and there are two backstages, one of them with its own bar," says Nikola. "But otherwise, it’s still clearly a Žižkov dive bar, smelly and bizarre. Just the way we like it."

Although flying feces and morbidly cynical parties sound like fun, we’re heading to the hood on a weekday evening, so everything’s (hopefully) gonna be toned down a bit. We don’t have a detailed plan, other than just to go there and see what we can find. Oh yeah, and part of the mission is to keep sober. The entire night.

A Pub That Deserves Its Own Article

Our main local contact, Redaktorka, suggests we meet at a randomly looking Vietnamese vegan bistro. While we’re devouring our soy schnitzels and soups (in the company of a lonely gentleman who walks barefoot around filthy Prague streets in November rain), she shares her story: "I’ve been living here for two years, because I got to the Uni in Prague."

"But the school is in Jinonice," she adds, in a dark twist (Jinonice being a flat field of nothingness, and we’re told we’re not that far off when we imagine tumbleweeds roaming around the school building like it’s a cliched Western movie). "So I’ve decided I’m moving to Bosnia," she concludes, resolutely.

(Redaktorka is quite an expert on Bosnia, as we quickly find out. She points out that one of Žižkov’s advantages is that, as opposed to Bosnia, you always have access to running water. Or that the Yugoslav Wars clouded the entire region in pessimism, which has a silver lining in that you don’t encounter people stupidly smiling at you in the subway. Also, there is no subway.)

Our first ‘real’ stop is Vystřelený oko, which seems like the only sound choice. We’re talking about one of the most famous pubs in all Prague: it’s been open for quarter a century, and if you’d like to get a general grasp on that whole ‘Czech underground scene’ thing, this would be a place to go. The legacy of intellectual resistance during the Soviet era might be a bit problematic today, but Vystřelený oko is basically a museum of a lifestyle, an authentic reminder of those long gone times.

Also, it was founded by Martin Velíšek, a guy famous for both being an acclaimed painter and being mostly drunk all the time — and he still goes there frequently. In fact, we meet him right at the door, as he bows to every woman walking in: "Whoa, ladies in the pub! Awesome!"

Both halfs of our editorial unit, Boy and Girl, compare the atmosphere to a particularly laid-back beehive. Boy is reading an obscurely detailed Bill Clinton biography out of a punk zine he’d bought from some guy in front of the pub for 30 CZK. Girl, meanwhile, talks about the ‘Irish effect’: it’s raining like crazy outside, but the interior of the pub is dry, cozy, packed with people, lit by warm yellow light, and incredibly noisy — but it’s a good noise, the sound of dozens of people casually chatting over each other. We take a seat next to three Slovakian guys with a pug. It’s the only bit of space left in the entire pub.

"Look, true underground haircuts," Boy points to a generally shared feature of local patrons. "Like: I haven’t washed my hair since the Revolution, because I was so happy I went to the pub right afterwards, and haven’t left since." Girl and Redaktorka admire a corpulent lady in a pink dress who looks like a Gipsy fortune teller from a cheap public access TV show.

There are tons of small details decorating the walls, including an obligatory 80’s photo of Václav Havel, paper cutouts filled with jovial Czech puns about alcohol, and an old-school fireplace: the wood is stocked right next to the building, and the fire gives the place a warm feeling of a mountain cabin. Last thing we saw was a random guy storming in the pub like Batman, yelling: "Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, the rain is horrible. And whose fault it is? The Communists'!"

Street Life, Žižkov Style

The vegan bistro we’ve mentioned earlier is of course not the only eating option around here, but instead of posh restaurants and hipster cafes, the average eatery looks more like U Slovanské lípy – an oldschool diner where Redaktorka was once served "a hideous salad" and the door slammed her in the face as she was leaving. Our pick would be Croq'n'Roll, a bistro that specializes on croquettes and nothing else. Redaktorka has no idea why would anyone want to proclaim croquettes their food of choice, but Girl marvels at this discovery and promptly saves the address of the place.

"Pubs are cool and all, but by far the best thing about Koněvka is its street life," Redaktorka teaches us. "I often meet a fat lady walking three completely identical Pomeranians — you know, those little orange balls of fur. It’s a magical sight. Or look at this," she stops, pointing at an antique store.

"Look: It says ‘Classical Furniture’ on the door. What does a place like this tell you? 'Feast your eyes, peasants, on stuff you won’t be able to afford, ever.' I don’t get it, this is not a rich neighborhood. How does their business work? I guess that from time to time, somebody buys an overpriced ugly armchair for ten grand, which they don’t have, so they get some shady loan deal and then end up paying three times the price."

"You can meet a lot of foreigners here, but those are not the rich types," she clarifies, as we turn left and continue towards Fatál – a rock club that, most of the time, works as a dive bar. "The main reason for that is that there are lots of cheap hostels around."

In order to get to Fatál, you need to ring a bell; there’s a Last Supper painting decorating the walls, and an assertive bartender who’ll chat with you almost immediately. "See, I told you," concludes Dívka — earlier, we were having a discussion about Fatál and she insisted that it’s not some snarling hellhole, but rather just a normal pub, albeit filled with the sound of a wide selection of obnoxious guitar solos. "What did you tell them? Are you Sibyl?" snaps the bartender. "Hey, everyone! We have Sibyl over here!"

"A good thing is that you can have a meal and a drink even after 10 PM. Or midnight. Which is a thing you can’t do at, say, Letná," Boy observes, and Redaktorka agrees: "That’s true. Not far away from here, there is a non-stop grocery shop operated by a Vietnamese woman who knows like five Czech words, maximum. One of them is ‘asshole’. She uses that when drunks barrage in at 3 AM and she has to push them away with a broomstick."

"Oh, and that thing over there is a sex shop with private rooms. You know, for jacking off. Oldschool."

A Random Žižkov Guy’s General Guide to Approaching Women

One of those cheap hostels we’ve talked about before is called Marabou. It was recommended to us, because the story goes that guests often drink there till the morning and the bartender is a friend of a friend, which could mean free beers. Alas, she’s not working today, so we swapped Marabou for Klub Bar Divočák — a place that’s regularly getting blasted on the Internet so hard you just need to go see it.

"Where you goin', mate?" a random punk asks us on the street. "To Divočák," we reply. "Oh yeah, that’s a cool pub! But it’s no more," he replies back, cryptically, and flies away. His riddle becomes clear to us when we reach the address and instead of a filthy dive bar we find something named Goose Party Bar. Ugh.

Luckily, Tunel – another legendary place — is still open. The underground bar is filled to the brim, but we manage to squeeze in next to a group of happily chanting, spliff-rolling, and probably stoned people. Boy is wearing a yellow-green-red sweater that immediately attracts attention: everybody thinks he’s got a reggae band. "Great, brother! You’re one of us. Look at you. See this guy? He’s got dreadlocks under his hat. Hey, mate, show a brother your dreadlocks!"

Later we are told that this particular guy is a rather famous figure around here. It’s known that one of his favourite pastimes used to be to get drunk, invade Žižkostel at 6 AM and start playing drums. He doesn’t have drums, so he’d use random doors, trashcans, pots and pans… you know, any stuff that makes noise. We personally didn’t see that, but he still at least enriched us with his thoughts on women.

"Till they’re twenty, they’re good for fucking," he started, and it only went downhill from there: "Once they reach thirty, they’re good for relationships. But between that, it’s crazy. You never know what the bitch is gonna do."

Girl, meanwhile, blocks this cringe display of goodhearted sexism by wolfing down a pickled camembert — that’s a staple of Czech pub foods, but Tunel prides itself over theirs. It comes with a fig and has won multiple awards for the best pickled camembert, granted by people who are into that sort of thing.

Although Koněvka is still a pretty raw place, Redaktorka feels that things are slowly changing. "Yeah, we might not have tons of design bistros and shit like this, but the street is much more cultivated now than ever before. Stories of knife-wielding street merchants, people huffing glue on the streets, and pawnshops in every other building are waning. It’s becoming a pretty normal Prague street."

"Some time ago, you could walk outside in pyjamas and nobody gave a shit. Now, you can’t do that, because suddenly there are places like Life is Ours (a newly opened gallery) where there’s a good chance you’ll run into somebody you know. Lots of new tenants are the types who’d writhe at the mere mention of Koněvka a few years ago. They say the area is dangerous, but it’s really not. And if you need proper civilization, the hipper Žižkov is right around the corner."

Nikola Džokić summarizes living in Žižkov like being in a German ghetto. "Prague is great, but this one particular place is still dirty. That’s the way it is."

"Lately, Žižkov has been evolving into a fun mix of random scenes," he adds. "Pure deadbeat underground, swarms of cliche hipsters, and everything in between. Žižkov is really no Detroit, although the ghetto feeling still prevails — a feeling of something a little dark, a little mysterious. I love it."

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