Let’s say this bluntly: Prague is basically a huge patchwork of dozens of small towns mashed together at once. Basically, no matter where on the map you’re standing, you can just walk any way you want and the world around you will change within half an hour. This phenomenon isn’t just related to the city center, either. Take Prague’s 6th district: It begins practically downtown, ends at the airport, and during the journey, it’s like you’re travelling through an entire country’s worth of towns.
We have already covered the lush green neighborhoods of Dejvice and the Anytown, CZE feeling of Břevnov, but there is still some space left — the narrow, rocky area in between the aforementioned two quarters. There, atop a big rock, lie the old residential hoods of Ořechovka, Střešovice, and Petřiny.
During summers, the area is known mostly for its water park called Petynka; it’s not the biggest one in Prague, nor the most fun one, but you can still pair the visit with a nice walk around the green outskirts, so that’s a plus. Furthermore, the staff at Petynka are really chill. "When we were there for the last time, a friend of mine broke a chair by sitting down too hard," explains one of our respondents. "It was a mistake. I managed to lock the key to the dresser inside the dresser, and another friend found out that she couldn’t swim, so she just stood there in the shallow water for a while and then drank beer for the rest of the day. Everything was a-OK with everyone."
Květa left her depressing industrial hometown when she was seventeen and moved to Prague, where she at first lived in a shared 1 + 1 underground flat at Petřiny along with her deaf great-aunt. We swear none of this is made up. Květa is a fan of Petynka: "They have a toboggan! And this one time, my friend was sunbathing there topless, and a guy came to her and said: ‘Miss, how about having some champagne with me?’ But he was holding some cheap wannabe shit and my friend was actually working for this posh French winery, so she called him out and he left humiliated."
The neighborhood of Petřiny can at first glance seem like your classic Soviet-era museum; on the other hand, the luxurious, old-timey villas of Ořechovka and Petřiny give out a feeling of something upscale, something not many people can afford. And it’s true that the population density here is very low. Lots of locals have roots here (the villas are passed down generation to generation). The others are mostly students who live at the Větrník dormitory, located in Petřiny.
On the westernmost point of our area lies Makráč – an art gallery situated in the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry on Heyrovského square, inside a beautiful building designed by Karel Prager. It’s been there for 45 years now, and it’s basically the only cultural spot around. With this knowledge, we simply divided the area into three separate quarters and explored them one by one. Here we go.
Chapter One: Ořechovka
In the middle of Ořechovka lies a small square, dominated by the old cinema complex. At Stará Ořechovka, a local pub, Historian waits for us; he’s our tour guide for this part of the city. Stará Ořechovka has a homey, warm atmosphere — to walk through the door feels like you’ve just been Narnia’d to another reality. In this one, everything is wooden, and the interior looks like a mountain cabin, complete with weird hardware items just laying around on tables.
"There are four pubs in this complex," says Historian. "The first one is more like a fancy café, the kind that you’d find all around, say, Letná. Stará Ořechovka is the second one. Then, you have a sort of a ‘better’ restaurant for ‘better’ people, and finally, a pure dive bar. That might be already closed, though. This whole building served as a community center during the Soviet era, but after the revolution, there were problems with ownership, so the place deteriorated and is now mostly abandoned. It’s a shame, especially the old cinema was really famous. Initiatives for its restoration exist, but it’s all too complicated."
As he speaks, two random ladies — one of them could be in her seventies — sit down to a piano and start playing Mozart. Just like that.
Petr Ryska, creator and founder of the Praha Neznámá (‘Prague Unknown’) project, was born and raised in these parts of the city — and, being a true local patriot, knows nearly every little detail there is. One common misconception is that Ořechovka is, in fact, the name of the former cinema; however, Ryska points out that it’s actually a whole neighborhood. Not a large one, mind you, but definitely a tightly bound and proud one. "It’s not hard to spot Ořechovka’s borders," he shows us as we sit at his office filled with old maps, photographs, and history books.
"On the one side, you have the main street, Střešovická. On the others, there are Průhledová and Slunná streets, lined with trees. There is a railroad track separating Ořechovka from the rest of the 6th District. It’s really quite compact."
"For me, Ořechovka is the most charming of all Prague’s villa quarters," he shares, adding that a large part of its uniqueness stem from it being built in a distinctively English style. The most prevalent building material here are bright red bricks, the windows are tall and narrow, the houses have big chimneys and quaint little gardens in front — it really feels like someone decided to create a neighborhood right out of an English stereotype textbook. The Dursleys wouldn’t look out of place here.
"The architect responsible for the concept of Ořechovka was named Vondrák. The quarter was built in the early twenties, after he returned from England. He was enchanted by the atmosphere of small local cities. Although the villas themselves were designed by different architects, the style prevailed."
The question is: Given the specific character of the whole quarter, is it even possible to move in there now? Or are the villas simply being held by locals, inherited from generation to generation? It certainly looks like the majority of inhabitants could be elderly people, holding onto their little laid back patch of land that brims with memories of days past.
"A friend of mine once wanted to buy a flat there," says Ryska, "and he actually found an empty 1 + 1 in one of those English-style villas. But it was a trap, so to speak. The entire house was in abysmal condition… only two ladies lived there, both in their eighties, so they couldn’t take care of the house even if they wanted to. Those villas are really old, they have no isolation… well, this one at least had a WC, which wasn’t exactly an automatic thing during the inter-war era."
"Lots of people think of Ořechovka as a luxurious quarter, built for upper class people, but that was not the case. It was supposed to be a bureaucrats' quarter — close to the Prague Castle, close to Dejvice where lots of offices were located… The tenants were supposed to take a trolley to work, which is why Prague’s first trolley line connected Ořechovka with Dejvice. Therefore the houses are not necessarily multi-generation family mansions. Oftentimes, they are divided into small flats."
If you wanted to move in, you’d run into some weird problems — like the total lack of garages. Nobody thought the bureaucrats would be able to afford a car back then. There are no supermarkets and almost no shops. Ořechovka is simply not ready to provide the comfort we take for granted in the 21st century. "In the day, Ořechovka was planned really well," opines Ryska. "The elders say that decades ago, they didn’t need to go anywhere. Up until 1938, you had everything you needed here."
Žabka, a famous Czech grocery franchise, has a shop there, right next to Stará Ořechovka in the old cinema complex. Elsewhere in the city, we wouldn’t stop to point it out — there are hundreds of Žabka shops in Prague — but here, it’s basically the only franchise logo you’ll see. It’s an eerie feeling: as you wander through the streets, you’ve got this feeling that something’s off, but can’t quit figure out what it is until it hits you. There’s no McDonald’s, no KFC, no big supermarket branches like Billa or Albert, no restaurant or pub chains. Just this one Žabka. It’s basically the closest thing Prague can offer to pre-capitalism-era time travel.
"Ořechovka wouldn’t allow anything like that," says Ryska. "This quarter was always like a world for itself. People from Ořechovka doesn’t even hold a rivalry against their neighbors from Petřiny and Střešovice — they simply pretend that other city parts don’t exist. Damaged homes are being restored to their pre-war glory, there is no graffiti anywhere…"
"Another factor could be that Ořechovka is really small and really close to both Břevnov and Dejvice," adds Historian. "So, if you need to go to a supermarket or to grab a burger, you simply go there. And then you go home, to spend the night in a real life museum."
Chapter Two: Střešovice
The neighboring hood of Střešovice is a little more open to the outside world, but it still has tons of quirks that simply wouldn’t be possible in the more central parts of Prague. Michal, who moved there in the summer of 2013 — he was living at Baterie, a small web of streets up there atop the rock — recalls many perks of spending time on the city’s rooftop: "When I first came, Prague was hit by floods. On my Facebook wall, everyone complained how the metro doesn’t work, how everything has come to a grinding halt… but not me. Up here, the sun was shining, there was no water anywhere, wild animals were playing on the streets… It took me several weeks until I felt the need to descend into the realm of other people."
On the other hand, grocery shopping at Baterie was subjected to the whims of A) the only ATM in the Střešovice hospital and B) an elderly Vietnamese woman who ran the only shop around — when she closed (on evenings, weekends, or anytime she just couldn’t make it), there was no other option but to climb down the stairs to Břevnov, and then climb back up in the summer heat with all the heavy bags, which is an experience Michal describes as “slightly hellish”.
"Picture you’re going for a loaf of bread, some OJ, and a toilet paper on a Sunday afternoon. That’s not a heavy load; that’s just a small tote bag worth of stuff. And yet, as you scramble your way back up, panting like a St. Bernard in 30 degrees, you feel like challenging Matterhorn, all while hungover as all shit."
"Oh, and this applies for everything — Baterie lies literally on top of a huge rock. Trams go down the main street which lies under it. So every return from civilization feels like challenging Matterhorn, usually also while hungover as all shit."
"Střešovice have a sad history," Petr Ryska explains. "In the eighties, the communists decided to tear the old houses down and build embassies in their place. Locals were forced to move out, and the operations began in 1986. In the three years before Revolution, a whole third of houses has vanished forever. And those were unique houses, too, with a distinctively village-like, Southern Bohemian feeling."
"Along with residential homes, they also tore down U Zvoničky, a legendary local pub. After Revolution, it took five years until the remaining houses were finally given back to their old owners… but since nobody took care of them in the meantime, lots of the owners didn’t even want to come back, just to find a ruin of their former home. All around, only about a third of the old Střešovice quarter remains untouched to this day."
"Some of the spared buildings served as homes of deputies — mostly village people who moved to Prague to work at the Strahov monastery. They would receive part of their wages in goods. Also, as Střešovice is a small quarter, some structures were carved in rock; those obviously survived as well. They’re stables, mostly, and a few man-made caves where unemployed and homeless people sometimes used to sleep. Some people would carve toilets in rock."
The most well-known buildings in Střešovice are Müllerova vila, a gorgeous functionalist-era house designed by Adolf Loos, the Evangelical Church by Bohumír Kozák, and the Neo-Roman Catholic Church of St. Norbert. And indeed, many people associate Střešovice primarily with these structures. But for Michal, the genius loci lied elsewhere:
"It’s that part of the city that seems weird at first, but you can quite easily tame it — and after that, you suddenly don’t want to leave. The walks along Ořechovka down to Dejvice are beautiful, with old railroad tracks, small garden houses, abandoned roads, a cemetery… Also, up there on the rock, the air is much more clear than in the city. You’re surrounded by trees, birds are singing… and above you, there’s nothing but the open sky. It’s magical. It’s the only place in Prague that looks like this."
"It would be even better if I was a sports guy," he continues, pointing out how many athletic organizations are based in Střešovice — like the Czech Skiers' Association, or TJ Tatran Střešovice, a floorball powerhouse. Markéta, a motorcycle speedway circuit, is also located nearby. "Oh, and the cyclists," adds Michal. "That seems really masochistic. Who the hell would want to ride a bike on a huge rock? But there are people like that. They like to gather in the beer garden at Dělostřílny."
(Květa adds that aside from sportspeople, the hood is also a haven for gardeners, thanks to a famous gardening shop called Zahradnictví Chládek: "It’s a great place. You can buy a tree there, or a fish fresh out of the tank, and there’s also an oldschool diner."
The aforementioned Dělostřílny is probably Střešovice’s most famous hangout spot. Not that it was anything special; just a regular Czech pub, inhabited by both cyclists (during the summer season) and local barflies. Michal used to go there to write articles (there’s a working Wi-Fi) during his short spell as probably the only freelance journalist in all Střešovice.
"Then we found out they serve croquettes, just like that, so that was another bonus point."
Historian also remembers a chalet-like pub called U Medvěda Balú: "It was a tiny house with two rooms, a small bar, and a few tables. Beautiful place. Alas, it closed several years ago and now there’s an apartment. That leaves Dělostřílny as one of the only true pubs to recommend around here."
Another one is located at the tram stop Vozovna Střešovice; to go there, we pass through the Nad Hradním Vodojemem street, which we dub 'Střešovice’s Montmartre'. It’s just a few dozen meters long, but there’s an upscale butchery there, a downright luxurious barber shop, and a restaurant / hotel called U Staré cesty which looks like someone wanted to build it on Malá Strana and missed it by a mile or so.
If, however, you approach Střešovice from the center, Vozovna will be the first thing you’ll see. On your left hand, there’ll be a gaping hole in which lies a colossal road junction, connecting Břevnov with Hradčanská. On your right hand, there’ll be a pub, right next to a tram museum.
The history of Vozovna (the pub) is tightly connected to a famous Czech pub rock band called Tři sestry, and its aesthetics leave very little to imagination: right next to the bar stands a vintage motorcycle, because why not, the chairs are made out of tram seats, and the menu is full of humorously named items you’ll really appreciate only if you speak Czech and enjoy listening to Tři sestry. Coachella material it ain’t.
Just a quick peak, though: A ‘Salad for Strong Men’ consists of roasted beef, boiled eggs, a garlic dressing, and vegetables. A ‘Drsoň’ (‘The Rough One’) is a herb liquor. A ‘Jasoň’ (‘The Smooth One’) is the same herb liquor, but with citrus flavoring. As we drink our Jasoň's and Drsoň's, half of the patrons stand up and — chanting "We’re going out for a cig" – go out for a cig.
Chapter Three: Petřiny
The main difference between the first two quarters and Petřiny is that the streets of Petřiny feel much more ‘city-like’, thanks to a huge ‘sídliště’ (a panel housing estate) and a metro station located within. "I don’t think the metro was necessary," Petr Ryska opines. "The trams covered the area adequately; metro is just a little bit faster."
Anežka, our respondent from Petřiny, disagrees: "I’m glad they built the metro. Even though we could still go places before, during summers, it used to be hell when the roadworks began. It’s true that bums are gathering around the metro, but that’s not unique Petřiny, that’s just a thing that happens. Also, it’s much easier now to get to the hospital at Motol."
Květa has yet another opinion — the metro itself is fine, but it should not continue to Motol, but on towards the airport. At least she had a great party at the Petřiny station before it even opened: "It was a movie screening. Total Recall. We sat among the monolithic concrete blocks, next to the giant fans, there was metal everywhere, and everything was lit by bright red light. That’s a Total Recall atmosphere if I’ve ever seen one."
Another thing that elevates Petřiny above Ořechovka and Střešovice is the number of pubs. "Yeah, there are loads of them," Anežka confirms. "Like Nad Alejí. Or U Holečků – you can even catch a gig there, and during summers, they have a great beer garden." Historik adds that U Holečků might already fall under the quarter of Liboc, but praises it anyway: "It’s a typical garden pub where we’d go to celebrate after exams. We’d have a tartar steak or something like that… some 80’s food, yeah. Culinary socialism at its finest."
"The cuisine is Czech, which is the norm around here. No variety, no exotic stuff. If you want to eat something that’s not stewed, deep fried in breadcrumbs, and/or served with eighty dumplings, the nearest Vietnamese restaurant is in Břevnov."
But by far the most legendary pub is located at the main street; the address is Na Petřinách 42, and although the official name of the place is Samojídelna – pivnice, locals have lots of colorful little nicknames for it, like Prasečák (‘A Pigsty’), Nálevna (‘THE Dive Bar’), or Umakart (‘Formica’). Guess why.
The answer might have to do something with the fact that the place looks like a scene from a Soviet movie, that the beer costs less than 1 Euro, or that the opening hour is 9 AM. When we come in around half past six, everybody’s already hammered beyond the point of recognition. On a workday.
"Shit, Jarda, man, she had, like… so many puppies, man! Fucking puppies everywhere," a group of blue collar city workers chat about the minutiae of their everyday lives while smoking outside the pub. "She bit me twice already!""So why are you provoking her, man? You know how she is. She’s a fucking hellbeast, she is," says Jarda, and as we look closer, we see a tiny little Yorkshire terrier trembling at the workers' feet. What a hellbeast.
"Why are you shaking? Are you cold?" Jarda asks the hellbeast. "Well you shouldn’t fucking eat my shoes and you wouldn’t be cold, then," he concludes. "Come here, you. You are shaking like if you were expensive."
Meanwhile, at one of the tables, an elderly lady who looks like she might have been teaching high school literature for the past thirty years sips from a glass of white wine while educating her male colleague about the history of surrealism and dadaism. How very fitting!
Inside Větrník, a complex of college dorms, there is a small café called Do Větru; hidden in an unassuming panel building, it has Matuška (a seriously great microbrew) on tap, a piano, and a sign that says they’re open till midnight. That doesn’t seem very college-party-friendly, but given that most of the clientele consists of middle-aged people and their kids, we figure the students must be going elsewhere. But where?
"There used to be a billiard club at Větrník. People called it BC," Historian remembers. "We spent a lot of time there. Also, a dive bar named Pirát, but that’s closed now… oh, and of course, Formica. But Větrník was a quiet dorm, as opposed to the nearby Hvězda where we would go to these awful disco parties. Here, such things were unheard of. There’s no music club, no theater, no cinema… so, as a student, your entertainment options are scarce. It’s good to have a girlfriend, though. Lots of places where to take her on a romantic walk."
Anežka’s viewpoint differs: "Both Větrník and Hvězda house weird people sometimes. Lots of people will tell you that Petřiny is a boring neighborhood of elderly people, but that’s not entirely true. In the daytime, yes, but after dark, it can get a little creepy."
"My grandmother got mugged right in front of our house, my friend was attacked at Hvězda, both me and my mother encountered harassment right on the street. After sunset, I’d rather take a taxi."
The original plan for Petřiny was to build an entire new “town”, in the tradition of Socialist Realism. The result, however, is mixed — the neighborhood isn’t nearly as unique as planned. "It looks exactly the same as the one in Malešice," Petr Ryska compares. "But this one has a better rapport. Probably because it’s a part of Prague’s 6th district."
“People from 6th tend to view themselves as elite. I've always sensed it, even in kindergarten. It's a prestige to live here. In the olden days, people would call one another 'Mr. Engineer' or 'Mr. Doctor'… one lady even insisted on being called 'Mrs. Doctor', because of her husband's title. That was the custom during the First Republic. Later, one classmate told me: 'You're from 6th, I'm from 6th, so we can be friends together!'”.
"Prague’s 6th quarter is the only one where people will actually hang Czech flags outside during national holidays. Nobody’s forcing them — they just feel like it. It’s interesting that even though Petřiny are really nothing special (in context of Prague as a whole), the feeling persists. People are proud to live there. And this applies even for newcomers — people will move in, and a few months later, they’ve got the same attitude."
Anežka agrees with this. "Although there are some problems, I still love Petřiny," she confides. "They feel like home, you know? There’s lots of green areas, Bílá Hora, Ruzyně, Divoká Šárka all within the walking distance… lots of people with dogs… and this one summer, there were even two cockatoos flying around in the open. A local newspaper wrote about it."
Květa adds freely roaming squirrels to the list, and Anežka caps it with rabbits, martens, and foxes. "And lots of birds, too! Jays. Woodpeckers. Jackdaws. Sparrowhawks."
"I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Prague," she sums up. "The only exception might be Dejvice, Břevnov, or Hanspaulka… but that’s still the 6th district. I love the 6th. It’s my true home."