In the cupcake-coloured city of Prague, nothing feels more natural than drifting from one café to the next.
Could it be the buttery yellows, candy pinks and macaroon greens adorning the capital of the Czech Republic that cause these cravings for sugar? It almost feels like the endless number of pastry shops and cafés were put here in Prague just to tempt us! Spending a little time lounging in one of the more sumptuous of these beautiful places—just enough time for a kava topped with whipped cream and, who knows, maybe a little extra temptation—is an absolute must during any visit to Prague.
Just a heads up: if you decide to stop in at Kavarna Obecni Dum café, you may ﬁnd it hard to tear yourself away from its monumental crystal chandeliers, walls of ornamented wood, aged leather seats and stylish waiters looking like actors in an old silent ﬁlm. This retro-chic café is the place to go for salmon caviar canapés and sorbet made from Bohemian sparkling wine. The café is situated in the Municipal House, possibly Prague’s most outstanding example of Art Nouveau architecture.
Leader of the Art Nouveau movement, Czech painter Alfons Mucha was a master of the sinuous lines, curves and organic forms that deﬁne the style. His undulating motifs adorn buildings, mosaics and furniture—even the cappuccino cups in the café at the Hotel Paris!
Currently undergoing a complete makeover, the Grand Hotel Europa Café in Wenceslas Square— made famous by the Velvet Revolution—is another impressive Art Nouveau kavarna. It plans to reopen its doors in 2016, so enjoying a presso s mléken (espresso with milk) where the writer Franz Kafka once did public readings won’t be possible until then. Fortunately, you can still admire the building’s wonderful façade from the square. When Czechoslovakia liberated itself from communism after the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, it all unfolded right here in front of this grand old Prague institution.
The Kingdom of the Prague Cafe
Inspired by the Viennese style, the heyday of the Prague cafés lasted from the end of the 19th century until the 1930s. A popular meeting place for students, journalists, poets and political dissidents, they were better heated and more spacious than most homes at the time. They were the “salons” where people came to be informed and ﬁnd solutions to the world’s problems, and where they would one day take apart Czechoslovakia itself.
The Grand Café Slavia is one of the oldest of these salons and a regular haunt of intellectuals, like the playwright and politician Vaclav Havel and his nationalist friends, who had their own table. (When the café closed in the early 1990s, Havel—who would go on to become the ﬁrst president of the Czech Republic—took part in a sit-in calling for this Art Deco gem to be reopened!) Thanks to Havel, we can once again sit down and enjoy the café’s famous palacinky, a type of sweet pancake, while admiring Prague Castle. Situated across the Vltava River and beyond the Charles Bridge from the Grand Café Slavia, the city’s iconic castle is a blend of architectural styles covering a period of a thousand years.
Given Prague’s long history and UNESCO World Heritage status, one might expect the city to be frozen in the past, but far from it. In fact it is totally modern, boasting trendy cafés such as Mama Coffee, which roasts its own fair-trade Arabica coffee. Café Café serves up decorative chlebicek (open faced sandwiches), champagne and potted tiramisu, while the Friends Coffee House, or FCH to its regulars, is also super hip. Like its predecessors, it is the place to go for literary readings, concerts and art exhibits.
And so, Prague’s modern indie cafés—a far cry from the franchises found in so many other cities—are inheriting the tradition of keeping watch over political events, serving high-quality coffee and writing the city’s history. Better watch out, Starbucks!