Weekend in . . . Prague
Explore galleries, boutiques and exotic eateries so new the locals haven’t heard of them yet
For people who haven’t travelled to Prague recently, the Czech capital might seem like a known quantity: a city with 1,000 years of architecture, cheap beer and often boring restaurants where the most unusual ingredients are the doughy dumplings.
But Prague is developing so quickly many locals still haven’t heard of all the next big things: flashy new art galleries, dynamically developing old neighbourhoods, great bars – beyond and including beer – and new restaurants with flavourful offerings from classic steaks and chops to Asian spice. In fact, so many new developments have appeared in Prague you could spend an entire weekend visiting only those places that have opened in the past couple of years. See Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and all the classic attractions. But finish out your stay with some of the vibrant newcomers.
1 Clean Up
Buildings – and residents – in Old Town have cleaned up nicely of late. In the once-decrepit Palac Dlouha, an Art Deco landmark, the new ground-floor shopping arcade includes Sisters, an airy bistro with gourmet open-faced sandwiches (25 to 49 koruna, or 90 cent to €1.80) that make perfect late-afternoon snacks. A block away, two-year-old Eterno Moderno offers vintage and new fashions, mostly for women, some made out of recycled fabric. Across the street, Kuraz stocks clothing and accessories from a variety of young Czech designers, such as knee-high stockings printed with insects, revolvers and other unusual patterns.
Across Wenceslas Square, the Room has been selling men’s wear from artsy Northern European brands such as Denmark’s Libertine-Libertine and Royal Republiq for the past two years. And just around the corner, Thomas’s Barber Shop offers a Scotch, cigar, hand-wrap, haircut and straight-razor shave for 1,600 koruna, or €58.
2 Opulent Oligarchy
Like many European cities, Prague has gone crazy for fancy hamburgers, and there’s nothing quite like the “oligarch burger” at the eight-month-old George Prime Steak: a juicy patty of imported aged American wagyu with foie gras, black truffle aioli, Brillat-Savarin cheese and – of course – ribbons of 24-karat gold, creating a juicy, smoky explosion of savoury flavours that is served only in the bar (990 koruna/€36).
The burger gets the most attention, but the real draws at this sleek chophouse are the rib-eyes, fillets mignons and strip steaks, including a 34-ounce porterhouse for two (1,950 koruna/€70), all sourced from the United States.
There is also a line of rare American whiskeys that arguably stops at a 22-year-old rye from Hirsch Selection (550 koruna/€20), since the rarest name on the list, 23-year-old Van Winkle bourbon, is usually sold out. Clearly, some oligarchs have good taste. Dinner for two without wine, 2,500 to 4,000 koruna/€90 to €145.
3 Cure Thyself
A few of the movers and (literal) shakers in London’s cocktail scene are Czech bar owners and bartenders; several recently returned to mix up concoctions in Prague.
The best newcomer is Bonvivant’s, a small speakeasy in Old Town that serves drinks prepared with their own house-made flavourings, including rose-hip-and-hibiscus bitters (cocktails, around 150 koruna/€5.50). After a highball, wander the cobblestone streets until you stumble across the two-year-old Anonymous Bar, which takes its design inspiration from V for Vendetta and offers similarly theatrical drinks, such as the St Marry’s Virus cocktail (175 koruna/€6.40), served from a giant syringe.
4 High Grade
Don’t settle for hotel coffee. For years, high-grade arabica was hard to find in Prague, though that changed with the arrival of a few quality cafes and artisanal roasting houses. In tourist-friendly Old Town, however, a big gap remained. Original Coffee opened earlier this year, close to the church of Jan Hus at Betlemske Namesti. Afterwards, burn off that caffeine energy with a morning constitutional. Although the neighbourhood is home to many tourist attractions, Saturday mornings often have fewer crowds, and tiny, little-used streets like nearby Zlata and Stribrna offer plenty of beautiful photo opportunities.
5 Pair Thee Well
Yes, Prague is a beer town, but quality wine is more and more common, especially at meals. The vanguard of the city’s wine culture is the Vinograf wine bar and restaurant at Senovazne Namesti, which serves well-selected Czech wines, mostly from the sunny regions of South Moravia, alongside imports from Austria, France, Italy, Hungary and elsewhere. The menu features Mediterranean and Continental recipes – think of roast pork tenderloin with paprika sauce – that pair well with the 650 or so available bottles. Lunch for two without wine, about 100 koruna/€36).
6 Side Streets
The grungy Zizkov district has developed its colourful cultural life even more in recent years, with a handful of new art galleries north of Skroupovo Namesti. Start out at the two-year-old Drdova Gallery, where the current exhibition includes work from Jiri Thyn, Federico Diaz and Hynek Alt.
Two blocks from there you’ll find Hunt Kastner Artworks, which moved to Zizkov one year ago, down the block from the City Surfer Office, a gallery and exhibition space run by a collective that also has its own record label.
Visit the unusual Bliss Farm Gallery, which turns antique photos into horror-inspired works of art, and 35m2, a tiny exhibition space behind Café Pavlac, where you can finally stop for refreshments.
7 Vintage Designs
Fashion in Zizkov and Vinohrady usually means street wear and retro style. During the week, you can sift through Bohemian Retro’s impressive collection of men’s and women’s vintage clothing, mostly from the former Czechoslovakia; the shop is generally closed on weekends, so call to check.
A decent alternative on a Saturday afternoon: Prague Thrift Store, a less-curated collection of leather trench coats, blazers and even secondhand books.
For ladies’ street wear from Czech designers, try Pour Pour, which stocks decorated acrylic bracelets (390 koruna/€14) and leather backpacks (2,500 koruna/€90), as well as tutu-inspired skirts and dresses.
8 Liberal Arts
Many interesting new developments in the city’s northern districts of Holesovice and Bubenec fly under the radar. Start out at the excellent Kavarna Liberal, an old-school coffeehouse with high ceilings, refreshing spirits and free wifi, where you can ask the friendly locals for tips.
Down the street, check to see if the Galerie Zari, an unusual exhibition space, is open on weekends, as the schedule has recently changed; the neighbouring Galerie Petr Novotny should be open on Saturdays later this spring.
9 Curry Favour
Many Old Town favourites have changed names, owners and cooks repeatedly. Once called Molly Malone’s, the pub on U Obecniho Dvora street is now known as the James Joyce: although the pints of O’Hara’s stout make a nice change from Prague’s ubiquitous pilsners, the ace card here is the pub’s new list of spicy curries. The menu comes from the in-house Sexy Curry Company, which offers jalfrezi, Cape Malay and Thai green curries prepared by Sofia Smith, the chef responsible for several of Prague’s best-loved restaurants. Dinner for two without wine, about 1,000 koruna/€36.
10 Tap Race
Prague’s reputation for great beer is well deserved. The front-runner, Zly Casy, in the south-central Prague district of Nusle, has led the craft beer tap race for years (it now has 48), but last year the pub got yet another expansion, and a new grill menu. Other neighbourhood pubs include the excellent U Vodoucha in Zizkov, serving Bohemian cuisine and mostly regional beers.
And in the very centre of Prague, the stylish, year-old T-Anker bar atop the Kotva department store offers Czech, German and Belgian craft brews on a rooftop terrace.
11 Contemporary Comfort
Even the formerly run-down 28 Rijna street has blossomed, welcoming several new shops, including a branch of Harmont & Blaine, an Italian producer of upscale casual wear.
The stunner, however, is a new outpost of Julius Meinl, the delicatessen in Vienna that opened its three-story food emporium and restaurant here last winter. Even if you don’t feel like buying a whole Mediterranean octopus or one of the 450 kinds of cheese, the renovated Secessionist building is a must-see.
Afterward, recover two doors down with a bowl of contemporary comfort food: hearty tonkotsu ramen (240 koruna/€8.70), filled with pork, seaweed and soft-boiled eggs, at the two-month-old Kitchen Ramen Bar. You can have dumplings some other time.
Sisters, Dlouha 39; chlebicky-praha.cz. Eterno Moderno, Benediktska 4;2008.
cz/eterno-moderno. Kuraz, kuraz.cz. The Room, Skolska 7; basmatee.cz.Thomas’s Barber Shop, thomasbarbershop.cz.
George Prime Steak, Platnerska 19; georgeprimesteak.com.
Bonvivant’s, Bartolomejska 3; facebook.com/bonvivantsctc. Anonymous Bar, Michalska 12; anonymousbar.cz.
Original Coffee, Betlemska 12; originalcoffee.cz.
Vinograf, Senovazne Namesti 23; vinograf.cz.
Drdova Gallery, Krizkovskeho 10; drdovagallery.com. Hunt Kastner Artworks,
huntkastner.com. City Surfer Office, citysurferoffice.tumblr.com. Bliss Farm Gallery, fler.cz/bliss-farm-gallery. 35m2, 35m2.cz.
Bohemian Retro, Chvalova 8; bohemianretro.com. Prague Thrift Store, Sumavska 29;thriftshop.cz. Pour Pour, Vinohradska 74; pourpour.cz.
Kavarna Liberal, Hermanova 6; facebook.com/kavarnaliberal. Galerie Zari, facebook.com/galeriezari. Galerie Petr Novotny, galeriepn.cz.
The James Joyce, U Obecniho Dvora 4; jamesjoyceprague.cz. Sexy Curry Company, thesexycurrycompany.com.
Zly Casy, Cestmirova 5; zlycasy.eu; U Vodoucha, Jagellonska 21; uvodoucha.pivovarkostelec.cz. T-Anker, Namesti Republiky 8; t-anker.cz.
Harmont & Blaine, harmontblaine.it. Julius Meinl, meinlpraha.cz. Kitchen Ramen Bar.
©The New York Times 2014, distributed by The New York Times Syndicate