Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Vacation Series: Prague


A Twitter follower of mine asked for some coffee-shop suggestions in Prague, and I am not one to disappoint. I went to Prague in the dead of winter two years ago. Traveling by myself, I made sure to stop in at many cafes. Before I go on to tell you which cafes are Prague's best, I must first add a small disclaimer. Since I was traveling in the dead of winter, I tried to drink as little caffeine as possible because I have a form of arthritis that limits blood flow, making me super cold and hard for me to move my hands and feet, and caffeine speeds up the process. So while I did enjoy more hot chocolates in Prague than coffee, I still have a pretty good understanding of Czech's best cafes.


The first thing you need to know is that Prague is not a coffee town. I have a friend who lived in Prague for four months, and as she puts it, "Praha isn't about sitting and drinking coffee per se, it's more about the sweets you have with it. So you usually have a sweet or desert at the cafe. It's a lot about pairing the two." 


The first cafe I'll tell you about is located very near the "Praha" building pictured above. It's called Cafe Louvre. One of my biggest regrets from my trip to Prague is that I walked inside this cafe... and then I walked right back out. My friend told me I had to visit it and that it was awesome, but she didn't tell me why. When I walked in, it was dark and dreary and very smokey. Not my type of place... so I thought.


From the street, the cafe's facade isn't all too alluring:



And when you step inside the door, it doesn't get much better:



Throw in some thick, smokey air and it's no wonder why I walked straight back out. I wish I hadn't, because just up those stairs there is a beautiful non-smoking section:




When I told my friend that I went in but did not stay because it was too dark and smokey, she responded, "I think they like it to be one of those 'this is where all the great thinkers once were' type of things. But if I remember correctly, there is smoking and non-smoking seating for meals, but the cafe part for coffee and such is a bit smaller and darker just by it's location. I mean everywhere is smokey. All these places are. It's part of the coffee house/restaurant/bar feel there and the lifestyle because you can smoke wherever you want. But Cafe Louvre just has this amazing history and vibe, especially if music is playing and if it's raining out and you are reading a great book and drinking coffee."

When she told me all this, I wanted to kick myself in the butt. I am usually such a good traveler. Fitting into the customs and going with the flow, but for some reason at Cafe Louvre I let my American stuffiness get the best of me. If I ever go back to Prague, Cafe Louvre will be my first stop. The history of Cafe Louvre is also quite impressive. Opening in 1902, it was always a place for the elite. Cafe goers at the time were of the upper echelons of society. Cafe Louvre's website lists some of its most famous patrons, saying it "was visited by many world-renowned celebrities and several associations and organisations were established here. For example in the year 1925, the Čapek brothers founded the Czech "Pen Club". In the year 1910, the “Sursum” art association was formed here. Franz Kafka used to visit with his friends, and so did Albert Einstein during his stay in Prague in 1911-1912."




So what did I do after I walked in and out of Cafe Louvre? Found another cafe of course! I went down by the river to Cafe Savory. Founded in 1893, Cafe Savory was stripped of its lingering tobacco and alcohol aroma in 2001 and renovated for a second time in 2005. Today, the cafe is returned to its old world charm with a clean modern flair. I ordered a hot chocolate and some ham and egg meal that I don't quite remember. Luckily, I kept a journal so I will tell you about the cafe from actually being there and not two years later:


"While on my way to the Dancing House (picture included at the bottom of this post) I passed a cafe that looked nice, so I went back to have a cup of hot chocolate to warm me up. Everybody raves about Swiss hot chocolate, but having just been in Switzerland their hot chocolate does not compare. This hot chocolate here was amazing beyond belief! So creamy and by far the best I have ever had. I also ordered a small lunch, which ended up being very big. I couldn't even finish it. It was brie cheese melted over Czech ham (which tasted like baked ham) on top of freshly baked bread and a bed of salad. I stayed for a while. They sat me right next to the heater so I was able to defrost a bit."


A few other must visit cafes in Prague:
  • Mystak. This is actually a sweets shop that serves coffee. That being said, it is typical Czech to go more for the deserts than the espresso, very different cafe culture than places in Italy where the Italians pride themselves on the best cappuccino. 
  • Kavarna Slavia. This place serves giant cups of coffee and is located right on the river.

Traveling this summer? Want a post about coffee shops and cafes abroad? Tweet @DCoffeeSnob or email me at SamanthasBrewedAwakening@gmail.com. 

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