Next Great Neighborhoods: Prague
SOUTH OF NARODNI
The wits and wags used to call Prague "the Left Bank of the nineties," but now the Bohemian grunge of Generation X has yielded to the gourmet gang of Generation Tech. A host of Web-savvy young Czechs and expats have followed the Hemingway wannabes who flooded Prague a decade ago, and are now logging on, cashing in, and living it up. The new HQ for Prague's Internet set is a dozen-odd square blocks of dusty fin de siècle apartment buildings just south of Narodni Street. Fittingly, Narodni is the place where student demonstrators were clubbed by Communist riot cops—the blow that launched the Velvet Revolution and chucked out Czechoslovakia's Communist regime—in November 1989.
The low rents, high ceilings, and cultural havens south of Narodni, just off the well-beaten tourist track, are attracting filmmakers, Internet start-ups, and dozens of new cafés and restaurants. Most important, the tour groups who come to see Prague Castle and the winding streets of the medieval city don't even realize this chic area is here. Instead, the gathering places south of Narodni are populated by dancers and divas from the National Theater, artists from local galleries and the Manes Exhibition Hall, and students and faculty from Prague's nearby film, art, and theology schools.
CAFÉS Jazz Café Cislo 14 14 Opatovicka; 420-2/2492-0039. A required stop on Prague's café circuit in the 1930's, when local painter Jan Zrzavy and stand-up comic Jan Werich were regulars. It has retained its bohemian character; students earnestly discuss philosophy, literature, and love between sips of absinthe and drags on their Petras. Velryba 24 Opatovicka; 420-2/2491- 2391. There's nothing better to do south of Narodni than lounge over a cappuccino or a "beton" (a shot of Becherovka, an herb liqueur, and tonic water) in the neighborhood's original lizard lounge. It's smoky, chic, and a bit shopworn. Marathon Café Bookshop 9 Cerna; 420-2/2198-8220. For an authentic intellectual experience, join the theology students as they debate and drink coffee in the spacious café in Prague's Protestant theology center. Globe Bookstore & Coffeehouse 6 Pstrossova; 420-2/491-6264. Where it all began—sort of. This is the new home of the old Globe Coffeehouse, where international writers have come for a decade to read their work. Now with a Web site (www.globebookstore.cz), better coffee, and a computer at every table, the scribes of the aughties simply power up, log on, and reinvent their stereotypes.
RESTAURANTS Universal 6 Vjircharich; 420-2/2491-8182; dinner for two $20. A favorite lunch spot for journalists and filmmakers, with stick-to-your-ribs bistro cooking in an airy space that vaguely recalls those Revolution-era Parisian restaurants. Angel Café 3 Opatovicka; 420-2/2493-0019; brunch for two $15. Showing off her Malaysian heritage, British-born chef-owner Sofia Aziz prepares Prague's freshest and most imaginative international cuisine in a sleek yet friendly setting. Weekend brunch may well be Prague's best, with freshly baked biscuits and brown sugar pancakes. Russky Samovar 25 Dittrichova; 420-2/2491-1507; dinner for two $200. Nothing exceeds like excess in this overcrammed Russian restaurant, all polished wood and shining brass. There's even a stuffed black bear and portraits of the czars. Prague's thriving Russian community feasts here on solianka, a stew of beef, pork, chicken, ham, and tongue baked with sauerkraut and capers.
AFTER DARK Red Room 17 Kremencova; 420-2/2491-6047. The all-red hang of choice for American e-entrepreneurs usually gets hopping late. California chef Tom Ponder turns out Prague's finest cheeseburger and Caesar salad. Bar 23 23 Kremencova; 420-2/2493-0262. Photographers, actors, and neighborhood habitués are all part of bartender Ilona Sulcova's extended "family" in this wood-paneled den, plastered with stills of Czech showbiz greats. Outsiders are welcome: Sit in a corner and match the faces with the photos. Dynamo 29 Pstrossova; 420-2/2493-2020. Prague's own venture capitalists and filmmakers favor Dynamo's excellent yet inexpensive grub, which warms up the cold, high-tech Japanese interior. The chairs are molded plywood, the tabletops are plastic, and the walls are postered with Japanese space cowgirls. Solidni Nejistota 21 Pstrossova; 420-2/2491-0593. The preferred meet market for Czech yuppies. DJ Jirka Vlasak plays danceable hits and keeps the hip-hop to a tolerable minimum under the vaulted red ceilings of this former print shop. Vinny Senk 9 Naplavni; 420-608/161-271. Revelers bring their own plastic jugs to the bare-walled taproom of Vinny Senk (the name means "Seven Steps"), where they refill with wine shipped up from the vineyards of owner Daniela Kurkova's cousins.
SHOPPING Grishko 4 Mikulandska; 420-2/2491-0359. National Theater prima ballerinas and students of Prague's dance conservatory shop here for toe shoes and tutus. Owner Nikolai Grishko, purveyor of dancing supplies to Moscow's Bolshoi ballet, will gladly let you try some on, even if you're not a dancer. Vaclav Matous 10 Mikulandska; 420-2/291-448. The tintinnabulation of a thousand clocks echoes through this shop, where you'll find everything from a new watchband to an 18th-century grandfather clock or a secondhand Rosskopf Patent pocket watch, the reliable but cheap turn-of-the-century "people's watch" (for as little as $35).
ART British Council Window Gallery 10 Narodni; 420-2/2199-1123. One of Prague's most innovative spaces, this former East German cultural center and its huge streetside vitrines form an open-24-hours walk-by gallery of top Czech contemporary art and London's hot BritArt scene. It's curated by young British sculptor Andree Cooke, and shows change every two months. Galerie Vojtesska 17 Vojtesska; 420-2/2492-0236. This small, spare gallery attracts collectors from across Europe to monthly auctions of works by leading Czech artists such as Emil Filla, Vaclav Spala, Frantisek Kupka, and Jan Zrzavy as well as other early-20th-century masters.