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The VICE Guide to Europe 2014

The VICE Guide to Prague 2014

Enjoy jazz and drinking in public? Come and hang out here!

by VICE Staff
30 June 2014, 3:40am

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(Photo by Rodrigo Cannedo Cattegno)

The Czech capital is beautiful, steeped in history, gay-friendly and relaxed about drugs. It’s basically the perfect city, or at least it would be if it hadn’t been discovered and overrun by marauding packs of stag-dos, hen parties and other terrible tourists. Here’s our guide to not being like those guys.

Jump to sections by using the index below:

WHERE TO PARTY
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
   Our Demos Are Not Cool | Meet the Immigrants
WHERE TO EAT
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
WHERE TO DRINK
WHERE TO STAY
LGBT PRAGUE
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
VICE CITY MAP

(Photo by Yo Void)

WHERE TO PARTY

Partying in Prague is easy. There are bars on every street and the beer is cheap, but don’t come here hoping to be up at 6AM gurning to 150bpm techno – nights out here are pretty stimulant-free and almost completely devoid of snobbery. Plus, we dance with people because it’s fun, not just because we want to fuck them.

Cross Club
Plynární 23
The young owner of this club apparently didn't quite know what to do with the place when he inherited it, so he did the best thing he could: took a bunch of 'shrooms and started scribbling. Once he recovered, he commissioned someone to turn all the crazy patterns and gears he’d scribbled into sculptures and hung them up on the walls. They’re kind of the mechanical equivalent of those weird, hectic webs spun by junky spiders.

Come here for jungle, ska, punk or rockabilly nights, or – if none of that sounds like your bag – the cinema clubs they put on every now and then. And if you reckon all culture is for poncey snobs and would rather just focus on the cardiovascular disease you've been working on, try one of their deep-fried turkey sandwiches.
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Chapeau Rouge
Jakubská 2
Founded in 1919 and located in an art nouveau building, Chapeau Rouge is a pretty diverse spot. The top floor has an Irish pub vibe with a Czech customer base; the floor below is full of tourists getting shit-faced on well oiled bar crawls; and the floor below that hosts local indie bands and am-dram theatre productions. This place has a pretty relaxed attitude towards weed smoking, which is great, but it does mean the dancefloor is often populated by as many comatose stoners as it is with the people dancing around them. 
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U bukanýra
Nábřeží Ludvíka Svobody
This is kind of the best place in town. For a start, it’s a houseboat where they play house music. In the summer, everyone packs onto the top deck to watch bands play in front of an amazing view of Prague and films are projected in the bar. But why would you ever leave the dancefloor? It’s free to get in, it’s cheap to get drunk and it’s on a bloody boat, mate!
LINK

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(Photo by Yo Void)

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?

The Czechs regularly appear near the top of the European league tables for marijuana consumption, so – unsurprisingly – finding weed here isn’t rare. Dealers are known to hang out in bars in Žižkov or Holešovice, but other substances tend to be more prevalent in clubs.

Weed is widely tolerated and there are some bars where the smell will hit you as soon as you walk by. People also generally get away with smoking on the street, as long as they don't exhale directly into a cop's face – though it is still illegal, of course, and there's no guarantee that you won't get into trouble if you catch an officer on a bad day. Everything else is obviously treated far more seriously. 

When it comes to alcohol, you're basically fine to do whatever you want. Alcohol is a huge part of the culture here, and nobody's going to hassle you for drinking in public until you start hurling dumplings at swans and singing "Inspector Norse" at the top of your lungs.

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(Photo by Rodrigo Cannedo Cattegno)

POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?

OUR DEMOS ARE NOT COOL

The Czechs are generally pretty passive when it comes to politics – although people have recently started to become slightly more engaged. We get the odd demonstration here and there, but they never really boil over into rioting.

In fact, the last time that a protest turned really ugly was in 1989, when the communist government was being ousted in favour of the neo-liberal economic free-for-all we got to enjoy during the 90s. After more than 15,000 people gathered in the largest public show of dissent for two decades, police charged the crowds with batons, seriously injuring a number of protesters. We've steered clear of riots ever since.

The demonstrations we do have are not cool – they're the kind that make you thank your parents for birthing you in a country that doesn't host protests against gay marriage and abortion. Not all of these lame, regressive demos are the same, of course, but they generally follow a similar pattern: slogan yelling, then flag waving, then complete disregard from the entire political system.

Living under communism until 1989 robbed many Czech people of their political initiative, and they’re only now slowly getting their voices back. Considering the current political situation here is characterised by lobbyist politics and corruption, let's hope we soon learn how to vocalise all our resentment in a way that doesn't just involve grumbling about dickhead politicians over a pint.

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(Photo by Yvette de Babraque)

POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?

MEET THE IMMIGRANTS

You get plenty of people being horrible about Ukrainians, because "all those bloody Eastern Europeans have come over here and stolen our work". Never mind that many educated Ukrainians are just as angry as them that they've ended up working in unskilled jobs.

There's also a large Vietnamese population thanks to mass immigration during communism's glory days. In fact, the community is now so large that an area on the outskirts of Prague has been dubbed "Little Hanoi" and is full of Vietnamese schools, shops and restaurants. Weirdly, considering they're also working the jobs that all the disgruntled anti-immigration lot can't seem to get, nobody seems to resent them nearly as much as the Ukrainians; supposedly because they're "dedicated" and "hard-working". Conservatives are confusing.   

There are also a number of English-speaking immigrants who refer to themselves as "ex-pats" (nobody else calls them that). The majority of them moved over here during the 90s, when people who were really into Milan Kundera and Věra Linhartová started calling Prague the "new Paris", and they now hang out at places like Bukowski's in Žižkov, or Napa bar at Malá Strana. It’s not as hip a scene as it once was – probably because they're all old now – but they can still be a lot of fun.

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(Photo by Rodrigo Cannedo Cattegno)

WHERE TO EAT

Lokál
Dlouhá 33
This long, dark hall recreates everything that people hated about Czech pubs in the 70s and 80s (manic waiters, communal seating, very little atmosphere). But it also serves great traditional Czech cuisine, claims to have the best Pilsner in existence and is worth checking out simply to glimpse back into the capital's history.
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Atmosphere Café-Pub
Karolíny Světlé 33
This place is usually filled with students of journalism and film studies, because it's close to their universities, but they know why to go there. It's one of the best places in the area with reasonable prices of drinks and great food. They have good steaks, tortillas and if you are tired of eating pickled camembert alongside the beer (which is usual in Czech pubsú, the have great alternative of their own homemade potatoe chips. 

U Zlatého Tygra
Husova 17
Food in Prague always comes with beer, so the best places to taste traditional food is where they have the best beer. This place has been at the centre of the city's drinking culture for years and was frequented by some of our greatest writers, artists and musicians. My favourite thing about this place is that the waiters know what they’re doing – as soon as you finish your beer, someone thrusts another one in front of you. It's a bit of a scam because you end up drinking/buying more than you wanted to, but it's a charming scam, and it gets you drunk, and they make delicious schnitzel here, which is exactly the kind of thing you want to soak up all those hops.
LINK

Vietnamese Restaurants
Much like how no one outside the Czech Republic really understands what became of Czechoslovakia, no one Czech really understands the concept of vegetables. It's hard to find decent ones in any Czech restaurants, so if you're a vegetarian head to a Vietnamese restaurant, where the chefs realise that green stuff can be fucking delicious as long as you coat it in chilli and fish sauce. 

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(Photo by Cannelle Wane)

WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?

Svíčková
If you want an authentic Czech dish, this is it at its most incomprehensible. The dish is made up of beef sirloin and dumplings smothered in a creamy carrot sauce, before being garnished with cranberries and whipped cream. In English, the name translates to something like “candle sauce”, as it used to only be eaten after dark. 

Goulash
This one is Hungarian originally, but the Czech Republic are crazy for goulash, and these days it’s pretty hard to find a pub that doesn't have a plate of stew somewhere on the menu.

Knedlo-vepřo-zelo
This dish is literally called porko-dumplo-cabbo. There's a bit of pork, a bit of dumpling and a bit of, you know, cabbo. We’re a simple people and we like our meals greasy and filling.

Buns and Vanilla Sauce
As children, we all watched communism vanish with a face full of little buns smothered in a thick vanilla sauce. Adults also order them when they’re feeling depressed – but you get to eat them while you're happy because you’re on holiday.

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(Photo by Yo Void)

WHERE TO DRINK

Dlouhá Street
All the streets around the Old Town square have an art-nouveau vibe, and Dlouhá is the one with the best clubs – 2. Patro, Roxy, Harley's and the Nod. That last spot is one of those "experimental spaces" where video art and music come together to challenge our perception of something or other, but ultimately it’s probably the industrial quantities of booze that make it fun.

Cafés around Národní třída
These places in Opatovická Street are for the sophisticated traveller who’d rather talk about continental philosophy than attempt a shirtless keg stand. It’s got a wine-y, chess-y vibe, like the kind of places RZA probably goes to now he’s pushing 50. For some reason most of the best bars here have fish-themed names: Velryba (the Whale), Malá Ryba (the small fish) and Rybka (another small fish). If it turns into a late one, stumble across the tram tracks to Vzorkovna, which is less wine-y, chess-y and fishy, and more fun-y.

Krymská Street
Further from downtown, but close to the popular neighbourhood of Vinohrady, this area is dominated by Café v Lese. It’s a great venue, although gigs have to finish at 10PM. During the day you’ll stumble across decent (and otherwise hard to find) vegan food at the restaurant Plevel. Also nearby are U Nováka, the smallest club in Prague; a decent alternative club called Pilot; and a handful of other nice restaurants.

Náplavka
During the summer the area around the Vltava river fills up with casual drinkers. Either sit at a table in Bajk Azyl, just below Palackého Námìstí, or bring your own stuff to drink, but don’t throw your fucking rubbish in the river like I once saw a tourist do, or I will personally kick your eyes in.

Žižkov and Vinohrady
Žižkov and Vinohrady are Prague’s best areas. The rent is cheap, they’re far off the tourist beat and the clubs don’t try to cater to everyone. Vinohrady is considered to be Prague’s gay area, though the liberal Czech people generally aren't much of a homophobic bunch anyway. Žižkov is an up-and-coming part of the city that used to have a rough reputation because of all the strip clubs and brothels, but is now home to a host of bars and interesting shops. In fact, Žižkov has over 300 pubs, which is apparently the most per capita of any European city district. In your face, Weymouth!

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(Photo by Yo Void)

WHERE TO STAY

We tend not to judge people in Prague, so the truth is that as long as you’ve got a sleeping bag, you can basically go wherever you want. The nature reserve at Divoká Šárka to the northwest of the city is a beautiful place to spend a night under the stars, or at least under a bush. I mean, no one except the homeless actually does this, but it sounds romantic, right? Maybe you should bring a tent. Oh, but don’t light a fire or they’ll call the police. And obviously don’t do it alone.

If you’re the sort of spoilt tourist who wants to sleep in a bed, like a fucking princess, downtown Prague is stuffed full of hostels. The smallest tend to be in the best locations, like the ones near Kafka's house. The staff will usually speak good English and will direct you to another place if they’re full. If you’re really struggling to find one, the A&O Hotel and Hostel (from about £8 per night for a dorm bed) near the Støížkov Metro station usually has spare rooms and is pretty reasonable.

Alternatively, why not spend the night at Koleje Strahov, the official dormitory of Charles University? They may not be clean or pretty, but they’re close to the cheap student bars, and from as little as four quid per night you can't really complain. Fun fact: the rooms here are smaller than the cells in Pankrác prison because students are literally worse than criminals.

The place we’d really recommend is Fusion Hotel (from around £11 per night for a dorm bed, or £50 for a room). It's a designer hotel and hostel just a few steps from Wenceslas Square. They have a decent bar you can go to without having to wander the streets, and there’s a good soup kitchen – Soup in the City – just down the road.

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(Photo by Moroni Flores)

LGBT PRAGUE

In 2011, then-president Vaclav Klaus spoke out about his disdain for what he called ”homosexualism", and in a stirring show of unity pretty much the entire country banded together against him. Various public figures took the opportunity to come out, and the Czech gay scene has never been healthier. Haha – fuck you, Vaclav! Prague’s Pride march runs every year, and is one of the best parties in the city's calendar.

Prague also has a rep for gay tourism, and is known as both the gay porn capital of the world and "twink-city". Nobody will bat an eyelid at gay couples showing affection in public, but the best gay hangouts are Q café and the Termix bar. They’re both great places to get a drink, regardless of what flavour of hole it is you’re interested in exploring.

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(Photo by Igor Bruso)

WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER

Vzorkovna
Bartolomějská 13
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that goes on in Vzorkovna but whatever it is, it’s always worth checking out. The place is a surreal combination of a goth bar, a rural pub and a gym. There used to be pigs running around at one point, but apparently they eventually got turned into bacon. There’s live music quite often – usually jazz students doing some jazzing.
LINK

Meetfactory
Ke sklárně 3213/15
This place is outside of the city centre, so you’re unlikely to run across it unless you make a concerted effort to get there – but that’s definitely worth doing, even if it’s just to check out the two red cars hung from the façade like cows in a butcher’s freezer. The venue is a combined gallery and studio space, and it’s run as a non-profit to allow artists free rein to create whatever they want. The results are a mix of powerful, strange and confusing installations, as well as a fair bit of meaningless bullshit.
LINK

The Beer Garden at Letná
Letenské sady
At the far end of Letná park there’s a beautiful beer garden called Zahrádky. The view of Prague from up there is magnificent, and it's a great place to hang out on a bright summer afternoon.
LINK

Rent a Rowboat / Pedal Boat
Žofín Island
There are loads of places to hire out boats on Žofín – a little island right next to the National Theatre. On hot summer days the river will be full of people out on the water, and it’s a pretty safe bet that there will be people taking booze and weed out with them to throw a mini boat party.

Jazz Dock
Janáčkovo nábřeží 2
Like jazz? Like docks? You’re gonna lose your shit for the Jazz Dock. It’s a chilled, neon-lit space where boats amble past on the Vltava and you wonder why it is you've chosen to live in Peckham.
LINK

Čítárna Unijazz
Jindřišská 5
When you arrive you have to ring the bell labelled "Čítárna" and wait for them to buzz you in. Climb up five floors and you find yourself in a furnished apartment with a fully stocked bar and a library in the back.

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(Photo by Yo Void)

HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP

When you come to Prague, one of the first things you’ll have to do is change your currency for Czech crowns. Never, ever do this with a guy on the street. These gangs of crooks will offer you a really good exchange rate but will never actually give you any Czech crowns. Instead, you’ll get Hungarian forints or Ukrainian hryvnias, which have a much lower value. I can't imagine you're stupid enough to swap currency with a random stranger, but if you do feel like you need some pointers, these guys tend to loiter around Republic Square and Wenceslas Square.

Celetná Street, right in the historic centre of Prague, runs from the Charles Bridge to Republic Square, and is the most likely place for you to have your pockets picked outside of public transport.

As we mentioned earlier, don’t buy from street dealers – the only thing the guys on Wenceslas Square are pushing is a wide range of placebos that are probably just tea, flour, aspirin and other hangover cures that are the opposite of what you want.

Some taxi drivers in Prague have one fare for locals and another for tourists. To avoid these thieving bastards, look for taxi ranks with “Fair Place” signs.

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(Photo by Tibor Mecoun)

HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST

Prague is full of tourists, all year round. Most of them walk about in large groups, snapping pictures of everything from pissing dogs to parked cars, and that's fine. It's only once someone sticks them on a Segway that things start to get ridiculous. They will run you down with zero fucks given. You occasionally get thrown a half-arsed attempt at an apology, but by then they're already down the street looking for their next victim.

Besides those rogue, biomechanical Dutch pensioners, tourists are generally well liked in Prague, and you should have no problem getting around. Many people enjoy brushing up on their English skills, so don't be freaked out if someone wants to exchange a few words with you just for the hell of it. One word of advice, though: don't yell in the trams. The locals find that absolutely infuriating.

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(Photo by Yo Void)

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID

Electro-Swing People
They're relentlessly upbeat, they wear polka dots and fedoras and they're better at dancing than you’ll ever be. Their music is both atrocious and inexplicably popular in the Czech capital.

Street Dealers
These guys get nasty, so just walk on by. I was once forced to buy a stick of tar instead of hash at knifepoint, and was actually pretty glad that the only thing I lost was a few hundred crowns and my dignity. These hustlers all crawl out of their holes at sundown and seem intent on offering drugs and/or prostitutes to just about anyone who crosses their path.

Hailing Taxi Drivers
It’s always safer and cheaper to call a taxi than hail one on the street. Here, have some taxi numbers: 222 111 000 or 257 257 257.

Staroměstské náměstí on the Hour
The twirling apostles on top of the medieval astrological clock in the town square ring on the hour, every hour from 9AM to 9PM. You know who the only people who enjoy that tedious spectacle are? The swarms of tourists who clog up the streets around it.

The Park in Front of the Main Station (Hlavní Nádraží)
Locals call it "Sherwood" because you can get robbed in broad daylight. However, disappointingly, the thieves don’t even bother wearing tights.

The Little Park Behind the Museum
The National Museum is a pompous neo-renaissance building at the top of Wenceslas Square. You can’t miss it, although you’ll want to after dark – unless hanging out with street junkies is your idea of a good time.

Pařížská street
Home to Hermes, Tiffany's and lots of other places that don’t become interesting until you’ve started your menopause.  

Karlovy Lázně club
If you’re old enough to drink then you’re older than everyone else in here.

Le Clan
If you can’t get an invite to a house party when everywhere else in town closes, there are usually only two places left to go: Studio 54 isn’t great, but it’s definitely preferable to the zombie drug casualties who make up the clientele at Le Clan.

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(Photo by Tibor Mecoun)

TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES

Tipping
The standard way to tip in Czech bars and restaurants is to take the amount you owe and round it up until it ends in a zero. So, for example, if your lunch is 92 crowns, round that up to 100. If you owe over 100 crowns, take 10 percent, round it up and leave that as a tip.

The only place I'd advise you not to tip is in Prague's taxis. Because if they can tell you're a tourist – which they can – they'll have already raised the fare. Of course, not everyone does this, but if you work out that you're paying more than the standard 30 crowns per kilometre, don't leave a tip because you're already being ripped off.

Handy Phrases
Hello – ahoj (informal) or dobrý den (formal)
You're welcome – děkuji or díky (informal shortened version of děkuji)
Goodbye – Na shledanou (formal) or ahoj
Please – prosím
Beer – pivo
One more beer, please – Ještě jedno pivo, prosím
You look beautiful today – Dneska vám to moc sluší (formal) or Wypadáš skvěle (informal)
Shall we go to my place or yours? – Půjdeme ke mně nebo k tobě domů?

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A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC

Ever heard Czech hip-hop? Here are five songs of that, and some other stuff you're also going to love!

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VICE CITY MAP

Catch you all at the Jazz Dock,

Love,

– VICE Czech Republic 

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