CREATIVE HUBS: PRAGUE
Lads. Listen up: sorted a right weekend for Big Dave’s stag do. Cheap flights, absolutely loads of booze … absinthe lads, it’s what that painter was on when he cut his ear off … strip clubs, and err, err, a site-specific art installation hanging above the serving window of a factory canteen. Sorted.
The Czech Republic capital is many things — UNESCO world heritage site, home of modernist literature great Franz Kafka, 14th century Charles Bridge, spires and squares and narrow streets and loads and loads of things that make travel writers overuse fairytale as an adjective — but it is the lads-on-tour stag dos (born of that lethal combination: cheap flights and obscenely cheap alcohol) that has stuck to Prague; like discarded chewing gum to shoes.
And doesn’t chewing gum stick? Luckily, buzzing neighbourhoods like Žižkov, Vršovice and Karlín, and events like Designblok and Prague Design Week are putting the elbow grease in for you; speciality coffee has arrived — complete with twirly moustaches — there is craft beer to accompany the famed pilsners, a burgeoning Czech food scene, contemporary art spaces galore and design-led hotels to house a new breed of traveller. Prague is shaking off its shackles; there is a new bohemian in Bohemia.
Operating since the turn of the century, Designblok has taken major strides in recent years — finding itself high on the list of international design fairs. With a tradition of hosting its three main shows (Superstudio, Openstudio and Art House) in imposing buildings, usually inaccessible by the public, the festival incorporates design and fashion, and attracts cutting-edge exhibitors who will be hawking their wares around major events like Milan Design Week and London Design Festival, alongside lesser-known local talent; of which there is plenty.
Riding on the success of Designblok, Prague Design Week is a fledgling event hosted at Kafka’s House, and due for only its third edition this May. Focussing heavily on Czech creatives, its lectures and workshops look to keep Prague’s cultural scene moving forward with pace. Of course you needn’t wait until an annual event is underway to enjoy design here: gallery-shop Křehký offers a cornucopia of little somethings for fans of that point where design meets art; and Cihelna — curated by illustrator Silvie Luběnová — is a sophisticated concept store treading a similar path.
One thing that we know about the sort of traveller being attracted to the historical capital of Bohemia is that they can’t leave design in events, exhibitions or boutiques, it’s imperative that design consumes their travels — where do the creative class put their heads down in Prague? The answer: options are expanding. Indeed, the city has been one concerned with grandeur, or with sizeable, business-minded hotels … yet the shaking of shackles is happening across the city’s bedrooms, too.
Built in 1967 — amid a time of political change and renewed liberty — Parkhotel had a little revamp of its public spaces recently, original architect Zdeněk Edel involved in a vision that builds upon the hotel’s cultural legacy. Your room might remain a little … Corby Trouser Press … but at least you can enjoy posh contemporary furniture in its lobby.
Those with enough Czech koruna to splash out can rocket themselves partway up the 216m Žižkov Television Tower; renamed Tower Park Praha, the 1985 structure now boasts a restaurant, bar, and one-room hotel. Yep, from 70m in the sky you can enjoy unrivalled views of the famous city, from an unashamedly retro cabin complete with wood-panelling. Taking on later 20th century design and fusing it with the thousands of years of heritage that Prague is forged upon, Hotel Josef — in the city’s old town — is all stark minimalism set on streets steeped in history.
Stepping back somewhat further in time, into a 13th century monastery in the city’s picturesque heart, The Augustine eschews 20th century design in favour of something altogether more grand. This used to be a Rocco Forte hotel, so expect a certain level of opulence — contemporary flashes will retain the interest of design-lovers. However, I think those bohemian sorts will be most excited by The Emblem; an Art Deco-inspired property that cares greatly about design, art, and showing you a good time. (Among the hotel’s offerings is Prague’s first members’ club.)
Culture organisation Are collaborate with The Emblem on bespoke art walks — because, where there is design, there is art. And here in Prague, there is plenty of it. There are big, established galleries — Museum Montanelli (MuMo); DOX Centre for Contemporary Art — and reputed institutions at the bleeding-edge (FUTURA Center for Contemporary Art is a three-floor not-for-profit initiative that hosts boundary-pushing exhibitions and shares an artist residency program with Brooklyn’s Triangle Arts Association), but there is a wealth of small, independent outfits too.
Marie Vránová and Eva Pejchalová’s Galerie Kin operates from the canteen of the Koh-i-Noor (a renowned Czech pencil brand) factory, where they have a studio. Artists create site-specific works that are hung above the canteen’s serving window. Quite.
Nevan Contempo in Žižkov occupies a tiny space in an old garage, accessible via a small alley, and behind grungy ‘old timer’ boozer Belzepub. Hunt Kastner Gallery is a nearby space established on a desire to push local artists into the international art community; mission succeeded — the gallery having taken emerging Czech talent as far as New York’s Frieze and Art Basel Miami Beach.
We could be here all day, and keen art enthusiasts could be here all week; Prague is a city in creative flux, art and design at its core — but write other creative fields off at your peril. Billing itself as a ‘multifunctional theatre, music club, gallery, training halls, rehearsal room and gym’, Jatka78 is home to contemporary circus company Cirk La Putyka, but is really a whole lot more … performances, workshops, conferences, discussions, lectures, exhibitions and happenings are promised.
Sandwiched between a motorway and railway in Smíchov, MeetFactory looks to experimental, interdisciplinary projects across its theatre, art and music programs — the non-for-profit arts centre nurturing local and international creative talent.
And where there are hotbeds of culture, there are offbeat spots to enjoy a brief respite. Žižkov’s Café Pavlac shares a courtyard with 35m² Gallery (operated by the same folk) and serves up decent coffee and decent grub, nearby Bajkazyl will fix you up a microbrewed ale while they fix up your fixie. And when two hipster scenes collide, you know you’ve arrived. Artisan coffee is here too, Doubleshot Roastery duo Můj šálek kávy and Místo are two spots dedicated to the bean, Karlín’s Bistro Proti is an ice-cool new café that follows a citywide trend for impressive interior fit-outs.
Jonesy might be looking for somewhere else to take the lads.