Three years ago, Krymská street was the big thing. Either you embraced it — the street-wide carnivals, cafes, vegan restaurants, everything — or you were expelled from hipsterhood. But how have the place changed since?
When you visit a bookstore anywhere abroad, pick up the first Prague city guide you can find — chances are that Krymská will be featured there. It’ll probably be peppered with terms like ‘hip’, ‘alternative’, ‘DIY’, ‘scene’ and ‘Berlin’. But don’t get too excited: this ain’t no Friedrichshain. Krymská is situated in the district of Vršovice, where you can miss the right turn and suddenly find yourself in a (literal) ditch, with all the cafes and whatnot just a few meters away. It’s a rather small microcosm, is what we are saying. During the past six years, Krymská changed a lot: first, there was dirt, then grandeur, and now the whole place experiences some post-gentrification hangover.
We remember the amazing Korso Krymská of 2013 a huge event where hundreds of people absolutely clogged the whole street (and several more). There is a small park situated next to Krymská, where you could listen to poetry and indie music from 1pm till dusk. Granted, the early-afternoon crowd consisted mostly of hippie worshipers of the Great Church of Tofu and their finely bred dogs, but it was worth it. The weather was amazing and, most importantly, you could just feel that you’re in the middle of something great.
Things have changed since then. Hip mothers and their tunic-clad children relocated to a cafe called Králík v rádiu (‘A rabbit inside a radio’ — don’t make much of it, we don’t get it, too), while we took our notebooks, our curiosity and scores of authentic reports from days past, and went to find out for ourselves.
Part One: Cafes Where Art Comes to Life (Sometimes)
“At the beginning, Café v Lese was really punk-y,” a former bartender revives. “People noticed the place almost immediately, so it was often full house even in 2011, years before the hipster wave hit. Locals came often, as well as people from the nearby theater. After rehearsals, they would come and drink until we showed them off. Then, they’d go right to Café Sladkovský, and continue till the wee hours.”
Café v Lese was the most integral part of the whole Krymská phenomenon: a place where you could get some nice coffee during the day, enjoy a fine gig in the evening, and get drunk afterwards. It’s of course still going strong (some of us would even argue that among places that focus on guitar-driven music, this is the best one), but as of 2017, things have kinda settled down. The curfew on live gigs is set at 10pm, and aside from that, there’s not much going on anymore (imagine your typical, quiet-ish cafe located just outside the city center). Six years ago, the place was brimming with young artists — and, by proxy, infinitely more punk.
“Once I went inside to clean up, and I saw the curtains pulled up. There was a girl behind the bar, but I didn’t know her. I asked her what she was doing there, I stepped up — and then I saw some strange guy lying on the floor, all passed out. I thought he was dead, but the girl started kicking him, telling me not to worry: ‘It’s just my husband.’ ‘Okay’, I thought to myself, and started cleaning the floor around him.”
So, things have settled down for Café v Lese. For Café Zenit, not so much. Zenit was founded in 2014 by Petra Hůlová, a famous Czech writer, and since Krymská was at its prime back then, people started flooding the place almost immediately. By the time Café v Lese had its clientele sorted, Zenit experienced a full-frontal blow of The Great Prague Hipsterwave.
“You could see them coming in — the ugly sweaters, the mustaches, the iPods. But there weren’t as many of them,” says a former employee. “Lots of customers were locals. Things were hectic back then.” Vojtěch Varyš, a well-known Czech journalist, felt in love with the place almost immediately; rumors are that it was his hedonistic consumption of aniseed spirits that kept Zenit in business (we’re positive they’re not that much off). “One of the barflies was an older stripper who lived just round the corner. She used to carry a live ferret with her.”
“The locals were not always of the ‘young and hip’ variety. Lots of older men would come after work for some cheap coffee and rum. They didn’t quite grasp the whole ‘Krymská as a hipster hub’ concept. They’d wonder what happened to their street. Every night, people would drink wine and listen to terrible rock music. All the places at Krymská were competing with each other. We’d get the memo that a water pipe burst at Café Sladkovský, and within a few minutes, dozens of people stormed in and started drinking immediately. Now, the place rarely gets this crowded; it’s all kinda mellowed out.”
Part Two: Tales of Upper Class in the Middle of a Worker’s District
The aforementioned Café Sladkovský, known among locals as ‘Sladkáč’, is situated a few metres away from Krymská, but you won’t find a better example of the area’s diversity. It’s entirely possible that you’d walk in and see a young man with glasses reading Foucault’s essays, sitting right next to a crew of tattooed musicians loudly drinking beer at 2pm. Apart from them, two lovers might enjoy a glass of wine, while a group of marketing experts order tempeh burgers at the back. Someone is probably shooting a music video somewhere. What once used to be a drinking hub has now transformed into a cafe you’d be right to describe as ‘Bohemian’, whatever that means.
The transformation of Sladkáč can be probably tied to its progressively more restrictive approach to smoking. “At first, you could just smoke anytime,” our contact says. “Then, they’ve banned smoking till 4pm. Then it was pushed to 6pm, and now the ban ends at 10pm. Every time they’d push it back, the overall atmosphere calmed down.”
The male half of our editorial unit proposed to stop at Plevel, a famous raw vegan restaurant. “My life motto is ‘I Fought the Raw and I Won’, snaps the female half. Nevertheless, the place can be appealing even for the most avid meat-eaters: they have Polička on tap, which is a delicious local micro-brew hailing from a small town in Eastern Bohemia. “Me and a friend of mine sometimes go there just for the beer,” the male half confides. “You go to Plevel to drink beer,” the female half awes. She thinks she misheard. She did not.
At the junction of Krymská and Donská streets, a non-stop bar used to operate. It was that kind of place where you could tumble in at 8am and still find people who drank through the whole night (the usual reaction was to laugh at them and then painfully realize that you’re in a pub at 8am). The gentrification process caused it to shut down and be replaced by BadFlash Bar, which is a rather luxurious bar / pub where they have more beers on tap than The Rolling Stones have records. Sometimes, huge parties break out inside, but that’s usually limited to weekends and organized meetings. Otherwise, you don’t need to be afraid to just go inside and check your e-mails while trying some delicious rare beers. The old non-stop bar was much more… depressing.
“It was always nearly empty,” a former barfly reveals. “They used to play this really bad TV channel packed with cheap 90’s radio music. You’d hear some Faith No More, Guano Apes, this kind of shit. Dating messages would appear onscreen — messages from people so desperate they thought it was a good idea to find a mate this way. ‘I’m in Kladno right now and I’m horny’ — these kinds of messages. It felt really, really sad.”
Bars and cafes on Krymská come and go. On the upper part, under the Czech Inn hotel, a great indie music club called Basement Bar appeared, gained notoriety, and disappeared again. On the lower part, you can now visit InCider, which is a bar devoted entirely to ciders. There was a venue called Klub Pilot packed inside an old cinema; it is defunct now, but the cinema ( Kino Pilotů) started rolling again. One of the places that survived the whole maelstrom used to be known among locals as U Nováka, a chill lounge bar. In 2013, it was the epitome of trendiness — all it took was to hide it away from the eyes of literally everyone, apart from those who already knew it was there. There was no sign outside, the door was never lit, and no-one knew about the opening hours (probably because they were never firmly set).
Nowadays, the bar functions rather normally. It’s apparently called ‘ Bar v Krymský, which is as lazy as it gets, but it adds to the overall coolness of the place. Of course we went inside.
This place was always popular mainly among expats. Probably because it mirrors the whole ‘cool and hip’ ethos baedekers push upon Krymská to this day. Also, they don’t have beer on tap, which is still an issue among many Czechs. The atmosphere inside is chilled out and lovably surreal: There is a large yellow bouquet placed on a windowsill, the air conditioner is heading the wall (for some reason), the door is obscured by a thick velvet curtain, and bottles of liquor behind the bar share space with motorcycle helmets. “I’d think there would be lights,” says the female half of our crew, pointing at the ceiling. “But these are no lights. These look like something between speakers and stroboscopes,” she muses while thinking whether she should order her gin tonic with cucumber, lemon, or lime.
If Roald Dahl’s childlike fantasies were a bar, they would look like this. The place is really small and absolutely packed — it looks like a foyer of a small underground theater. There are some chairs, but most of the people just stand up somewhere, holding their drinks. A DJ uses up all the space in the corner. He plays some sort of contemporary jazz / samba mix. There is a huge mirror behind him, magnifying the whole experience. On the wall, a bizarre 90’s poster catches our attention.
“This is, like, a staircase-type space,” our female half reviews. “It’s totally Escher-esque. Or maybe Lynch-esque.” She points at the poster: “See, if a child saw this, they’d get nightmares. Adults too.” We’re enchanted.
Part Three: Where to Get a Proper Drinking Experience (Hipster-Free, Mostly)
Krymská is a residential street; it got gentrified because of low rents, which caused young artists to come in. The original ‘deadbeat’ feeling didn’t completely vanish, though. It just clustered into a few places, and Sběrné suroviny is one of them. This is a plain old pub; really nothing fancy, just a great underground bar with, like, five separate rooms, one of which serves as a gig venue (for punk bands, mostly). If you are at Krymská and want to meet a proper punker drunkenly explaining the juxtaposition between Marxism and shitty pub rock lyrics, this is the ultimate place to go. Honestly? It’s amazing.
Our editorial unit sometimes meet at Suroviny to plan ahead, because A) they got Polička on tap and B) this is the kind of place that doesn’t burden you with expectations. As long as you don’t cause violent riot, this is your safe space. We’ve heard firsthand about people asking the bartender whether they can play the guitar hanging above the bar only to burst into extremely loud Radiohead impressions at 5am, but that’s rather rare. Few people can get so hammered they’d think it’d be a good idea to out-sing 1997’s Thom Yorke in a pub at Vršovice. Pro tip: Don’t do that. They’ll throw your ass out. Even punks have limits.
However, to end the Krymská trip at Suroviny seemed too conventional to us. This is a rather famous pub; it’s usual to head there after gigs at Café v Lese end, and, moreover, there are two Foursquare hotspots, which is a universal sign of famous-ness among the smartphone people. So we decided to shake things up a little and swapped Suroviny for a lesser known pub called Pivnice Na Tržišti. The main reason was the promise of Braník on tap — think of Braník as of a sort of Czech PBR (as in, a beer mostly enjoyed by people doing so ironically, as our female half can readily attest to). We weren’t disappointed. It took us just a few minutes to meet a guy who ended the whole evening with a quote so powerful we’re gonna post it here in its entirety and end the article with that.
“Look, I got married in 1989. It was November, right before the Velvet Revolution. And yeah, we got drunk. We got so fucking drunk that my dad must have climbed up the roof, I don’t know. I don’t really remember. My dad was fucking hammered, man. He tried to feed my wife some bullshit, but he couldn’t express himself, so after a few hours he just plain gave up and went to pee. Naturally, he pissed into the fucking cupboard. But who gives a shit, right? The next morning we got up, put on the TV, and saw the Revolution. There were like a million people there. ‘The government stepped down,’ they said. And I saw my dad sitting there, hungover as shit, drinking his morning beer, tears strolling down his face. ‘First the wedding, now this…’, he said, sobbing happily. ‘This will forever be the best weekend of my life.’”