When someone says a city is evolving at a feverish pace, it’s often an exaggeration. Not so with Prague. Here, it’s like a fertilizer is being spread across the city overnight—you wake up each day to discover another exciting new place has popped up.
Prague’s transformation consists of a welcome stream of smart new shops, cool cafés, and other creative concepts, thanks to a new generation of young Czech entrepreneurs. These well-traveled innovators are bringing back experiences from abroad and adapting them to their home city. Whereas just 10 years ago Prague still felt a bit stuck in the past, these savvy locals are brightening once dark spaces and bringing a refreshed energy to the city through this new breed of urban offerings.
The result? A uniquely Czech experience that puts Prague on par with capital cities around the world.
A sophisticated coffee break
Stroll down the east end of Prague’s Korunni street in the leafy Vinohrady district and you’ll notice one storefront has people spilling out onto the cobblestone sidewalk. Coffee Room, which started with just a bar, a couple of tables, and owner Jiri Mahr behind the counter is now one of Prague’s buzziest specialty coffee cafés.
Set to celebrate its fourth anniversary this April, the stylish neighborhood café helped put Prague’s now booming specialty coffee scene in motion as one of the city’s first. “We’ve brought Prague a different level of customer service, good vibes, and atmosphere,” says Mahr, who founded Coffee Room with his wife, Monika Mahrova.
The young duo, who grew up together and married in 2015, were inspired to start the café while living in London when Mahr starting “working in coffee” and they fell in love with it. After a successful experiment at Coffee Room, they’ve united specialty coffee with homemade doughnuts in their newest venture: the nearby Donut Shop. “We’re very proud of Prague now, what’s happening around,” says Mahr, a former journalist.
“When we opened, there was nothing here,” adds Mahrova. “Maybe we’ve played a part in bringing all the new businesses to the area.”
Making space for contemporary art
In a poignant contrast to their parents and grandparents, whose ability to travel was limited during the communist regime, this generation of Czechs is taking full advantage of their opportunity to see the world. After two years in Vienna followed by a two-year curatorship at the Berlin branch of Prague’s Jiri Svestka Gallery, gallerist and curator Lucie Drdova returned home to set up what is now one of the city’s most respected private contemporary art galleries.
Located just around the corner from Prague’s landmark TV tower in the popular Zizkov district, Drdova Gallery represents eight local artists and shows five to six exhibitions per year. “We are trying to educate about contemporary art,” Drdova says, adding that as recently as the year 2000 there were almost no private galleries in the city.
“[We’re] coming back to Prague and want to have the same quality of coffee, the variety of services and so on [that we’ve experienced while abroad],” she says of the city’s young entrepreneurs.
For the last three summers, Drdova—along with the area’s other gallerists— has organized the Neighborhood Boogie Woogie: an outdoor art event that presents work in public spaces, cafés, and shops in the neighborhood.
“It’s like a small village in the city,” says Drdova.
Seeing the city through its cuisine
A shared love of food united Jan Valenta, a former translator, and Zuzi Dankova, a lawyer: first as a couple and, 18 months later, as business partners. They launched Prague’s first food tours in 2011; Taste of Prague is now one of the most popular ways to see the city.
“Our food tour is not about the food [per se]. It is about why you are eating the food,” says Valenta. “It’s about the development of the country in the past 50 years through the food. It is more of a cultural tour. Food is more of the bridge.”
Taste of Prague hosts up to five tours per day in the high season with a maximum of 10 people per tour. The traditional Czech food tour focuses on classic cuisine, while the Prague foodie tour showcases modern techniques: Both include long, lingering visits to restaurants, bars, and food venues. “We don’t want to own the place, we want to blend into [it],” says Valenta.
“This is tourism people don’t complain about.”
Taste of Prague authored the city’s first foodie map, fosters pride in the national cuisine, and introduced the capital city to a palatable blend of tourism that doesn’t feel like tourism. According to Valenta, “This is tourism people don’t complain about.”
Art and design on the river
On the right bank of Prague’s Vltava River, art, culture, and design have come together under one gorgeous roof. Founded less than a year ago by Czech shoe designer Karin Rihova, SmetanaQ—a combined gallery, open design studio, café, and design shop—spans three floors of a burgher-style building that dates back to the mid-1800s. “It brings together art and design lovers, clients and designers; it’s a cultural experience,” says Rihova.
The art gallery, reached by a dramatic spiral staircase, occupies the building’s third floor. Nine Bottega-inspired open studios are on the second, with exceptional views of the city. There, designers like established ready-to-wear label Odivi, unisex bag brand Annalab, and Rihova’s Shoedaism, a limited-edition women’s footwear line, offer a chance to see their goods in the making.
The venue’s ground floor houses the café/bistro and the design shop, Deelive, which looks out onto the river across the street. The lighting, home accessories, furniture, and fashion for sale are all Czech made.
“I’m very proud of my city,” Rihova says. “Prague really deserves to have a flourishing art and design scene—it’s a very inspiring place to live.”
Planting seeds for a greener city
Prague’s first urban botanical lab, named after Czech explorer and botanist Thaddaus Haenke, is playing its part in greening the city. Haenke offers workshops on the uses of medicinal plants (such as how to make your own natural skincare blends), botanical installations, and a cozy concept shop where you can pick up a plant or your own botanical blend. Haenke’s founders, who are also a couple, are Alexandra Strelcova, a Czech producer and communications consultant, and Julien Antih, a French ethnobotanist and trained pharmacist.
“Since we launched the project in March, we’ve shared the message with both locals and tourists; people who are in a desperate need of greenery in the cities,” says Prague-native Strelcova.
The couple has lined up a slew of new offerings. Haenke Lates, late-night shopping events with drinks and music, will take place every first Friday of the month. A series of events will explore plants in the context of architecture, fashion, and other creative fields. Following the success of their first installation, which artfully placed 1,000 plants across the square in front of the National Theatre, the duo plans to host others throughout Prague and beyond.
“The city’s creative soul has really spread its wings during the last few years.”
“The city’s creative soul has really spread its wings during the last few years. It marks a general trend with young people who no longer feel the need to look for a stable job but instead opt for developing their own project based on sustainable values and creative thinking,” says Strelcova. “I also find it quite a chilled environment, a place where generosity, a community spirit, and innovative thinking is appreciated.”
Next: Jonathan Gold in Prague