Pub Crawl Vignette in Žižkov, Prague, 2006
Thollem and Angela had secured a temporary flat in the Žižkov neighborhood of Prague, in an old Communist-era building. They were several floors up and there was no elevator. I arrived thoroughly dehydrated and hungover from the trans-Atlantic flight. I was nauseous. Their place was tiny, with just enough space for a bed, a small table and a couch, plus an adjoining kitchen and a cramped bathroom. The shower head trickled water. That’s all it did. Trickle.
Their flat included a loft where I was to sleep or pass out. The loft was accessible via a ramshackle folding metal staircase that creaked like a dying squirrel.
To me, it was all very Kafkaesque, so I welcomed the uneasiness. In fact I reveled in it. Of course, I arrived with preconceived imaginary expectations of everything being Kafkaesque. That was part of the joy in traveling to Prague. I wanted to prowl in Kafka's footsteps. I wanted to sport a trenchcoat but I didn’t have one. An American winter jacket sufficed and we proceeded to skulk around in gloomy below-freezing weather. The sky was the color of a prison blanket.
Žižkov was an old working class neighborhood, riddled with at least a century of arts, literature and political resistance. At the time of my visit it still seemed grungy and grainy and gorgeous and murky and sentimental. I wanted to feel the history. I wanted to sense decades-long legends of unsettling revolutionary activity still lingering between the cracks of the buildings here, even if pieces of the neighborhood were starting to gentrify.
We immediately hit the local drinking establishments after I deposited my luggage upstairs. First things first.
In-between us talking about improvised music and the nauseating boredom of authentic perfect cadences, we discovered that Žižkov had something like 300 bars and pubs in a tiny geographic region. Naturally, we gravitated toward the underbelly. The first entry in my diary says this: Drank beer and watched football from noon until midnight.
Throughout the week, here are some places where we drank, some of which may or may not still be there.
1. Království -- a doorway down the street from Thollem's flat which brought us down into an underground pub and restaurant. I think there were pool tables and other games.
2. Luis Cypher -- named after a character from the film, Angel Heart. A necessarily creepy place.
3. U Sadu -- A very popular bar and restaurant close to the TV Tower with lots of beer on tap.
4. Blind Eye -- I think it was also an accommodation or a hostel or something similar, but the bar was a late-night, final drink, wrap-it-up kind of joint. We went here on a few different nights before trudging home in the below-freezing weather.
5. Hospůdka Nad Viktorkou -- again, I think it was also a hostel. We kept referring to it as Nad Viktor, so that's how I wrote it down.
After watching football games at all these places, we came across a local match, entirely by happenstance. We woke up one Sunday morning, about 11am, and heard massive crowd noises from somewhere down the street. We didn't know what was going on, so we bundled up, went outside and headed down Krásova, which luckily was downhill. It was probably one degree above freezing. Without even knowing what we were looking for, we reached the bottom of the hill and stumbled into a century-old rivalry between FK Viktoria Žižkov and Bohemians.
The stadium was FK Viktoria's home ground, seating about 5000 people, a really cool, second-division local kind of hangout. At 11am, people were walking around with beers in each hand or waving scarves. It was fantastic. A few expat Americans noticed us hovering around the outside of the stadium, so they came up and spoke for a while. We stood and watched from outside a red fence, colored to match the home team's kit. Somehow it felt much better than being at a first division stadium. We were surrounded by the local working class fans, most of whom probably lived within walking distance and were most likely born into the club.
Over the week, the rest of Prague beckoned us, but in Žižkov I felt the history much more. Kafkaesque or not, the grit and the underbelly was ours for a week. The uneasiness was gone. I wasn't nauseous anymore.