By Annabel Lau
One of the best parts about studying abroad is eating your way through a city (or continent, if you’re ambitious). But what’s even better than just great food is knowing you’re dining in a place with its own unique history. After all, what could be cooler than sipping coffee with the ghosts of Einstein or Kafka? Here are three of the best cafés I’ve come across in Prague that have the whole package: delicious food with an interesting history on the side.
The Grand Café Orient
The Grand Café Orient is housed in the historic House of the Black Madonna, a cubist building in Prague’s Old Town designed by Josef Gocar between 1911 and 1912. It closed down in the 1920s when cubism fell out of style, but since reopening in 2005, the café’s interior remains true to its cubist intentions; the elegant cubist buffet-bar and light fixtures used today were designed by Gocar himself. This café holds a special place in my heart because it’s where we were officially welcomed to Prague back in February —my school held a welcome reception for us there. (Also, the hor d’oeuvres are to die for.)
Opened in 1912, Café Montmartre is one of the oldest cafés in Prague. The moment you walk in, it’s like you’ve stepped back in time. Unfortunately, it was closed down during World War II for 50 years, but it has since been reconstructed with furniture and decorations to resemble its interior from the 1920s. It has a quaint, brooding atmosphere with dim lighting — perfect for those who just need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and bask in the solitude for a bit. It’s no surprise that writers such as Franz Kafka and Egon Erwin Kisch have been among its most well-known guests. Although it used to host some “wild nights” back in the day, it’s now a relaxing place to grab a cup of coffee and read, write or just chat with some friends.
My personal favorite, Café Louvre is a gorgeous art nouveau café located near the National Theater. Since the café’s inception in 1902, it has been a gathering place for writers, artists and intellectuals, who would often hold their club meetings there. Among its famous clientele were writers Franz Kafka, Otto Pick and Karel Capek. Albert Einstein frequented the café on Tuesdays while he was a professor at Charles University. Café Louvre was forcefully shut down by the communists in 1948 but reopened in 1992. Today, in addition to exquisite coffee and food, the café also features a game room with billiards, chess and various card games.
It really is exhilarating to visit these cafés, knowing that brilliant minds of the history books have breathed the same air more than a hundred years before. As I sip my coffee, pen and notebook in hand, I feel invigorated and inspired. It’s probably the caffeine, but part of me likes to think it’s the spirit of Franz Kafka.