Café Slavia – A famous meeting point for Prague poets, playwrights and theatregoers

Café Slavia, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Prague is well-known for its many cafés, one of the most famous, without question, is Café Slavia, which first opened its doors in 1884. Located in Lažanský Palace, which is also home to famous Prague film school FAMU, Café Slavia offers views of the National Theatre and the Vltava River.

Café Slavia,  photo: Petr Vilgus,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Inside, the venue offers charm in the form of art deco design and with it plenty of history. It was a leading café for intellectuals such as the artist Jiří Kolář, poet Jaroslav Seifert, writer Arnošt Lustig or playwright Václav Havel. Café Slavia is nothing less than a Prague institution.

The café’s Zuzana Matějková says because of its proximity to the National Theatre, it’s no surprise that artists, actors and many others in creative professions still frequent the venue.

“The frequency of visitors still remains high and that hasn’t changed. We still count plenty of actors and directors as clientele as well. What is a little different is that the café is that it also became very popular with top politicians. Other visitors of course are regular people and tourists, many of whom are especially interested in the history and come to enjoy the view.”

During the era of the First Republic, the interior was changed to the popular style of art deco. It was frequented by theatregoers before or after performances, and many famous regular customers had their designated spot, including, the playwright, dissident, and future president Václav Havel, whose table was always "reserved". Zuzana Matějková again:

“Mr Havel used to sit right over there at the table at the end. That was his spot and nobody else could have it when he was around. He sat there with a view from the window in the direction of his home and it was of course in the smoking section. And that was his spot.”

'The Absinthe Drinker'

One of the most famous paintings visitors may notice when visiting the café is called The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva, an oil painting from 1901, which features a protagonist and his absinthe muse: an imaginary female nude perched pertly at the edge of his table, green and ghostly like the absinthe in his glass. The Absinthe Drinker became popular over the last 20 years: originally, a painting of the mother of the Slavs, Slavia, hung in its place, but was moved to National Gallery in 1997.

“The former painting wouldn’t fit here anymore after the renovation, when the space was opened up. But the Absinthe Drinker fits very well here as well.”

Café Slavia rose to such fame that it even features in some works of literature: Jaroslav Seifert refers to the coffeehouse in Halleyova kometa, and Ota Filip published a novel titled Kavárna Slavia in 1985.