Fanta's Café – Prague Main Train Station’s hidden gem

One of Prague’s iconic cafes has been drawing visitors after a thorough reconstruction that brought back its original Art Nuveau feel. Located inside the capital’s busy Main Train Station, it may be hard to find at first. But those who take the time are likely to be impressed.

Millions of people pass through Prague’s Main Train Station every year. The vast majority are of course only interested in getting onto their train or bus. However, those who actually take the time to explore the building will discover that its northern wing is made up of a beautiful Art Nuveau style entrance hall which was designed by Czech architect Josef Fanta and is commonly known as the “Fanta Building”.

Built between the years 1901-1909, the building’s semi-circular central pavilion is decorated with painted stucco sculptures, including the coats of arms of Czech cities that tracks from the original station used to lead to. On the right hand side of the pavilion is a café, called Fantova Kavárna (Fanta’s Cafe), which is dedicated to the architect. It is one of those beautiful and genuine secession era café’s that Prague is known for.

The café, which is owned by the Czech Railway Administration, was reopened in June 2020 after a thorough makeover conducted by its new lessor Petr Patera. He told Czech Radio that his chief aim was to bring back the business’ original aesthetics.

“When we took over this place it was a total building site. We completely changed the interior, from the floor up to the seven metre high ceilings. We thoroughly reconstructed the café, got rid of all the tiles on the walls and more. We are also very proud of the large vector-printed picture of Mr Fanta which we display here. We had it framed by a specialised company that works for clients such as Prague Castle.”

The café’s owners took the effort to carefully study all of the available materials that survive from the golden era of the Fanta building. Memories from those who still remember what the café used to look like were sought out too, as was the input from surviving relatives of the architect.

For example, Josef Fanta’s great nephew, the writer Jan Kameníček, gifted the café a Madonna relief that the architect had designed for his own tombstone. Meanwhile, the granddaughter of a close friend of Jan Fanta’s own daughter, Marijana Matoušková, was asked to design the café’s retro-feel newspaper, says Petr Patera.

“The Fanta Newspaper is her work. It’s the result of her skills and her experiences, whether it be photographs or letters. This newspaper is a sort of treasure that we print here and provide to guests for free so that they have something to read.”

The café and pavilion are part of the original main entrance into Prague’s main railway hub, which at the time of its construction was called the Franz Josef Station and was one of the last great infrastructural projects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the First World War.

Those who do get charmed by Josef Fanta’s work will be in the perfect place to hop on a train and visit the famous Napoleonic battlefield of Austerlitz (Slavkov), whose monument was also designed by the Czech architect.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Václav Müller
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