The Kabinet - a 'must see' cafe in a quiet part of Prague


Today we look at a part of Prague 6, specifically the area of Dejvice, a picturesque part of the city that includes many leafy lanes, quiet walks in villa districts, as well as countless embassies. You will hear about a very special little cafe called 'Kabinet' you simply must not miss if you come to Prague.It's a little bit off the beaten path, however, it isn't too far from the part of the city that includes the famous Stromovka park, and it's just a few blocks away from the Dejvice metro station.

The cafe is built on a rather unassuming corner, a building from the 1920s, with a facade that juts out, revealing a kind of storefront window, reconstructed according to a shop that used to be found on the site. A deep green borders tall windows, frames breaking up the view somewhat - looking in one can get a sense, but not really tell how many people are inside. Looking into the display window one sees a cheerful antique mannequin of a young girl, dressed in white with a white summer umbrella, and a schoolbag, and on the one hand it hints at nostalgia but also slight irony, a serene, timeless happiness.

Inside, we find a cafe bar that is not all that small, but is immediately cosy and inviting. During the day a sun high through the windows will create a hazy, dreamy spell. Sitting by the window is even better on a winter's eve when snow is falling. As your eyes wander you survey all the objects artfully placed around. The furniture is somewhat eccentric, all wood, all different shapes and sizes. The lighting is subdued, but here and there white pure light, a leafy lamp that evokes the jellyfish lights from the twenties. Wood panelling, wood floor, a very relaxing shade of green on some of the walls, matching the darker evergreen colour of the window frames. Most of all there are the objects: if you come to Kabinet the first game you will play, besides watching the people at the other tables, or at the bar, or even yourself in an old silver mirror, are the objects: predominantly stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes: wild birds, a crow, a weasel with a toothy grin. I couldn't find the bat, but I'm sure you will. Also: countless other items, too many to name, that all add to the feeling of being at home, or in some lost Borgesian library: an upholstered sofa, a line of old books, old posters, and finally: diagrams, maps, and plants. Have a double espresso as you read a book, wait for a date, have a light white wine. Meanwhile, the music at the bar not overly loud. Sometimes it might be jazz, on another day it's Sinead O'Connor. The blonde behind the bar is quite pretty, with a silver stud below her lips. She send text messages on her cell, to some boyfriend somewhere as you sip your drink... and time passes by.

So, I'm sitting here in this wonderful space called 'The Kabinet' and across from me is Kabinet's owner Mr Julius Machacek: I wanted to ask you, my first question, how did it occur to you to start a /bar/gallery like Kabinet?

"Well, I think everybody who has ever gone to a cafe, either for work, or for pleasure, has wondered what it would be like to have their own place, their very own place that they designed according to their own taste. You also wonder about these things when you go somewhere and the service is bad. Now, my friends and I, who always used to meet in cafes we always used to dream too. All of us were brought up in Socialist discomfort, rather than comfort, and we just knew that when we had our own cafe it would of course be the best! Through a myriad of chances I got the opportunity to open the cafe in a space that had previously been a green grocers, but had been empty for five years and was a completely ravaged and in need of renovating. It occurred to me that my dream cafe could be built right here."

So far, how has the cafe fulfilled your expectations?

"I was very surprised. Professionally I am a journalist - an amateur in the cafe business - so I was a little bit uncertain at first. I wasn't sure how popular it would be, or how it would work in terms of the economics, whether people would like the place. But, so far though everything has worked out fine - two days ago we celebrated our third year in existence. And after three years we don't have any problems - the place is pretty full, there are no big changes in the number of visitors. Also, the clientele during the day has met my hopes, mostly young people, university students studying architecture or engineering nearby. I can't know if their skipping class, of course! At night the clientele changes a bit, many people live in the neighbourhood, we have visitors from the arts scene, film makers, painters, architects. I think they're happy with us too."

Let's discuss the atmosphere, because the atmosphere of this cafe is very specific, somehow, in terms of the interior design it recalls the early 20s, 30s, essentially, the past. There is a kind of nostalgia about this space that is very attractive.

"Well, when I decided to open a cafe I had to think about those things, how to present it - I wanted to create an atmosphere that would be attractive, thinking of several variations - in the end the idea of the 'Kabinet' won out. In Czech, 'Kabinet' means a teacher's office in school. Elementary schools have 'kabinets' of math, chemistry and so on, where teachers keep their aides, where students are sometimes tested, and I told myself that one of the most typical things for people is a certain kind of nostalgia, memories of the past. All of us share in common the fact that we look back on our school years and so it occurred to me to design a cafe that would kind of evoke those school days, those years gone by. The whole cafe is conceived as a kind of 'kabinet', of course using only certain artefacts, nothing overly aggressive or too kitschy. You've got objects that include glass cases enclosing stuffed birds and other animals, like from the science lab, another case holds chemistry objects, test tubes, bottles and the like, we've got a little library, with textbooks on the shelves, whether for university students, atlases, down to the most basic book of... for first graders. Anyone can read them, and they even take them home."

How much time, as the owner, would you say that you spend in this cafe? (laughs) "That's a good question. When, for example my mother-in-law learned that I wanted to open a cafe, that I would change my lifestyle and partly my profession, she told me, with fear in her voice, that my hobby of hanging around cafes, and worse, my fondness for wine, would be the end of me. I have to say the opposite is true! I spend the least amount of time possible here, only when it pertains directly to work. Otherwise, business meetings, or meetings with friends are held in other cafes! Why? When I come here every ten minutes someone either interrupts me by saying hello, or the staff badgers me about something missing that is needed, so, consequently I can never relax!"

When you're in a cafe, or in a bar, like Kabinet, do you ever play the game where you watch the customers and ask yourself 'I wonder what they do for a living, what their profession is, or what they are studying? Or whether they are in love or out of love?

"Yes, yes, yes, that's interesting. Well, here there's never that much quiet for that kind of study, it does often fill up. The kind of calm you're describing does come for a couple hours in the afternoon, and you're right, sometimes it's very interesting to watch the guests and to try and guess what it is they do, why they are here. For instance you get a guest that starts coming every single day, then suddenly stops. Another comes to study. Some, evidently come here to learn new languages. I thought one pair were lovers. But, it turned out she was teaching him Italian, he was her student. But it's a fun game to play, to try and guess the truth."

And the truth is, that's it for this edition of Spotlight. Hope you enjoyed this visit to Kabinet - remember it's also a gallery and once a year they hold a special exhibit there by specially-abled children. From what I've heard it always sells out, and it would certainly be interesting to catch that show, just one of the many reasons to visit Kabinet when you come to Prague.