My Prague – Jana Kománková
Currently running the arts website Proti šedi (Against the Grey), Jana Kománková has been a well-known figure on the Prague music scene for over two decades. The critic and Radio 1 DJ was born in the city and has lived her whole life in the Žižkov district. But our tour of “Jana Kománková’s Prague” starts in the adjacent neighbourhood of Vinohrady, specifically at the airy and stylish La Boheme café on Sázavská St.
“Also this kind of café is really nice regarding the atmosphere – it’s a pleasant place to have business meetings.”
As you say, this place has tea as well as coffee. There’s been a coffee revolution in Prague in recent years. Is the same thing happening with tea?
“With tea the process is a bit different. In this country there’s a lot of tea culture, but it’s mostly in a certain style.
“That’s because [the chain] Dobrá Čajovna, Good Tearoom, is a brand that started here just after the revolution and it has a sort of colonial, old time style, using very rustic pottery.
“And a big part of the tea culture has been this one. The people who are tea drinkers [at Dobrá Čajovna] are also certain types…”
Are they kind of hippyish?
“Yes, sort of hippyish. ‘Old times were better times’ types.
“So either you were a tea drinker and you had to go to those places and smoke a water pipe and sit on the ground – or you went to a normal place and got bagged tea of low quality.
“But finally, as people are getting used to eating good food and drinking good coffee, there are places where you can good quality tea. And it’s not just tearooms.”
Can you recommend other places for tea in Prague, apart from La Boheme?
“Amana is mostly good for shopping for tea, because they closed their tearoom. It was really good.
“You can get good tea at Paralelní Polis, which is in Prague 7, in Holešovice. It’s an alternative place where there are meetings and workshops and they also have a good café.
“It’s a small tea shop which is run by I think two people who go to India and places and buy good tea there and sell it in very small quantities.
“This café [Paralelní Polis] has it. So it’s growing – I hope there are going to be more of them.”
Just around the corner on the main thoroughfare Vinohradská is Royal. A former cinema that has been renovated, it now hosts concerts, the Prague Burlesque group and other events. On the street outside, Kománková tells me that Royal – which has a certain faded grandeur – has become one of her favourite venues in the city.
“It’s kind of a funnily named place. It was Royal from 1929 but it hasn’t been called Royal for the whole time.
“We went here when I was in school to see films that were mostly Russian propaganda stuff or Russian ‘art’ films, if we were lucky.
“It was also a place to go later on, when were teenagers going to cinemas. It was called Illusion.
“It’s kind of nice to see that they have refurbished it in a sort of retro, cosy way.
“Because for instance nearby there was a cinema called Kino Flora and it’s now the headquarters of a big health insurance company. It was a huge old cinema with lots of stone and they kind of killed it with the refurbishment.
“So it’s nice to see that Royal is still open for people. They have stand-up comedy shows and concerts here.
“It’s sort of warm with lots of carpets and soft chairs. I like it a lot. If there is something happening here, like a concert, I’m always glad that it’s happening here – not somewhere else.”
What for you are the other good venues for music in Prague?
“Even though I live here and go to lots of concerts I can’t say I really love many of them. I always complain about something.
“I have some kind of relationship to 007, at Strahov, because I grew up there.
“Akropolis is near where I live, so that’s a plus. I kind of like the size of the venue because I like clubs but not too big and not too small.
“So even if I don’t like everything about it it’s a least doable. And they have good sound, mostly.
“And I really like Royal, for some reason. Maybe I’m getting old – it’s sort of a comfortable place for older people, I guess.”
Perhaps 500 metres from Royal is the main square in the area, náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad. Four days a week it’s home to a thriving farmers’ market that has really brought new life to the whole area in the last half decade. Kománková – whose flat is just a few streets away – is a regular among the stalls.
“I care about what I eat and I’ve started to really like cooking so it’s good to have this kind of stuff so near.
“Obviously in winter and early spring there is not much available yet, though you can buy some herbs and things. But in summer and autumn it’s fantastic and I really love coming here and picking up stuff.
“It’s good that you can just pick up a bit of something. I’m still used to the times when you had to buy a kilo or two.
“I’m not really a fan of all those people who overdo it with the organic lifestyle.
“But I like the fact that very near where I live, within walking distance of my home, I can buy fresh stuff several times a week.”
Apart from the fact that you yourself can buy fresh produce here, what do you think the market has done for the area?
“It certainly brings lots of people here. I know that people from other districts are coming here to shop.
“There are several markets in Prague but people agree that this one is the best, maybe apart from Náplavka. And lots of districts don’t even have their own markets – even bad ones.
This is maybe a bit off the point, but have you seen the plans to redevelop the square?
“Yes, but it was sort of a bit PR stunt, I guess.
“There are plans to redevelop it and move the market maybe 100 metres from here, which I don’t think is a big change. And it’s not happening any time soon anyway.
“So I know there are plans and there are discussions and it might change. But I don’t think it will become this concrete covered place.
“And I don’t think it’s in anybody’s interest to close the markets, because they are very popular and bringing in lots of positive things.”
Right across the street from the futuristic Žižkov TV tower, the highest structure in Prague, is another of Jana Kománková’s favourite spots, the store Musictown. She tells me how the laidback neighbourhood CD, vinyl and DVD shop – which sells drinks and even has comfortable seating – has managed to become popular.
“It’s a good place and not just for music. Of course I’m a big music fan but not all the shops with music are places I go.
“Also there are brunches. The owner invites friends and they bake stuff or bring some finger food and just meet and chat and have a beer or lemonade and sort of socialise here.”
Also this place is quite new and it strikes me as going against the usual trend of record shops closing.
“That’s right. I know it’s hard to run it, especially in winter when there are less people shopping.
“It’s good to see that people are supporting the place by buying records here. Also they have an e-shop, so some of their sales are to people who aren’t in Prague.
“So even though most shops are closing, I really hope this place stays for a longer time.”
Do you still go to record shops and go through the racks and look for stuff and see what’s new?
“Not really often. I go to second-hand record shops when I’m abroad.
“But I don’t go to, I don’t know, record shops in shopping centres.
“I buy most of my music online or subscribe to streaming services – because I don’t think I need to own all those things.”
You mentioned concerts here – have you seen anything particularly interesting at Musictown?
“I wouldn’t say one gig. But what I’ve found interesting has been seeing people who spend lots of time and energy making it nice, maybe bringing some special decorations, just for fun.
“It’s nice to see that people are doing extra things just to have a nice place and to spend some nice time – without any reward.”