My Prague – Petra Pospěchová
Petra Pospěchová writes about all aspects of food for the business daily Hospodářské noviny. So when we met up for a tour of her favourite spots in Prague, it was no surprise that one of our destinations was Erhartova cukrárna, a 1930s confectionary. Pospěchová, who hails from Moravia, also took me to a smoky pub where former StB men rub shoulders with aging dissident types. But we started off by taking a little-known public cable car that runs from inside the Mövenpick Hotel in Smíchov up to the leafy Černý Vrch area, where my guide lives.
“This place is very special because we have I think one of two funiculars in the city. It’s a hidden one. Nobody knows about it.”
It seems what I see around us that this Černý Vrch area is very much a residential place?
“Yes, exactly. Most people who live here have lived here for quite a long time. There is so much to do. Just over there you see the sports grounds that belong to Sokol, which is the strongest sports organisation.
“And during the autumn people come up here with kites – it’s really lovely.
“We have many parks here. Every 200 metres you run into some park. Most of them are rather small but lovely.”
Also on our way up to this place where we’re sitting now, outside a restaurant, we passed Bertramka, a villa where Mozart stayed.
“Exactly, it’s one of the hidden places of this area. I must confess I go picking pears there every autumn. There are half wild pears there that are very nice, very sweet. They’re very good for drying – I make cakes from those dried pears every autumn.”
This place is above Smíchov. What kind of an area is Smíchov, for those who don’t know it? How would you describe it?
“It used to be kind of like a workers’ quarter but it’s changed a lot recently. Now it’s, let’s say, a residential area – I think a lot of artists and journalists live around here, because the prices are quite decent.
“And it’s kind of picturesque. You have all of these small parks all around…”
In Smíchov? You’re saying Smíchov is picturesque?
“Yes, maybe it’s partly industrial picturesque. There are factories up on the hill and most of it has an atmosphere like from the beginning of the 20th century.
“So if you don’t insist on picturesque being Prague Old Town style, it’s really picturesque. It’s really green, which is also good.”
You were telling me that near here there is a garden colony, or allotments, where people can grow their own produce. Are there many such places in Prague? I know of a couple only.
“Yes. It must have been some tradition from when village people came to Prague and were used to having gardens to grow some vegetables, so these colonies started to grow. There are, I don’t know, maybe 20 or 30 of them.
“At the moment they are a bit endangered, because the grounds where these garden colonies are don’t have a future in the city plan. So it’s a question of how long they will last.
“Some of them have actually been abolished and new houses have been built on them. Libeňský ostrov will face this shortly, I suppose.”
From Smíchov, Petra Pospěchová and I jump on a number 12 tram up to the Letná district. Our destination: the old-school Erhartova cukrárna, which offers a mouth-watering variety of cakes and is one of the city’s best-loved confectionaries. But the cukrárna and its sugary delights aren’t its building’s only attraction, says Pospěchová.
“For me it’s two in one, because in the one building there is my favourite cukrárna, where they have the best traditional Czech desserts, and above it, on the first floor, there is a public library which is my favourite source of any kind of literature possible – sociological, fiction, anything you can think of.”
Tell us about the café here. It’s from the ‘30s, I believe.
“Yes. The building was built in 1937 in the functionalist style. It was kind of devastated in the ‘90s, but six or seven years ago the city part financed the reconstruction and I think it’s really nice – it looks completely the same as in the ‘30s when it was opened.”
What are their specialties?
“That’s Czech sweets, and I much warn you they’re addictive [laughs]. It’s laskonky, rohlíčky, they have wonderful bábovka, the traditional Czech cake, they have lovely strudel.
“The most important thing with everything, all the cakes, is the cream, the homemade, very fatty cream. Just beautiful.”
I guess Prague isn’t associated with one particular cake, like say Vienna has the sachertorte.
“There is something called Pražský koláč, which is cream inside two layers of dough. But it’s not really nice. Prague people like it, but I suppose they like it because of tradition, because it’s Prague cake.
“But there are really nice small desserts that I can recommend, like laskonky, maybe some types of ice cream.”
Is there a difference between the cakes you can buy here and the kind of cakes that Czechs eat at home?
“Well, I think in this case it’s like homemade. They use traditional recipes. Butter, flour, nice sugar, real vanilla, that kind of stuff – that’s what people use at home. If you want to taste this artificial stuff, you have to go somewhere else than Erhart.”
Are there many of these kind of old-school cukrárnas left in Prague?
“There are some old-fashioned ones, but I’m afraid the quality is rather miserable. So if you want to try good old things in a nice environment, Erhart is one of the few that I would recommend going to.”
We’re drinking ice coffees and you were saying the regular coffees aren’t so good here. Where would you go in Prague for a good cup of coffee?
“You can definitely stay at Letná, because just around the corner there’s Dům kávy, which is not so stylish but they have lovely coffee. Every day they change some of the plantage coffees, and they have the usual Italian mixture.
“And there’s also another one close to here, which is kavárna Pod lipami. They’re just lovely and they have really nice cakes, too.”
From Erhartova cukrárna it is perhaps 100 metres to a wholly different establishment, the smoky pub Klášterní pivnice, consisting of a tap-room and a main part with 10 or so tables. Actually, Klášterní pivnice is only its official title. Regulars like Pospěchová refer to it exclusively by its nickname, Prašivka. My guide is a big fan of the place – and explains why.
“There are two reasons. At the time when I was getting into, like, the pub part of my life, I use to go to what in Czech we call fourth price pubs, really cheap, kind of a bit dirty maybe places. I like the fact that they’re real. They’re not playing at anything – they just are what they are.
“The second reason is that I often visit posh places because of my job, and this is a nice contrast – to go to some Michelin place and then in the evening have a beer here with normal people and a nakládaný hermelín, pickled cheese, or, I don’t know, goose liver in fat.”
This place is known as Prašivka, but outside there’s no sign saying Prašivka. Where does the name come from? Why is called that, or why is it nicknamed that?
“I think it’s really do with the atmosphere, it’s really smoky…”
But what does Prašivka mean?
“Prašivka means something like dusty place. It’s also the name of a mushroom – when you step on it, it makes a dust cloud. So Prašivka has two meanings. It can also mean something like a place which is not particularly nice.”
The first time I came here, I came at about 8:45, it was pretty quiet and at around 9:30, if not earlier, the barman came over and said, it’s time to pay. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t joking.
“Yes, it’s open from 9 to 9, this place. It opens at 9 in the morning and at 9:30 at night you have to go, so it’s not as dangerous as other places because the chance that you will be really drunk at 9 in the evening is quite small [laughs].”
It is a remarkably smoky bar.
“Yes, it’s really smoky. When I was writing about the [proposed] smoking ban in the Czech Republic, this is the place I came to and asked the habitués what they thought about it, because it’s the best place to hear opinions.”
What were their opinions? They were against the ban, I’m sure.
“No, many of them were for. I would say it was half and half. And people who don’t like smoke so much sit outside and drink there.”
What kind of people come here to Prašivka?
“It’s very, let’s say, different, because in one part there are tables where ex-policemen sit. The Interior Ministry is very close to here and they used to live around here, very often.
“So there are people who worked for the secret police before 1989. And on the other hand there are dissidents, who sit in the other part of the pub.
“Some of them are really special like [musician] Jim Čert, who used to collaborate with the Communist regime, but the dissidents… rehabilitated him. Now he’s sitting on the dissidents’ side and the policemen are on the other side.
“You can also meet many journalists here, because our publishing house is just next door. So this is the best place if you need to find somebody from Hospodářské noviny.”
Or a secret policeman.
“An old one, yes [laughs].”