Rock Solid

Boulder Bar, photo:

In the middle of the city, in Prague's Jama Street there is one bar you can visit if you're in the mood for something a little unusual, that is, for climbing up the walls. Confused? Well, let me explain: the so-called Boulder Bar was launched for and by avid rock climbers two years ago with the aim of providing practice space for beginners and experts to hone their climbing skills. Fancy moves, hanging from various knobs, pegs, handholds, and footholds, often falling to the thick padded ground - all that is just part of the regular order of things. Since its inception the venue has grown ever more in popularity among both climbers and non-climbers interested in just hanging out. Some get a work-out on the wall; others get a work-out of a different sort at the venue's bar.

When you come to the bar if you feel like climbing you go straight to the back. There, passing a gallery of photos you can watch through windows as young men and women flex their muscles as they scale the walls. You can even join them hanging upside down. Feeling a little adventurous I ventured into the wall room to ask several friendly-looking climbers about their sport.

Marie, avid about climbing: "I actually found out about it myself because I tried to find a sport that would be fun for me, mainly after work, because I have an office job, and it's not easy to find time to do sports anymore. One day I just thought about climbing because I saw it somewhere, so I just began going to a wall here in Prague and that's how it started."

You take your training seriously...

"Well, I do my best."

Robert, a seasoned climber: "Climbing? Uh, five years or so. Something like that."

How difficult is this part of the wall that you were trying out?

"Depends what kind of holds you pick up. So, it could be pretty easy or much more difficult if you pick up smaller holds. Depends if you climb on the ceiling or just on the walls."

People go to bars they want to meet somebody...

"It's a great place to meet - boys and girls - I would recommend it."

After working out then, one can leave the wall room and head for the bar, full of young people having fun - even a few young kids sitting back comparing their latest tattoos. It's all good. The interior of the Boulder Bar is laid back, decorated with elements of climbing such as little Giacometti-like figures crawling around, the bar itself unusual: an oval to sit round sipping one's ice water or ice-cold beer, gazing fondly at old mountaineering gear, or a gorgeous splash photo of the Himalayas, beckoning and majestic. The area is also properly ventilated so the cigarette smoke was thin. Cigarette smoke?! Co-founder of the venue Jiri Oliva was amused when I asked how smoking came into the picture:

"Well, we are in the Czech Republic!! So, it is a conflict, but we have air condition! If you are a good climber and you want to practice for some hard routes outside, well, you don't drink!"

But, apparently some climbers do light up once in a while:

"Not only occasionally. I know a lot of climbers who smoke a lot. But, it doesn't affect the power. It affects when you climb above 8,000 metres, or when you do mountaineering. There, that is bad. But not if you do rock climbing or hard climbing - there it doesn't matter if you smoke or if you don't."

Regardless of what you decide then - just to climb or to smoke or to have a drink or two - this venue is worth a visit. The night I attended good music was playing, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, that kind of thing - and people were talking animatedly and rocking to the beat. You can sit in the front with your friends, eye the climber girls at the bar, or simply just relax. And, it just might happen that if the bug hasn't gotten you yet, it might catch you unexpected. That, in the end is what manager Jiri Oliva says was the main point of founding the bar in the first place:

"That's the way, that's the idea {laughs}. To bring people who don't have ideas about climbing, who never heard about climbing, they will come here, they will look, they see 'Oh, it's fun, they will try and they will begin to climb. That's the idea of the Boulder Bar."