Unlike many big cities, Prague doesn’t have a specific ‘hip’ neighborhood. Historically, you could say that there is a distinction between Žižkov a Vinohrady – the former is a working class district with many cheap pubs and a famous football team, the latter was always home to wealthier, fancier people. However, if you crossed the border between them, you wouldn’t find out without a map. The coolest clubs and meeting places are spread throughout the city centre rather randomly, so it really doesn’t matter where exactly are you staying; just pick a direction and there is a good chance that within 15 minutes, you’ll find something.
But while the distinction between neighborhoods is a thing long lost to history, there are some streets that just buzz with life. Until 2014, Krymská was one of them. Don’t picture your average luxurious boulevard – the street, located in Vršovice district, is only 360 meters long, quite narrow, and surprisingly hard to find. Maybe that’s the reason hipsters chose to love it so much. Of course, there is also the fact that Café v Lese is located there. You might hear about Ondřej Kobza, a guy who got famous last year by installing some pianos on Prague streets (so anyone who’s passing by and has the time and skill can now play it openly in public). Café v Lese is Kobza’s biggest gift to the city’s culture – a two-story café that is also a concert venue.
Literally every artist with some recognition amongst Prague’s young indie scene played there in 2013, and if you visit it, you’ll see why – the venue is underground, which adds for a unique DIY/punk atmosphere, the beer is great (and quite cheap, too), and the capacity of around 150 people hits the perfect border between too small and too big. A quiet, romantic singer-songwriter would fit there as well as a selection of techno DJs or a vegan hardcore band. The family-like feeling that surrounds the whole space also makes you overlook the occasional problems with sound quality. It’s much more than just a music club – it’s a place with its own lifestyle. Well, last year it was.
The obvious problem is that Krymská is a residential area – and given its close proximity to I. P. Pavlova metro station (one of the busiest in Prague), living there is quite expensive, too. Although Café v Lese is an underground venue, swarms of hipsters that inevitably followed the initial hype started (also inevitably) to get on the residents’ nerves. It doesn’t help much that Krymská is not just Café v Lese – there are several other clubs (Sběrné suroviny, Na cestě, Café Sladkovský), a raw food restaurant (Plevel), an art studio (Družina), an extremely hipster-friendly pub that doesn’t even have a name and you can not get into unless you specifically know where it is, and a non-stop drinking bar. Plus, it’s a narrow street in a quiet neighborhood with old, tall houses. Throw several hundred party-loving people in there, and you know you’re in for a problem.
First, a law was passed that every pub in the neighborhood automatically closes at 3 am, which rendered the non-stop useless. That meant that by 3 am, people would just go either back home, or drink elsewhere. But the final knockout came when Krymská’s residents asked the council to ban live music after 10 pm, and the council agreed. This means that from 2014 on, Café v Lese’s short-lived fame is over – of course the café itself still works, and you can totally have a cup of great coffee there with some sweater-wearing, bearded Bon Iver fans (they didn’t just vanish into thin air, after all), but there are no concerts after 10 pm anymore.
To be fair, you could hardly argue with the resolution – from a resident’s point of view, living in Krymská must have been hell sometimes. There are some streets in the city centre that are famous for their thrilling night life, but Krymská was never one of them, and the boom came just all too sudden. But, on the other hand, the young underground culture suffered a massive blow, because thanks to Kobza, the street became a haven for fresh, talented alternative artists practically overnight. There was even a festival called Korso Krymská, and it was absolutely fantastic – hundreds of people came to see some great bands, taste a fine selection of Plevel’s food, or just hang around in the sun with a beer or two. Now, the street is technically dead, and the whole scene returns to its previous moribund state. It’s not that young artists have nowhere to perform anymore, but you can no longer just come to Krymská and know you’ll find something interesting going on there.
But everything’s not lost yet. We’re talking about a scene that is filled with creativity, and it goes far beyond mere artistic skills – creative people will always find their way to express themselves. Thus, Basement Bar was born: a great new venue located under Vršovice’s Czech Inn hotel, just a few meters from Krymská. The address is Francouzská 76, which means that although you can literally see Café v Lese’s sign from the front door, the ban on live performances after 10 pm doesn’t apply there. Thanks to this fact, hipsters still know that for a good fun, all they have to do is take a tram no. 22. They just move a few meters up the hill once they get there.