I don’t know about you, but living in Prague as I have for the last four years, I tend to stick to my neighborhood for the most part. One day I got to thinking about how many places I pass every day on trams or in the car… how many places I literally travel under on the metro, and how there may be an awesome little place right around the corner from me that I haven’t discovered simply because I turn left when I leave my flat rather than right… and then I got to thinking about how vibrant the city is with food culture, beer culture, and coffee culture and thought, “I need to get out more.”
I decided that I wanted to write about cool places I’ve discovered while wandering throughout this amazing city and this article will hopefully be the first in a series that might get people from Žižkov over to Dejvice and people from Dejvice over to Karlin, etc.
If you have a favorite (not so) hidden gem in Prague that you think people should know about, email me at [email protected]. I’ll check it out and, if I like the place I might write about it for a future article!
So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to one of the best (not so) hidden gems of Prague:
Nestled behind the old Dejvice Train Depot in Prague 6 is a great little district filled with a variety of shops, coffeehouses, and restaurants. The Hradčanska Metro stop is your gateway to all the neighborhood has to offer and I can tell you without a doubt that if you’re in the area, you need to stop in to Café Záhorský.
Located on a prime corner at the intersection of Eliášova, Dejvická, and Václavkova streets, Café Záhorský is a family-owned and operated café/bistro that is the perfect place to grab a coffee, croissant or pastry in the morning, meet for brunch with friends, or have a glass of wine or cocktail in the evening.
The idea for the café – or, rather, the idea to open a café of some sort – was hatched by now former copyright attorney Matej Záhorský and his wife Dominika who then worked in music publishing.
Matěj had always thought of running a cafeteria or restaurant of some kind and he fancied himself a cook, but neither he nor his wife had any experience in the restaurant industry. If they were to try and open their own place it would be a gamble in the truest sense. A leap into the unknown. He’d have to start researching.
By the time it had become a serious conversation between the couple, nearly everyone was advising against it – and rightly so. Statistically, 90 to 95% of new restaurant ventures fail within the first year. Had he been thinking clearly, Matěj might not have made the leap, but passion often wins out and what he knew was that he was tired of years staring at a computer and reviewing contracts, tired of pushing paper around, tired of sitting at a desk. He wanted something different. Something better. Something… exciting.
While digging into what it would take to start the business, Matěj heard about a local contest. Potential business owners could pitch their ideas to City Hall and a winner would be selected. The process of then establishing the business would be a bit smoother, in theory.
Matěj decided to enter. He wrote up a pitch thinking, “there’s no way I win this thing.” He sent it in… and won, which would have been great except for the fact that he really wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t created a company yet or done any of the groundwork and since the contest stipulated that you had to open the business within a period of no more than six months, it just seemed like too much too fast.
Overwhelmed by the timeline, Matěj passed, but some time later he heard that the person whose pitch placed second had also passed, and that City Hall would be running the contest again. He would not miss out a second time.
A few months later, City Hall announced the second round of their contest and, this time, Matěj was ready. He’d formed his company and had been devoting all of his time and energy to bringing his dream to fruition. He wrote up a new version of his pitch, entered the contest…. and to his surprise, he won again!
There’d be no turning back now. It would either be a disaster… or not, but as the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Taking The Leap
Matěj left his lucrative and comfortable job and continued to investigate every aspect of becoming a restaurateur. There was quite a steep learning curve as you might imagine. In the meantime, Dominika stayed at her job so they’d have a safety net.
They sold a flat they owned and Matěj began looking for a location. He notes that, “usually it’s the other way around… you have a concept in mind and then you find a location to fit.” In truth, he did have a vague idea of what he hoped the restaurant could be but hadn’t entirely worked it out at that point. After all, it had only been a dream. Now they were going to make it a reality.
Walking around Prague 6 one day Matěj spotted the Art Nouveau building the Café currently occupies on Eliášova Street. He had an immediate instinct about it. Perhaps because he had seen it before.
Matěj had grown up in Dejvice and had always felt like it was its own “city within the city.” He loved the area, the people, the energy, and knew he wanted to open his restaurant there, but he wanted to create a space for locals and visitors alike. A place where people of all backgrounds could come together and have a great conversation while enjoying a good meal and a warm cup of coffee or glass of wine.
This wouldn’t be merely a business. It had to be more than that. “It had to have heart,” he said. He had visions of cranking open the exterior awnings and greeting neighbors on wintry mornings – beckoning people inside to get out of the cold – or of conversations with expats and visitors to the city around a cozy bar on a summer’s eve. “Yes,” he thought to himself as he stood in front of the building, “this is the place.”
With the location in mind, he did a bit of digging to learn about it. He remembered, at some point, seeing historical photos of the area and how it had evolved over the years. There was one photo in particular that showed a pub at the location.
“I thought the photo had said ‘ranní výčep’ which means something like ‘the pub of the morning.’”
Sometime later he realized it wasn’t “ranní výčep,” but “radní výčep,” which means “Pub of the City Hall.” That makes a bit more sense considering that, at the time, the building held the Dejvice City Hall.
Around 1929 the pub was converted to a Bata shoe store and then, over the years, it continued to change hands a few times. By the time Matěj found it in 2015 it was in a sad state of disrepair and would take some serious work to fix it up.
In terms of decor, Matěj initially envisioned a very masculine space. Something maybe… a bit darker than what you’ll find if you visit today. No “kids corner” for example, but after meeting with friend and architect Magdalena Rochová of the firm JRA in Dejvice, the aesthetic evolved.
Together they created the look of what would become Café Záhorský. In the end it required a complete remodeling of both the interior and exterior and would represent a particular challenge for the architect who hadn’t designed a restaurant space prior to this one.
One of the key elements Rochová came up with was a large set of new windows which would be spaced out around the entirety of the exterior that could be easily opened to, in a sense, “bring the outside in,” and the windowsills themselves would provide seating.
The finished window design proved so popular that it has since inspired copies all over the city with people even calling Matěj over the years to ask where he got them.
The interior was meant to reflect the rounded shape of the building with the central counter beginning in the bar and wrapping all the way around into the bakery with what appears to be a single unbroken piece.
According to the architect, “an important aspect of the interior, along with the play of colours in individual elements, is the refinement of the ground plan by unevenly hung lights and the use of a pattern which was designed on the ceiling and end walls in both sections of the space.”
Altogether it’s meant to be a bright, comfortable space and, in my opinion, it is exactly that. For her design, Rochová won the 2015 Interior of the Year Award.
Café Záhorský only serves dishes made with the freshest ingredients and you can taste it in the quality of the meals. This means there are certain seasonal elements on the menu and, when they’re gone, the menu will change. This also limits food waste.
Café Záhorský’s signature offering are its breakfasts. You can order a sweet or savory breakfast until 11 on weekdays and, on weekends, until 4 in the afternoon – a rarity in the city.
I’m a creature of habit and whenever I visit the Café, I like to order the Eggs Benedict which is flavorful and absolutely delicious. I also tend to order several glasses of Záhorský’s Iced Chai Tea Lattes which are just stellar and incredibly addictive.
I’ve also tried the cheekily named “McZáhorak Breakfast Burger,” an omelet with cheddar, English bacon, chopped tomatoes with Coriander, and onion topped off with a dab of hollandaise sauce. It’s so tasty and very, very filling.
If simpler is more your taste you could opt for a plate of their classic fried or scrambled eggs with your choice of English ham, bacon, onion, cheddar, parmesan, mushrooms, or tomato. They also serve an excellent egg and avocado dish called the “Avocado Nest.”
For lighter fare, there’s nothing better than a good cup of strong coffee served with their Continental French Breakfast (two croissants, ham, cheese, butter, and marmalade) or a stack of Crêpes with sweet cream, apricot sauce, and cinnamon.
Of course, you don’t need to have a seated meal. The Café offers a variety of cakes, breads and pastries – many of which are baked on-site – for easy takeaway.
In the evening, you can enjoy those seasonal selections from a tapas menu and wash it all down with a cold beer or cider from one of two local breweries, a high-end cocktail, or an excellent glass of wine (they have Moravian, Slovakian, German, and French varieties).
The Icing on the Cake
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Prague you’ve likely noticed that customer service is not necessarily a key element of staying in business here. It’s getting better, to be fair, but it can be pretty hit and miss so it’s always a pleasure when you find a business where the employees are friendly and welcoming. This is an area where Café Záhorský excels. There are fifteen employees (many who have been there since the start) and all of them are quick with a smile and generous in helping expats with limited Czech language skills (the menu is in Czech and English). The servers get the food out quickly and are helpful but unobtrusive.
Altogether, spending an hour or so sitting in the café feels like a little escape from the noisy business of daily life in the city.
From Dream to Reality
Matěj Záhorský realized his vision when the Café opened on the 30th of June, 2015 and he has been serving happy customers daily since then. Dominika was able to leave her job at the music publishing firm about a year later. Of the experience, Matěj says, “It sounds cliche, but I’m living my dream.”
Cliche? Perhaps. But very, very cool.
I cannot recommend Café Záhorský more highly. If you stop by, you just might see Matěj himself cooking your meal in the kitchen or preparing one of the 300-350 coffees they serve each day… happily a long way away from copyright law.
The Café is open Monday thru Friday from 8:00 – 23:00, on Saturday’s from 9:00 – 22:00, and on Sunday’s from 9:00 – 19:00. You can make reservations by visiting cafezahorsky.cz and you can also find them on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/cafezahorsky
One final note: The Café holds exhibitions each month (currently, work by a local painter) and interested buyers can purchase any of the items on display. There’s a waiting list at the moment, but if you have any art or photography you’d like them to consider displaying, you may contact Matěj Záhorský at [email protected]