Upswing on Újezd

Fast Lane

An exploratory walk on the Mála Strana street

“It’s like a village here; we all know each other – the shops and restaurants.”

That’s how Václav Žák, manager of Thai restaurant Noi on Újezd Street in Mála Strana describes his location. What might seem to be busy tourist central is actually a quiet, laidback strip full of interesting shops, a variety of restaurants and lots of locals. Take a walk with us and discover Újezd for yourself…

We begin at the bottom of Petrín Park, near the Újezd tram stop. In the tourist information center at number 24, Don distributes maps and gives recommendations to travelers. He’s in an enviable location; sitting all day next to a big picture window that frames Petrín.

“I love this window, I watch people all day,” he says. “I study anthropology and sociology so it’s interesting for me and nice to watch them come and go. That’s my point of view from here.”

Tired tootsies are most welcome at the Sawasdee Thai Foot Massage (#24). Street side windows reveal big armchairs and busy hands; carefully working out the kinks. That’s another thing that’s nice about Újezd; it’s mix of unusual offerings.

A round the world culinary tour; hitting varying tastes can be completed on Újezd. La Bastille (#26) is a fairly Czech restaurant with the ubiquitous fish, pasta and beef categories. They’ve been on Újezd 12 years, and Ivana, a server, appreciates the location near Old Town, Charles Bridge and Petrín.

Sharing La Bastille’s building is one of the cities premier antikvariát’s – Pražský Almanach. Owner Josef has been here eight years; and is probably one of the only residents that doesn’t enjoy Újezd.

“There’s reasonable rent, but lots of noise from the cars,” he says. “Today you don’t even need a store anymore but people like to come in to pick out a book themselves.” Indeed Josef’s website, www.artbook.cz, has a huge inventory. His tiny shop is wonderful though – filled with old books, graphics, movie posters and boxes crammed with old photographs and postcards.

Culture can be found on Újezd. At #30, pay a visit to the atelier of one of the Czech Republic’s best-known photographers, Josef Sudek. Sudek lived and worked in the building from 1927 until his death in 1976. A massive renovation was undertaken in 2000 to make it the studio you see today. Besides a museum and gallery dedicated to Sudek, rotating exhibitions by other photographers are also displayed.

U Cernohorskych (#19) is a recently reconstructed building that houses Noi, design shop Le Patio, club Pococafepetl and wine bar Vinný sklep Újezd. Noi and Le Patio have been open here now one year. You’ll notice similarities in their design, as Žák says they used furnishings and decorations from Le Patio to style their place. Le Patio specializes in imported goods, mainly from India. Entering their well-decorated world, your senses are soothed with the scent of candles and incense; while your eyes take in the sheer amount of goods. Leather furniture, chandeliers, floor lamps; a cornucopia of elegance.

Below the building is the entertainment. Vinný sklep Újezd is a brick covered, multi-roomed cave; serving up an international selection of wines. The classy quiet is oft-set by the jumping Pococafepetl which has a dance floor and regular live music. It all can be found on Újezd.

We’ve done Thai, Czech – let’s try Mexican. Cantina (#38) is one of the oldest and most often mentioned “favorite” Mexican restaurants in Prague. Manager Pavel says they’ve been here 11 years, and feels it’s the best location in Prague. What’s his personal favorite from the menu? “The Burrito Cantina. It’s a flour tortilla with beef steak, shrimp, cheese, cilantro and spices.”

Something for your sweet tooth? Hit Koruna Pralines at #31. “I sell only chocolate, the best chocolate,” says Michaela, the shop assistant. “It’s a good job cause I eat a lot of chocolate.”

The beautiful rich aroma of cocoa envelopes you as you enter the small, stuffed shop. Display cases offer up rows and rows of precious treats; shelves are laden with tins and chocolate formed into all sorts of shapes. Michaela says they get a lot of tourists – mainly German and Swiss, but they have their regulars, too. The most popular of her 60 different kinds? The almond truffle.

Experience the artsy side of the street with a pop into Art Puzzle. It’s a shop, but could be considered a private gallery for Slovak artist Kata Kissoczy unique wood designs. Shelves and walls are covered with intricate puzzles. Jan, working in the store, says Kissoczy has been designing these one-of-a-kind crafts for 25 years. The jigsaws are all handmade; Kissoczy cuts the wood and paints them herself. A mix of five patterns is used – human hands, faces, figures, animals or a mix of the four previous designs. They are intricate works of art; and the attention to detail is amazing.

Louka Lu (#33) is a crazy old aunt decorated Balkan restaurant. The labyrinth of rooms are crammed with an eclectic mix of trinkets and embellishment. The ceiling doesn’t even get a reprieve – tables are stuck to it. Waiter Milan says this is a true Balkan restaurant with cuisine from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. And he should know – Milan is a Bosnian Serb who’s been living in Prague for about a year and a half; thanks to his Czech wife.

The Korálkárna bead store (#35) is the place to release your inner jewelry designer. Or pick up the goods created by someone who knows what they are doing. Klára was in charge one morning and she says they have many customers from other countries interested in purchasing their beads and other components for making jewelry. The walls of the shops are laden with necklaces and bracelets; all originals made by Czech artists. One of them, Vojteška Vlrková, makes beautiful designs using bronze and precious stones.

Újezd is an interesting mix of locals and tourists. Shops like Art Puzzle, Koruna Pralines and the Sawasdee Thai Foot Massage rely heavily on visitors. The restaurants though get their trade from a heavy mix of locals. Žák at Noi says about 80% of their diners are Czech or expats; and Cantina’s Pavel agrees; putting the number of tourists at about 20% for them. Žák believes it’s because of what else is on the street. “There are many people living here, lots of flats, not so many hotels and offices.”

Café Vescovi (#36) is one spot that sees a brisk local business. “We’ve been here eight years and it’s mainly locals that come back for the coffee,” explains the owner, Bara. “We have breakfast and light lunch, it’s tiny but cozy; everything is fresh every morning.” The coffee and cakes are indeed delicious, and their reputation is spreading beyond their Mála Strana neighborhood. “We come back to good places,” states a tourist upon entering the shop and ordering a sandwich.

Those searching for a true slice of local Czech need only to refresh themselves with a pivo at Pivnice pod petřínem (#48). This is the Czech pub scene in all its glory: Long wooden tables and benches you share; cheap beer flowing from the tap; huge plates of gulaš; gruff and grumpy waiters.

The street goes on, but the half that is Újezd ends at the Czech Museum of Music. This beautiful homage to the country’s rich musical heritage is a good way to end an Újezd stroll; relishing the peace and beauty; modern and classic that is Újezd.