Karlovy Lázně

Sam Corbett experiences five times the pleasure -- and five times the hype -- at Central Europe's biggest club

This article first appeared in The Prague Wanderer, a web magazine produced by students at New York University in Prague.

If you have at least one working ear and any kind of social life here in Prague, odds are that you've heard of Karlovy lázně. Of course, it's more likely that you know it as "that five-story club." Karlovy lázně bills itself, a bit immodestly, as "five clubs for the price of one" and "the largest club in Central Europe."

While these claims may be a slight exaggeration, the club perched on the edge of the Vltava river offers a breadth of music you won't find many other places.

From the minute you join the long but well-organized line to get in the club, it is obvious that a uniquely Czech experience is not the main attraction here. Tourists from all over Europe abound, chattering loudly in their native tongues. I heard four or five languages just waiting to get inside. The nonexistent dress code and laid-back attitude typical of clubs in Prague is definitely an additional draw.

"We've got one night in Prague, and heard this was the place to be," said Georgia McClintock, a 23-year-old university student from Brisbane, Australia. "With all the different dance floors, there's something for everyone!"

Upon passing through the efficient security check and paying the 120 crown entrance fee (about $7), revelers can select a floor based on whatever music they happen to be in the mood for. Floor themes include one disco, one techno (dominated by Czech teenagers, and the most exclusive-feeling floor in the club), one R&B and hip-hop, and one with "chill-out" music and plenty of beanbag chairs to rest on.

However, the real star of the club and consistently the most crowded dancefloor in the building is the whimsically named "Kaleidoskop" floor.

Featuring the best of the '60s, '70s, and '80s remixed and blasted over an illuminated dancefloor straight out of Saturday Night Fever, it is the absolute place to be. (Speaking of Saturday Night Fever, I think it's safe to say that you'll never really appreciate the Bee Gees' vocal talent until you hear a rendition of Stayin' Alive co-performed by a dozen drunk Germans.)

This floor also features the most diverse crowd, with the aforementioned tourists mixing with a small but vocal number of older Czech couples dancing their sexagenarian legs off.

Whatever your musical taste, you can rest assured that you'll never be too far from a bar. With two or three fully stocked on every floor, a beer or a mixed drink is always within arm’s reach.

The bartenders have clearly been trained to take advantage of unwitting tourists, asking with every drink, "I keep change? Tip?" as they gesture towards already-overflowing cups of coins. Despite this somewhat annoying behavior, drink prices themselves are what you would expect from the most touristy area of Prague, with a beer costing 40 crowns and a Red Bull-and-vodka 120. Red Bull was a huge help to me in getting my money's worth out of each dancefloor.

The decor on the whole is fairly minimalist aside from the illuminated dance floor on the Kaleidoskop level, though most floors feature ample seating away from the packed dancers. The building, originally a 14th century bathhouse, has even retained emptied swimming pools as dance spaces on two floors (although you'd be hard-pressed to notice that with all the people who stuff themselves into them).

A few neat design elements are littered throughout the club, including what their official website describes as the only "permanently installed three color laser" in the Czech Republic and a projector that shines on a cloud of artificial fog, but these are primarily novelties and don't especially add to the overall atmosphere (which is, like most large clubs, dominated by the heat and stickiness).

As everywhere in Prague, club attendees would be wise to keep a close eye out for pickpockets. However, the club's overall attitude is extremely zen, with strangers in the bathroom attempting to overcome a language barrier just to talk about each other's hometowns. The only kind of fight I witnessed was an intense dance-off on the hip-hop floor.

Is Karlovy lázně a true Prague experience? Well yes; it is, after all, near the Charles Bridge, but anyone looking to mingle with plenty of Czechs should probably look elsewhere. Is it a fun place to spend a full night out? Absolutely.

By the time my group was ready to make the trek home, the sky was just beginning to lighten. We took the first metro of the day home, each humming a different song from a variety of genres, but all satisfied with our night.

Karlovy lázně
Smetanovo nábř. 198
Prague 1
Tel.: (+420) 222 220 502
Open: 21:00 - 05:00

Prague Directory Listing

Sam Corbett is in his third year at New York University, studying journalism and sociology. He is from Potomac, Maryland.

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