Slithering 'til Daybreak

Burning through the last fuel at Prague's best after-hours spots.

Slithering 'til Daybreak

The speed had gotten a bit chunky in Alisa's pocket, due partly to condensation but more to whatever crap had been used to cut it. God forbid a dealer would sell quality crystal meth in this town. Ask any non-junkie drug enthusiast if they'd be willing to pay a bit more for less filler, and answer is always yes. There's little to be done, though. Just as hot air rises, drug dealers will always water down their product.

We laid down the first rails in the tiny park on the Staré Město side of ?tefánikův bridge. Crush, cut, sniff. And, in my case, sniff again. And again. I was having trouble with allergies and had even less than my usual one good nostril. The speed hung up there like a crusty booger, forcing me to pull it in with a deep breath and suffer the burn.

And off we went. First to the usual spots where we saw old friends, new friends, and strangers. School's back in session, so the bars are packed. Gaggles of people wide-eyed with wonder, drink and drug. Five hours later, after hours of speedy comfortable chatter, the house lights are on. Time flies. It's time to choose the sunrise venue.

After a long meander through old town, I found myself taking stock of my life while sitting in Batalion at an hour that would've yielded daylight three months ago. I feel at home in this place; partly from the metal soundtrack that echoes my teenage years, partly for the dirty music club feel that echoes my college years. The front room upstairs offers several tables with a view of the street, and the flow of people keeps you alive like circulating water for captive lobsters. The basement has larger tables and dark, dungeon bricks appropriate to the soundtrack. Batalion is a good 4:00 a.m. spot, the place to go when you need to sit with a drink and consider what's next. You're no longer at 110%, but aren't ready to head home, either.

It's 4:40 a.m. and we hit the baggie for the last time. Drug use in Prague is about still believing that the wizard is real, about never seeing the old man behind the curtain. It's about knocking down the doubts and convincing oneself that life should be easy. It's about forgetting that true satisfaction comes from challenge and struggle and - let's just say it - from pain. If you're not careful at 4:40 a.m. - with the raw edge of come-down on the horizon, when the field at the trance party no longer looks like a magical wonderland, when you make the mistake of looking in the fluorescent-lit mirror in the bathroom - you can fall hard into a despair of self-loathing borne of self-doubt.

So you hit the baggie one last time. Or you eat that second half of the second pill. At 4:55 a.m., I was cupping this ridiculous destiny in my hands, cuddled not with a loved one in a soft bed, but with a friend in a filthy bathroom stall, holding out my American Express card so he could take a hit of filthy Czech bathtub crank.

Decision time: Industry55 or Le Clan. There are other places, sure, but these two Vinohrady neighbors are the most dependable places to escape the light. Industry for dancing, Le Clan for landing; each with their own unique smell of decadence. With a fresh dose of amphetamine bravado running through the body, there's no reason not to do both. All you need at this stage in the night are people. You need to witness life being lived. You need to be surrounded by fellow crawlers of similar mind frame and distortion, either sped up or riding out their last, diminishing waves.

Industry is the best choice in tail-end dance clubs, a downstairs hideout where you can't look behind the curtain because there is no curtain. This club knows what it is, knows what it isn't, and everyone's there for the same reason: to burn off the traces of rocket fuel running through their blood. The two-level dance area is anchored by a shiny bar and flanked by a chill-out room with couches. In back is another bar and a small foosball room. On Saturday and Sunday, the music (heavy on the straight-ahead techno) goes until noon.

When you want to start the descent, get out of Industry and walk down Vinohradská, turn right onto Balbínova and ring the buzzer at 23. This is Le Clan. With good DJs, sexy crowd, soft-red lighting, and a gritty, couch-strewn ping-pong dungeon, this is the best after-party scene in Prague. When your head is still buzzing around like a fly caught in a jar but your body has lost the rush, find a spot and stretch. This is when conversational inhibitions are beautifully absent, when statements between friends are delightfully deconstructed. This is when your drugs are almost done lying to you, but not quite.
When the tanks are empty, wish your friends goodnight and step into the crisp daylight. Head home to watch some movies, maybe listen to some music, letting your body slowly and gently touch down. Just try not to sleep the whole day away. That's when the self-loathing of the day-after really takes hold.

Jeff Koyen is grounded at [email protected]

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