Revisiting Old Town’s most infamous bars.
Marquis de Sade
Templová 8 in P1
Jakubská 2 in Praha 1
It all started with an SMS. The ring shattered this recurring dream of mine involving a Silver Line arrow, an U Zlatého Stromu stripper, and the infinite variations of sodomy. I rolled over in bed and looked at my clock. It was 10 P.M.; in these parts, 22:00. The SMS read, "Wk Up." My friend Aaron, a family man with a day gig, sends it to me every night before he goes to sleep. I get up and realize I'm already dressed. In a minute, I'm out the door and walking as straight as I'll walk for hours. I've taken to measuring distance not in kilometers, but in cigarettes. How many cigarettes is it from my flat to the Marquis de Sade? Two.
Through a scrim of Marlboro, the bar's enormous room opened up before me. It's not hard to understand why this place was the Habsburg-era whorehouse-of-choice. Looking up at the balcony with its curtained booths, you can't help but feel the illicitness of the place. What midnight rendezvous took place here? Can you hear the secrets whisper from lips to ear?
I settled into a womblike couch and ordered a Staropramen. Ever since a memorable evening with an English girl a few months ago, Staropramen has tasted like tongue. I scratched at my three days' worth of growth and took in the scene: The place was packed with Fury-like Janas, expats wearing shirts with little polo players on them, a gaggle of Austrian girls. The smoke-light picked up a piece of hair and bounced it back off my bleary eyes. It was ?árka, and like the Slavonic warrior woman who is her namesake, she doesn't take any shit. I set down my last 20 Kč coins to hold her for one beer's worth of conversation, one beer's worth of interest, feigned or forced. "I like that red," she says, pointing a meticulously manicured finger at the wall, "It's like this music."
How does discourse lead to intercourse? How does casual conversation lead to an upending of a burnt mattress? Just when I decide to switch my mind off and investigate, ?árka starts ringing, and so begins a session of furious SMSing. She has a right hand that's so fast, it would be the envy of most thirteen year-old boys. I peered over her bare shoulder.
"@ Chpau fkin drnk."
"Chapeau," I say, "Isn't is called Chateau?"
"Whatever," she says, "maybe I'll see you there later." Maybe.
Two beers later (I've switched to Krupovice), Evan walks to the bar, but the last thing I want to do is talk to a guy. Sensing my mood, he nods. Bertrand Russell once said that he'd lost friends to one of three addictions: chess, religion, or alcohol. I've lost some friends to these as well. But, what are true lifelong friends when compared with the people one collects in these pursuits... The anonymous people who clap your back, forget your name, and drink you down? Evan nods in the direction of a bleached blonde sitting at the end of the bar. I nod at him. These nods mean, "I want to share this with you," and, "Thank you for sharing." A beer later, Evan decides to talk to her. I try to read their lips, but I can't. Soon, I'm just putting words in their mouths:
Evan: Wanna fuck?
Bleached Blonde: Let's talk labor economics.
"I study economics," said an American girl next to me. I'd been talking out loud. She's killing the night; her flight for NYC leaves at 7 A.M. Her name's Lauren. Apparently Prague is "soooo cheap." At least, that's what she told me. She lives in the East Village, New York City. I lived in Harlem. About all we had in common was that we knew the same subway lines.
I decide to go to another bar, and Chateau or Chapeau Rouge or whatever is as good as any. Leaving the Marquis de Sade, I think of the greatest joke ever told:
A Masochist says, "hit me."
A Sadist says, "no."
We laugh, me and Prague that is.
Walking the block to Chateau I pass the Kostel Sv. Jakuba and shudder. If you've ever been inside, you've seen, to the left of the main door, a hanging human arm, shriveled since its severance sometime in the early 15th Century. With the limb and these bars, these few blocks around Malá ?tupartská have a palpable evil. ?árka was waiting outside the door. "Waiting for me?" I asked. She shook her head and said she was waiting for some guy, waiting to buy some pills. "The pinks are cute," she said. Walking into Chapeau, I'm dumbfounded every time. This is what I intend to see when I die; this is hell and Hieronymous Bosch couldn't have painted it any better. The hard with the soft, the lines straightening and curving from bar to buttocks, the sweating of expectation, bathes everything in a kind of afterbirth. The place is packed with component woman, machined then packaged. Sorting the mass to find "the one" is a search for proportion.
At a circular table stand a few Moravian girls, and, after glancing at the always-crowded bar, I decide to talk to them first, before braving cigarette burns on my pants. They were two months out of a village whose name I couldn't catch, and they seemed to be working daily on developing that speed habit. How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Chapeau? Their talk to me ends in giggling, and I go for another beer. Alcohol - the greatest word Arabs gave the west.
At the bar, I see another "friend." His name is Jim, and he wants a drink with me. I say yes. Jim likes the harder stuff, which is to say vodka and Italian women. He's a Brit, but we won't hold that against him. He claims I speak English, and I deny like Judas or O.J.
"I speak American," I tell him. "It's a different language." I don't tell him I think it's a better language.
Just then, two German girls appear at my table. "Maidenfleisch," I mutter. Even when I speak German, I tell them, I speak American... or, more specifically, New Jerseyean, the lingua franca of my youth. To clarify: in Czech, water is "voda." In American and English, it's "water." In New Jersey, it's "wooder." The Germans laugh; they're so polite. One takes my mobile number. She never calls. Two hours and six beers later, I call it a night. "I'll walk home," I slur to myself. Home's only two cigarettes away.
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