On the Waterfront

Stunning views at a Malá Strana newcomer.

Hergetova Cihelna

Cihelná 2b, Malá Strana

Tel.: 257 535 534

Kitchen open noon-11pm; lounge open until 1 or 2am

Reservations suggested

Last August, after months of what must have been exhaustive planning and building,
one of this city’s most spectacular restaurant-lounges was finally set to throw
open its doors to the public. Then the rains came. Hergetova Cihelna was deluged
with muddy water and the proprietors were washed back to square one.

This being Prague, some envious locals were actually pleased by their neighbor’s
misfortune. After all, it isn’t just any Pavel who can get his hands on the veritable
mint it must have cost to polish this neglected gem. Ever since the Revolution,
central Prague’s budget eateries and hygienically challenged pubs have continuously
lost ground to higher-brow bakeries and swanky bistros, and the change hasn’t
been easy for many. But even an act of God can only slow the march of progress.

Four and a half months later, the stunning Cihelna has quietly opened.

Cihelna’s proprietor, Nils Jebens, Prague’s über restaurateur, is a specialist
in appropriating stylish elements from restaurants worldwide and giving them a
local twist. The results: Kampa Park and Square in Malá Strana, Pravda and Barock
on Paří?ská (with former partner Tommy Sjoo), and the long-defunct Segafredo on
Na přikopě, for which the duo reportedly pocketed a fortune by flipping their
lease to McDonald’s.

The old cihelna – or brickworks – that once occupied these premises lends its
name to both the restaurant and the street on which it stands. A bona fide Malá
Strana landmark that has sat in sorry disrepair for longer than most anyone can
remember, the former factory is a squat, sprawling structure topped with a diminutive
tower and the quarter’s trademark red roofing. It also occupies what may be the
city’s most desirable slice of riverfront.

The view is peerless. Pop around to the back terrace and be wowed by an expansive
swath of river and the Charles Bridge in full view. In fact, views are so plentiful
that even from the men’s toilet you can look out across the river to Old Town
and directly into the most expensive suites of the Four Seasons Hotel.

Cihelna is constructed on two levels. While the quieter downstairs restaurant
is pleasant, it pales when compared to the swanky lounge above, which practically
beckons visitors to install themselves on stylish contemporary couches and drink
colored cocktails from fancy glasses. Set with excellent lighting, a long bar
and a single snazzy pool table (which is free to play), the lounge feels as comfortable
as a living room, yet one better dressed than most. And because the manager is
David Clark, co-owner and former general manager of the Roxy, top-notch chill-out
tunes purr from an incomparable multi-thousand-watt Bose sound system.

That said, the space does have its warts, including gas pipes (for heat lamps)
that stick out dangerously on the rear patio and exit doors with absurdly difficult
pulls. And one wonders just how long the delicate furnishings and fixtures will
last before they’re stained or broken.

While it’s still too early to review the full kitchen – the restaurant hasn’t
yet had its hard opening – the thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza is first-rate,
even with a local variety substituted for the imported Italian flour currently
on order. The pies are created by an authentico pizzaiolo, one Vincenzo Sellitto,
who, Jebens claims, was lured here from Naples exclusively for this task. The
executive chef is Marek Raditsch (responsible for the menu in all of Jebens’ restaurants)
and the kitchen is headed by Petr Latovička (Kampa Park’s longtime sous chef),
so expect the other meals to be outstanding.

Come spring, the glass doors will swing open and the stereo will thrust into high
gear. Dozens more seats will be set on the sizable entrance courtyard, and still
more dozens on the riverfront terrace. The result will be the largest dining venue
in Malá Strana, with seating for more than 450. No wonder Cihelna is being billed
as a restaurant/lounge for the masses, complete with relatively reasonable prices.
Few items will top 200Kč, and the wine list boasts more than two dozen foreign
bottles for less than 500 Kč.

Still, expect local protest. When I strolled up to the menu on display, an older
woman exclaimed, “Seventy-five crowns for soup! And fifty-five crowns for beer!”

I snorted back, feigning a shared dismay. Secretly, I was delighted to find a
light lunch and a beer in such a wonderful setting for a mere 140 Kč. Gentrification
is a double-edged sword, and it’s a pleasure when it lands such a gentle blow.

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