Monday, Mar. 06, 2006
Bohemia's Bohemia
Gritty Zizkov offers art, a thriving music scene and food that sticks to your ribs

A bit bored with Prague's overwhelming period-film beauty? Just a 15-minute tram ride from the city center lies Zizkov, a district for those who fancy an atmosphere better suited to an indie film. Slightly seedy, bohemian and proud, Zizkov is a dynamic neighborhood with a blue-collar past and a middle-class, cosmopolitan future.

If Zizkov was an organism, beer would be its blood and Borivojova Street its main artery—it's home to about two dozen bars and pubs. The sounds of live rock, punk, blues, country and Old Prague accordion pour from open windows on summer nights. And while the street still hosts old-school carpenters and hardware stores, a variety of new businesses have arrived, including a hot pink apartment building turned three-star hotel, a halal butcher and a yoga studio.

The district is named after Jan Zizka, a one-eyed Czech Protestant warrior who, in 1420, defeated Holy Roman Empire crusaders on Vitkov Hill. A granite equestrian statue of Zizka sits at the top of the hill; at the foot is the pub U vystrelenyho oka (The Shot-Out Eye)—the name, of course, a tribute to Zizka's missing orb. The slightly scruffy venue offers weekly live rock, blues and alternative music and typical Czech pub food—that is, everything is bread crumbed and fried. Try Hermelin, a Czech version of Camembert cheese pickled in oil with garlic and hot peppers. The beer is cheap and plentiful—indeed, nothing costs more than $3.50. 3 U bozich bojovniku; tel: (420-2) 22540465

Meat lovers should not miss the Bosna Grill, a homely five-table joint operated by a Bosnian family that offers Balkan meat grills such as sausage-shaped cevap and burger-like pleskavice for $4, and the best homemade cakes in the neighborhood. 4 Havlickovo namesti, tel: (420-2) 22782801

For a bit of peace and quiet, visit the ivy-clad New Jewish Cemetery, 1 Israelska, where Franz Kafka rests. The beautifully sculpted tombstones in this 115-year-old graveyard function as a sort of outdoor gallery of 20th century artistic styles.

For a great view of the 'hood (and a nosy peek at residents' backyards), climb the 216-m-high, Soviet rocket-like TV tower to its indoor viewing deck. Crawling up and down the tower's pillars are provocateur Czech artist David Cerny's large black babies—definitely more David Lynch than Merchant Ivory. 1 Mahlerovy sady, tel: (420-2) 67005766

From TIME asia Magazine, issue dated March 13, 2006 Vol. 167, No. 10

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