Emerging Prague: Vršovice

A rough-and-tumble outer borough with hipster appeal, lotsa cafes
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Vršovice has long endured a bad rap – crumbling tenements, deserted retail units, copious amounts of graffiti and rundown sidewalks. It’s on the cusp of Vinohrady, yet not as cool (except of course for the free street parking that those in the neighboring districts are only too happy to bogart).

But over the last several years, something started happening to this little sliver of Prague 10: A bevy of stylish cafes, restaurants and small boutique retailers, as well as a couple of big-name chains quietly settled in. Many of the area’s ornate row houses, particularly along Kodaňská and the mesh of streets bordering Grébovka Park (aka Havlíčkovy sady), have also undergone extensive renovations as the rental market slowly began heating up.

Vršovice suddenly found itself filling with a new generation of tenants looking for a calmer, less expensive pocket of Prague to call home. Indeed, the neighborhood offers a sense of seclusion yet is still only a 10-minute commute via tram or bus to Náměstí Míru or I.P. Pavlova, or, for those who are more ambitious, a brisk 40-minute walk to Wenceslas Square. And rents are, more or less, below the monthly rates seen in surrounding areas. At least for now.

Locals love its shabby chic

There’s a growing tight-knit community here, a true rarity in Prague, evident not only by the warm familiarity with which wait staff greet their patrons – cafe latte extra sugar, right? – but also by local business owners’ united efforts to clean up the neighborhood’s gritty image. The riffraff can still be glimpsed along the busy, exhaust-choked thoroughfare between Eden Shopping Center and Bohemians 1905 Stadium, as well as the dingy side streets lined with hernas and paneláky. In spite of all its flaws, however, there are many who are more than willing to invest in this rising star.     

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Kateřina McCreary is one of Vršovice’s biggest champions. The first time McCreary laid eyes on this rough-and-tumble outer borough she remembers thinking that the colorful tiled-roofed homes peeking over Francouzská street looked like a slice of Malá Strana but, she adds with a laugh, “without all the tourists.”

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Cafe Sladkovský owner Kateřina McCreary and family

I fell in love with it immediately,” McCreary says of the neighborhood where she’s lived for the last two decades. “It looks really shabby and really dirty, but it’s a beautiful corner of Prague.”

Three years ago, McCreary further cemented her committment to Vršovice when she and a partner opened Cafe Sladkovský, a cozy kavárna decorated with old black-and-white photos, upholstered furniture and cheery 1950s-style wallpaper. Sladkovský has an extensive drink and food menu (the bacon cheeseburger is a must), but it’s the clientele, a mix of expats and artsy, civic-minded types, that have truly made this trendy corner cafe stand out.  

We saw it as something we wanted to add to the neighborhood,” says McCreary. I just like to make things nice, where people can enjoy their food, the atmosphere and one another. The guests we have here have one by one become our friends.”

A bevvy of eateries, high to low

It’s a creed that worked well for Shakespeare and Sons Bookstore, which moved into a unit on Krymská in the late 90s and is credited with helping to usher in a slew of other independent retailers. The English-language bookshop has since moved into a bigger space across the river, its prime Vršovice digs quickly picked up by Cafe V lese. However, Shakespeare’s legacy is fondly remembered with each new business opening, which over the years has included the Czech Inn, Café Šlágr, and the Prague Coffee House.   

The neighborhood also has a number of long-time stalwarts: The upscale Italian restaurant Osteria da Clara, for instance, as well as Neklid and U Čarodějky, both severing Czech cuisine, are all well-established and heavily lauded Vršovice gems. As is Pizzeria Padova and its wood-beamed terrace garden and the further afield Huang He, one of the first Chinese restaurants to open in the city after the fall of communism. This popular if slightly utilitarian dining spot, across the street from the restored Vršovice train station, offers an extensive daily menu full of fan favorites like Hunan chicken, duck swaddled in garlic sauce and a rainbow veggie platter.        

Notable newcomers

While Vršovice is filling up quickly these days, there always seems to be room for a couple more. This past May, Slovak designer Patricia Madarova found on Francouzská a permanent base for her popular BOHO pop-up shop. BOHO Vintage Concept Store’s retro-inspired accessories and housewares  necklaces made from antique lace and blocky plastic letters, hand-poured candles in old jars, pillows covered in men’s shirts  are perfectly in step with the neighborhood’s bohemian feel.

Café Jen is another recent arrival. Open since mid-May, this delightful Kodaňská haunt has already attracted quite a following with its freshly blended fruit smoothies and deliciously experimental breakfast dishes and pastry selection (banana-chocolate bread, anyone?). Its savvy young proprietors, Hanka Bojdová and Dominika Fajtová, are hoping to bring of bit of Viennese cafe culture to Prague, where coffeehouses play a central role in shaping a community. Jen’s furnishings are secondhand chic, sanded down and repainted to look like new, while the menu selection draws on inspiration from South Moravian vineyards and Austrian bistros. The combination has obviously paid off, as the cafe often has a steady stream of guests, many of them repeat customers who come armed with their laptops or a book. Other local cafe owners have also popped by to welcome in the new kids on the block.

“I think what’s nice about this street is that there is a variety of options,” Fajtová says. “You don’t feel like there is any major competition here.” That seems to be the unwavering opinion with shop and cafe owners here – they root one another on as if they are all part the same team. 

It’s very homey here. You get a really different atmosphere in Vršovice,” Bojdová says. “People are more … nice.”

For sure,” Fajtová adds. “The people are definitely the best part of the job.”                        

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