You walk into the cafe. It’s one of the few around, but you go there specifically because you would like to sit at a window a floor higher than the rest of working class humanity, both figuratively and literally. Whatever your profession, work is troublesome, but one can’t complain too much because to have work is good and to have access, both socially and monetarily, to this place is better. To afford this luxury is somewhat necessary for my sanity.
The cafe has long windows, simply paned, with tables, of various sizes, spread meticulously underneath the high and ornate ceiling, and is occupied by my bourgeois compatriots alongside a few others that do not quite fit in. One of such people sits on the table in front of me against the window, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, but just like me, always here. Although a stranger I worry about him sometimes. When by himself, he stares blankly through the window, his head drooping slightly to gaze at the street below, pondering about something both frightening and complex. I see it in his eyes. He smiles rarely. He writes in his notebook sometimes; I wonder what about.
That Einstein fellow can be rather loud, but when close enough I can’t help but want to listen in. There is something about his enthusiasm that is infectious. I envy him. More for his charisma and charm than for his ideas and famous brilliance. I don’t know much about theoretical physics, nor care for it. Knowing for the sake of knowing seems like an overindulgence but that’s just me.
This place Cafe Louvre, more than the coffee, the food, the people or the furnishings, possesses a powerful energy that, once gone, will leave a residue that will last for generations. I cannot imagine the city of Prague without it.
– Karlov Praha, Fictional Diary of a Citizen of Prague (circa. 1910)
The Cafe Louvre was, without doubt, one of the most memorable highlights of our time in Czechia. Neatly situated on one of Prague’s most identifiable avenues, Národní třída, the café and restaurant demonstrates a rich and partially tumultuous legacy that goes all the way back to the early 1900s. Being such an emblematic cultural icon, it was impossible for us not to see what the fuss was all about.
Going through a narrow corridor, up a staircase that looked no worse for wear and into the main foyer of the cafe has a sort of build-up that one associates with that of tunnels at football stadiums . It’s one of those places where, once inside, you can feel it’s history, and the fact of your being there effectively now a part of it, is quite thrilling.
Much to our surprise, we got our table extremely quickly, one opposite the service counter, and were greeted warmly by a waiter who frankly held more plates of food than I previously thought possible. There was an ease about the staff, a comfortability in the controlled chaos that came with their fame.
The first time the gentleman came to take our order we were nowhere near ready. We had only just got done looking around, through the windows, at the kinds of people around us and their plates of food. We were glad that there was no real dress code, since we were slightly worried that some remnants of bourgeois fashion still lingered. There were people in suits, race-course hats, khaki shorts and running gear, we were in relatively smart casuals ourselves so we felt alright. Fact was that we did not carry anything overly formal.
When the waiter came around again we ordered a soup, chicken breast and spätzle as well as some beef tartare that we saw being served to another table. Two starters and a main for us to share, less of a variety than usual but we didn’t want to spend too much at Cafe Louvre especially since we were planning on visiting another restaurant that evening. In Berlin and then in Dresden we stuck mostly to eating street-food and food market options so it was a huge increase in expenditure to move on to restaurants, especially with Vienna looming.
At the risk of sounding overtly hyperbolic, the soup that Maddy and I shared at Cafe Louvre was the best soup we’d ever tasted. Rich and creamy with the subtle surprise of sunflower seed, exquisitely seasoned, vibrantly coloured and just warm enough to taste without having to cool it down; I feel helpless now trying to describe with words a dish so transcendental a flavour. In comparison to the unremarkable soup we had on our first day in Prague, this was an absolute revelation. Even the portion we were given was generous enough for us to split evenly and still feel satisfied with what we had.
The beef tartare and chicken dish came in no small portion either. In hindsight we probably should have picked less into the bread that accompanied the soup, but were worried that the plates we would be served would more akin to the teaspoon of fine dining than the ladle of homecooking. Not at all so. The tender chicken breast atop a velveteen sauce together with the pasta-like spätzle swirls was large enough to beat Maddy, albeit not by much. My tartare was equally abundant with a fat dollop of cream and large slices of simply scrumptious butter garlic toast. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
When we realised that we spent much less than budgeted for, after our main meal, we even went in for a chocolate gateau because, well, why not?! One my close friends from Brazil often says that no matter how full your meal makes you, somehow, there is always room for dessert. And on that beautiful day in Prague, the saying was proved true.
Needless to say, we received our money’s worth at the Cafe Louvre. And if we ever were to stay in Prague again, rest assured we would be keen patrons.