Národní 1987/22: Café Louvre

Cafe Louvre, Prague, interior

In 1902 – the year which saw a hugely influential exhibition of French art held in Prague –  the elegant Café Louvre opened its doors on the first floor of an impressive townhouse by architects František Buldra and Richard Klenka. The venue rapidly asserted itself as a meeting place for artists and intellectuals, a rival to the older and more established Café Slavia further along the same street.

Among its many celebrated patrons were Franz Kafka and his friend and biographer Max Brod, who wrote of the “lovely gentle hours” the two of them spent here reading the work of Laforgue in November 1907. Four years later, Albert Einstein was a regular visitor during the year of his professorship in Prague. And in 1925, the Cafe Louvre was the birthplace of the Czech branch of the international literary organization PEN, founded by the brothers Karel and Josef Čapek.

It is no surprise that, as a seat of political and intellectual discussion, the Louvre was one of the first victims of Communist repression, and in 1948 the entire contents of the cafe were theatrically ejected from the windows – a modern-day defenestration of Prague. The café had to wait until 1992 before a loving restoration took place, returning the establishment to its eminent position among the coffee houses of this literary city. As I am reminded by at least one reader, the hot chocolate is also the best in town.