Looking back on that crazy spring, 25 years ago

Part 1: When 'The Globe' Came to Prague

The five Globe founders, pictured here in August 1993, just a few weeks after the opening: (R-L) Markéta Rogers (Janku), Scott Rogers, Mark Baker, Jasper Bear and Maura Griffin. (Photo by Chris Niedenthal/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
One of the earliest shots of the Globe space in Holešovice (at Janovskeho 14), shortly after we signed the lease in the spring of 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.
Before the Globe arrived, the space had most recently housed a decrepit Communist-era laundry, a "praní prádla." I love the colors of the cars in this oversaturated photo from April 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.

It’s hard to believe as I write these words in March 2018, that 25 years ago this month, we (myself and four fellow expats) had just made the gut-wrenching decision to rent a decrepit space in what felt like a far-flung part of Prague (that not even many residents knew very well) to open up an English-language bookstore and coffeehouse.

The rooms we would be renting, in the district of Holešovice (2km north of Old Town Square, and well off the tourist track), had most recently housed a communist-era laundry service (praní prádla in Czech) and were little more than dank, dusty hovels of exposed concrete and dangling wires. There was a small window carved into one of the walls through which residents would push their dirty clothes and pick them up a few days later.

The building, though, had great bones. It’d been built in the early 20th century, and between the world wars had housed a rather opulent pharmacy. The high ceilings still had their pretty moldings, and there was even a room with running water at the back where we could build in a small kitchen. It felt right, but we still weren’t sure.

The chief downside was location (see the map plot, below). Holešovice, these days, is an up-and-coming neighborhood that the city plans someday to transform into Prague's “art quarter.” Business Insider UK even ran an article last year identifying Holešovice as one of Europe’s “23 Coolest Neighborhoods.” That’s debatable, but there’s no denying it’s on the way up.

Back then, it was poor, working class, and pretty isolated. We wondered to ourselves how tourists who could barely find the Charles Bridge would ever make their way out to visit us.

The other big worry, of course, was the whole idea of starting an English-language bookstore in Prague. Were there enough tourists and expats around to sustain the business? Would Czechs actually come?

Those were just some of the questions we asked ourselves that spring 25 years ago as we sat around a dingy table with our future landlords to sign what would be a five-year lease. The building’s owners, a Czech family, had recently come into the property through restitution and were as unskilled at leasing property as we were at running a business.

This must be one of the earliest photos. This is Jasper and Markéta in the bookstore space -- probably in May or June 1993, before renovation. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
A working weekend to get the Globe ready to open -- probably sometime in early June 1993. In the photo: Maura (left), Jasper, and Markéta. Photo by Mark Baker.
The big "Globe" sign that would go across the front of the shop, just shortly before the facade was finished and repainted. Photo by Mark Baker.
Sometime in early June the "Let's Go: Europe" guidebook author showed up without warning. He said he'd put us in the guidebook if we could promise him we'd really open. We did. Photo by Mark Baker.

When people ask me how I got myself involved in owning a bookstore and coffeehouse, I still don’t have a good answer (even 25 years later). In 1992, when the five of us first met and agreed to open the business together, I was an editor with one of Prague’s two main English-language newspapers, “The Prague Post,” and was settled on a career in journalism. Like everyone else back then, I guess I simply got carried away by the optimism unleashed by the fall of Communism just a few years earlier and wanted to be part of it. There was something in the air in Prague back then.

The idea to open up a bookstore wasn't actually mine, but came from two of my prospective partners, Jasper Bear and Maura Griffin, who were also working for The Prague Post. I remember the circumstances pretty clearly:

One morning, sometime in mid-1992, the three of us happened to be sitting at the same Prague cafe, Kavárna Velryba, when I overheard them discussing their bookstore idea. At one point, I walked over to the table, confessed I’d been listening in, and asked if they were looking for a partner. They politely declined, but must have had a change of heart not long after. They invited me in a few days later.

Our partnership became five with the addition of Scott Rogers and Markéta Janků (now Rogers) at around that same time. Scott and Markéta had been helping to run a popular expat-owned club and restaurant, Radost, and were thinking of branching out into their own business. We fused the two ideas, and that’s how the Globe became both a bookstore and a coffeehouse. At least that’s how I remember it.

The hardest and most dangerous job of renovating the store was stripping the old toxic paint from the facade and repainting it. It seemed like it took ages. Photo by Mark Baker.
Around March 1993, the five of us met at my apartment in Vinohrady to resolve the difficult decision of what color to paint the store. We opted for the forest green toward the bottom of this picture -- though you can't really see it in this faded Polaroid. Photo by Mark Baker.
That's a tired-looking me, though I scarcely recognize myself in this picture. Sometime in June 1993, at one of our work parties. Photo by Mark Baker.
My partners, Markéta (left) and Maura, here holding one the signs before we put it up. This would have been sometime in late-spring 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.

Signing the lease, of course, was just the first step. None of us had much money at the time, and once we started paying rent, the pressure mounted to open the business quickly and start recouping some of the initial investment. We set an opening for sometime in July – to capture at least some of the tourist season – but that was just a few short months away and the race was on.

Did I also mention that none of us had much in the way of business experience? We’d each pitched in our share of foundation capital, which gave us a little bit of cash to start renovating the space as well as to buy kitchen equipment, coffeehouse furniture, and books. But where to buy all of this stuff in the Prague of 1993 and how to pull it all together?

Having just carried out a small renovation of my Prague apartment that took over a year to complete – in 2017 – I marvel now at how we were able somehow to create the semblance of a bookstore and coffeehouse in such a short amount of time. Markéta, a Czech-American, was the only real Czech speaker among us, and she focused on the local and legal angles. Scott honed in on the kitchen. Jasper and Maura pitched in on sourcing books and finding personnel, and other odds and ends.

And me? I was the only one at the time who owned a car. My little forest-green Škoda Forman “Excellent” regularly made the hop to the used-furniture warehouses over on Prague’s Libeňský ostrov, where we bought the lamps and chairs, and over to Žižkov, across town, where we bought a lot of the pots and pans and plates and cutlery. It was a full-time job.

And that was only the half of it. There were still tons of decisions -- both big and small -- to make. Would we serve food in the coffeehouse? If so, what kind of food? Would we sell used books? New books? Both? Oh, and what color would the walls be?

We didn’t even have a name for the place until a few weeks before opening.

I believe this guy's name was "Milan." Poor guy. It was his job to strip the old facade paint, rewire and repaint. Photo by Mark Baker.
Shortly before the opening, the front of the store, at least, was finally starting to take shape. That's Maura and Jasper (seated) in the background. Photo by Mark Baker.
Partners Maura and Jasper taking a guitar break from work. It's hard to read Maura's expression here. It was probably something like "put the guitar down and get back to work." Photo by Mark Baker.
A good photo of a smiling Markéta, taking a break from work in the late spring of 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.

In retrospect, “The Globe” seems like such a natural name, it may come as something of a surprise to learn it could easily have been something else. Markéta seemed to like the name “Under the Blue Lamp” – mainly for how it sounded in Czech: Pod modrou lampou. Some of the other contenders included – jogging my memory here – “The World” or “The New World” – which works pretty well in Czech as Nový Svět, and recalls Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s “Symphony of the New World.” I personally liked (but didn’t push very hard for) “Café Niagara” (not for the falls, but rather for a cryptic Hungarian short story from 1963). It’s a cool story but probably would have been a disastrous name.

We settled on the name once and for all a few weeks before the opening at a writers’ retreat Scott had set up at a villa on the outskirts of Prague. He was working on an anthology of contemporary English writing from Prague, Bohemian Verses, that would be published at around the same time as we were opening the store. I don’t remember the deliberations very clearly, but we hashed out the possibilities, and after some back and forth settled on “The Globe.” The name had both a reference to Shakespeare going for it (it's an unwritten rule that all English-language bookstores in Europe need a Shakespeare tie-in) and, in a larger sense, evoked the symbolism of the world returning to Prague after decades of Communist isolation.

I remember the period from May to July as both exciting and exhausting. When we weren’t buying furniture or deciding on names, we were doing more ho-hum stuff like scraping the old Communist-era linoleum off the tile floors. On many days, it looked like it was never going to come together.

For all of our initial anxieties, we needn’t have worried too much. From our July opening to the day the Globe closed its doors at that location, seven years later*, there seemed to be a steady stream of backpackers leading all the way from Prague’s main station right to our door. The place proved to be a big hit both with expats and Czechs, who (at least at first) were amazed there was actually a bookstore where you could touch the books before buying them – and even get a decent cup of coffee.

Though we didn't fully grasp it then, the summer of 1993 proved to be the high-water mark of an expat explosion in Prague that would last at least until 1995 or '96. In trying to explain the odd influx of thousands of young foreigners to a city in Central Europe, editors of newspapers and magazines around the world latched onto the Globe as a kind of touchstone, where they could leverage Prague's prewar reputation as a literary haunt and in the process give the city a then-timely "Gen X" gloss.

I suppose we might have gotten an inkling of the tsunami that was coming on that late-July evening, July 28 to be precise, after we'd finally finished stacking all the books, painting the façade, and mounting that big “Globe Bookstore & Coffeehouse” sign above the door. As we prepared to welcome the public on opening night, we wondered who might be coming.

The party was set to start at 7pm, and within an hour, the crowds were already lining the street.

*We unwound our partnership around the year 2000, though the Globe continues on at a different location, closer to the center of Prague. It may lack something of the original store's quirky atmosphere, but it still has great books and food.

The head of our reconstruction team was the talented Honza Král, though keeping him focused on the job and showing up to work was a full-time job of its own. Photo by Mark Baker.
The invitation we sent out to let people know of our opening party, set for July 28, 1993. Photo credit: Jacques Poitras
The arrival of our toilets, just days before the opening, was a big moment. Photo by Mark Baker.
A much happier looking Jenny Becker on the night of the Globe's opening party in July 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.
A night to remember. Our opening party in July 1993. Photo by Mark Baker.
Jasper (left), Markéta and Scott on floor-scraping day -- sometime in June/July 1993. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
The five original partners, and 'Milan' (the facade guy) in the upper right. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. One of the first sunny spring days that year, and my girlfriend at the time, Jenny Becker, kindly agreed to help us scrape paint. Photo by Mark Baker.
That's Maura in the middle, likely thinking to herself 'our we seriously doing this?' Markéta on the right. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Early days. Me on the left and Jasper Bear on the right. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Markéta and I standing in front of the store, showing off the fact that our reconstruction had been approved by the city. I didn't mention in the post all the legal and bureaucratic hoops we had to jump through. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Our motto, which I still think is pretty awesome: 'In libris, veritas; in kava, vita'. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Jasper and I standing outside the store. I am wearing my camera around my neck, so this is likely the day I took most of the pictures here on this post. May/June 1993. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Markéta put her painting skills to use, drawing the sign that would stand outside the bookstore. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
Markéta and Scott were in charge of setting up the kitchen, which in the spring of 1993 was basically a small room with a window to the cafe. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.
This is me on the right side, stacking books on the shelves. This was probably taken sometime in early July 1993. Jenny (on the left) is making herself comfortable. Photo courtesy of Scott and Markéta Rogers.

Comments

  1. Aw thanx so much for this, the Globe’s historical origins!! Am celebrating 2o years in Prague and can’t begin to describe how much the Globe figured in my first days weeks months in Prague, from May 98. I drop by the “Globe” sometimes (now the Oukey Douky cafe/bookshop) to sit in the same booths and reminisce. : )

  2. In the mid 90s before everyone had the internet, word of the Globe reached my ears in a black-and-white photo lab in Sacramento City College. I was asking if anyone had been to Prague; I wanted to go. One guy said he had, and upon hearing a deluge of questions from me about how to get by, work, meet people, etc., he simply said: “Go to the Globe Bookstore and expand exponentially from there.”

    Great advice. I got info on flats, jobs, and consumed great coffee, books and food all in one place. And when a Czech bank ate my card and I was completely out of food money for a week, the Globe saved my life with a t-shirt and a stack of flyers, which I humbly passed out to strangers on the Charles Bridge in exchange for a meal and pocket money. After many departures to other countries, I am still living in Prague.

    Thanks to all who made the Globe happen.

  3. Hello Mark!

    Just wanted to let you know that I’m incredibly thrilled to be able to read this post about Globe.

    Three years ago I first visited Prague, and was staying at a hostel right across Globe, coming from Asia, I was amazed by the combination of bookstore & cafe & bar at night. And with the existence of such space makes me fell in love with the city. Last year I returned to Prague and stayed for several months and was constantly visiting Globe for various reasons. Many great books discovered, many great times spent sitting alone or drinking with friends… I even had my first Pilsner Urqurell there! Globe really has a special place in my heart.

    Though the Globe I ever visited is the newer version, I’m still so glad to know the whole story/ history behind it. Also, I’ve noticed from the pictures that the original Globe is now one of the kavarna I really like: Ouky Douky.
    All these connections!

    Reading your blog reminds me of the amazing times I had in Prague and enables me to learn about the city and the history even when I’m not physically there.
    Thank you for writing them down!

    Olive

  4. Great to remember this story. I came to Prague in September 1993 and stayed until September 1998. Wonderful years.
    Visited the Globe almost once a week. Remember the HUGE coffee called: “A bowl of soul”.
    And the American wannabe writers showing up with the first chapter of the Great American Novel in their backpack. Made some friends there as well.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. The Globe was an important component of the Prague Summer Writers’ Workshop, which in its various incarnations also celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Many writers who came to read and teach at PSWW then read at The Globe. Carolyn Forche, Clark Blaise, Bharati Mukherjee, Margot Livsey, and many others. I met Zdenek Urbanek there one night when he came to read and I still remember our conversation. Jasper bought for The Globe the books I’d collected while living in the States, then shipped them all over, and I like to think that all those books of my youth are still lounging around Prague, passing from one reader to another.

  6. Thank you for sharing this entrepreneurial journey . Brings back great memories of visiting THE GLOBE. And even though you unwound your partnership, the legacy lives on in the new location.

  7. Great time with you guys. I was visiting from 1995. The place used to be communist laundromat. I lived cross the street and my family ran pub U bará?níku for 26 years 🙂 I went every day to school around this corner to Strossmayerovo nám. and had mtg. with my best friend there in the morning. Also we were playing a game – jumping over a rubber rope 🙂 just in front of the door which was later The Globe and I discussed important intellectual issues with Anglo-american expects, there. I miss 90′. Thank you all for influancing my future.

  8. My life during the last 25 years started at The Globe. Pre-internet days. For English-speaking foreign backpackers arriving in Prague and looking for work or an apartment to live, I was told by an already settled ex-pat that there were three real, physical bulletin boards to check. One was at Radost/FX Cafe near I.P. Pavlova. Another was at the now defunct “Laundry Kings” near Hradcanska, and, of course… there was The Globe. My collection of prized Penguin classics of Greek and Roman authors was pieced together, one book at a time, from used tomes at the original Globe. I have yet to see a book shop outside of the UK that has a better selection. And I met my wife there 24 years ago. Something died in Holesovice after The Globe moved and The Derby had already closed.

  9. The Globe— a wonderful addition to life in Golden Prague- A landmark for expats! Thanks for sharing its origin story. Many adventures learning the ins and outs of life in this city during the early 90s—and worth every moment! Happy you and your friends took the leap and created a place so many enjoyed!

  10. I was overwhelmed by the response on Facebook and Twitter to this post. In the coming days, when I have more time, I will copy and paste some of the comments here, as well as respond to the comments that readers have left below. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read the post and for jogging my memory on countless little things that had slipped out of my memory. Mark

  11. This article brings back so many memories. For me, The Globe will always set the bar for an English language ex-pat bookshop cafe and the quirky location totally made it.

  12. What a treat! Reading this article, I was taken back to the times I spent in The Globe after arriving back in 1998 when I first arrived alone in Prague. It was a great resource for meeting new friends, good food, and having a small taste of home in a foreign land. Thank you, Mark!

  13. Hi Mark –
    Thank you for capturing all these vibrant memories and sharing the footage with such great captions. Yes, 1993 was a whirlwind of a time and I’m very grateful for it – and grateful to you, Jasper, Maura and Scott. A colorful partnership! Don’t know if I could ever do anything like it again – 25 years later. Thankfully “pod modrou lampou” didn’t garner the votes! In Libris Veritas, in Kava, Vita — Živijo. Greetings from far away Portland, Oregon. Markéta ps – I recall that we were glad to post our “stavba povolena” sign a few days before opening… better late than never.

  14. Thank you Mark,
    I too have fond memories of the Globe, and especially its first home, where Markéta and Scott kindly offered me free lunches in exchange for storytelling on Saturday mornings. The was indeed a special feel in the space, and the I can recall many fine people whose paths I crossed, some who have become close friends.

    To all of those who helped make the Globe what it was, congratulations! You have helped create so many wonderful memories. Indeed you can be proud…

  15. One of the best periods of my life is related to The Globe, where I worked at the kitchen a couple of days per week between 1996 and 1998. I remember the permanent staff working there at the time (Tyson, Kuba, Scott, Bara, Tonya, etc.) as well as many people which were (like myself) working a few days a week or just passing by. There were always new faces, people from all over the world, also in the cafeteria. I met so many people at The Globe. There was a very special atmosphere, with all the young intellectuals and newcomers full of energy. Everybody went to The Globe sooner or later.

    The Globe was an incredibly helpful place whether you were a looking for a job or a room, a friend, a musician for your band (it happened to me several times), an actor for your play, etc. As a worker I remember that I could borrow books.

    Being from Mallorca, I once made a traditional dish called “coca de trampo” as “special of the day” but no one would order it as it sounded too exotic. Tyson suggested to change the name for “Mallorquian pizza”. Of course, it was finished in half an hour.

    I even was allowed to make an exhibition of my little paintings for modest % on the sales.

    In short: thank you to you all for opening such a wonderful place. I’m sure that it will be for ever in the heart of all the people who had the chance to spend time in there.

    Juan

  16. Thank you so much for sharing this story of the best coffee&book store in the world. Both Globes have meant a lot to me during the past 20 years and they will do remain important locations on earth to me as long as I live and love. I always visit both addresses in Praha. Sitting there makes me so happy, sitting here on the other side of Europe (and screen) makes me nostalgic, blue and moved.

  17. Thanks so much for posting this! My time in Prague was short – September 1995 to January 1996 – but I must’ve been at The Globe at least a couple of times a week throughout. It was the hub of everything, I had so many great evenings, met fantastic people, and felt I had a home there. In fact, I sometimes still feel something akin to homesickness when I think of it! I’m going back to Prague for the first time in ten years soon and I’ll be sure to pop in to the ‘new’ location, but it’s been so lovely to see these pictures of the original and hear the story of how it came to be.

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About the author

Mark Baker

I’m an independent journalist and travel writer who’s lived in Central Europe for more than two decades. I love the history, literature, culture, and mystery of this often-overlooked corner of Europe, and I make my living writing articles and guidebooks about the region. Much of what I write eventually finds its way into commercial print or digital outlets, but a lot of it does not.

That's my aim with this travel website: to find a space for stories and experiences that fall outside the publishing mainstream.

You’ll find a mix of stories here. Some will be familiar “what to see and do” travel articles on particular destinations. Others will be tales of “adventure” (usually with a comic twist) from life on the road. I'll also share tips about living in my adopted hometown of Prague and stories from a more-distant (but seemingly ever-present) past, when Central Europe was the “Eastern bloc” and I was a full-time journalist trying my best to cover it. I hope you enjoy.

Tales of Travel & Adventure in Central Europe
Mark Baker