A quarter century and it could have been yesterday

Part 2: When ‘The Globe' Came to Prague

One of Adam Trachtman's beautiful, whimsical postcards. And, no, Holešovice never quite looked liked this.
The five original partners, pictured here sometime shortly after opening in July 1993 (from right to left): Markéta Janků, Scott Rogers, Mark Baker, Jasper Bear and Maura Griffin. Photo credit: Chris Niedenthal/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The day Allen Ginsberg dropped by The Globe to check it out. The man on the far left of the photo was traveling with Ginsberg at the time. That's me on the right. Photo credit: unknown.
Joan M. (left) and Jasper B. on the mean streets of Holešovice. Photo credit: Joan Menefee.

Whenever I tell people about the Globe and once co-owning a bookstore/coffeehouse, the reaction is always the same. “A bookstore and a coffeehouse? OMG, That’s my dream job!” And my reaction is usually the same too. I push back gently with a variation of the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for.”

The night of our opening party, July 28, 1993, wasn’t just the culmination of a frantic four months of preparation to open a business, it was the starting point for what would prove to be a long process of work and learning that would eventually take its toll on all five of the original partners. Looking back, we were so swept up in the positive energy of early-‘90s Prague that I don’t think any us truly grasped the commitment we’d entered into. Anyone who’s ever owned a business will know what I’m talking about.

I was perhaps the worst of the five. Less than a year after opening the Globe, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t cut out to be a business owner and wanted to return to full-time journalism. Much to the bafflement of my partners and friends in Prague, one day in May 1994, I announced I was heading home to the United States to look for a job with a newspaper or wire service. I would keep my stake in the business, but my career focus would be elsewhere.

And that’s what I did. That summer, I moved back to my parents’ house in Ohio (the proverbial parental basement), and after a long period of frantically searching for work, eventually landed a spot as an editor with Bloomberg News. My first job with Bloomberg was located in a relatively remote corner of rural New Jersey, outside of Princeton (about as far from Prague spiritually as you could get). I was later transferred to Bloomberg's home office in New York, which was a big upgrade, but even then I missed the close-knit community I'd had at the Globe. Eventually, my homesickness for Prague would get the better of me and at the end of 1996, I returned to Central Europe.

A few months ago, as I was paging through some Facebook comments and photos from my earlier blog post, I realized there were many stories and photos that I couldn’t recall, and then it dawned on me why. By moving back to the U.S. when I did, I’d missed a lot of what had happened in those early days.

Night in the coffeehouse, sometime probably in 1994. Josh (left), Jasper, James and Barbara. Photo credit: Maura Griffin.
The Globe Bookstore & Coffeehouse -- postcard. Photo credit: Filip Zikmund.
Tom Brokaw and the rest of the NBC Nightly News crew were in town to cover U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Prague in January 1994. Brokaw stopped by the Globe for a chat. That's me on the left. Photo credit: unknown.
Bookstore manager Rob M. (left), Joan M. and Shelton. Photo credit: Joan Menefee.

Although I love coffee, I was always more closely attached to the book side of our business than the coffeehouse, and most of my memories and stories revolve around buying and selling books and holding our sporadic evening readings.

Back in the day, people would often ask me where we (the Globe) would source our books (they were referring to our used books, as it was pretty clear we bought new books from publishers and wholesalers).

Indeed, finding quality used books and shipping them to Prague was never easy. First off, we had to locate books that our customers – mainly expats, backpackers, and Czechs – would actually want to buy. Back then that meant lots of John Irving titles (“The World According to Garp”) and Czech writers in translation (and not too many shiny-cover romances and bodice-rippers). And then there was the question of cost. Even for the best books, our market wouldn’t usually support a price of above a few dollars. We had to be ever vigilant in looking for suppliers. That led us on more than a few wild-goose chases over the years.

One of our most memorable but least-successful book-finding trips was a seven-hour drive to Stuttgart, Germany, that Jasper, Maura and I took in my newly bought Škoda in the summer of 1993. A sketchy, middle-aged American guy named “Larry” had come through Prague just as we were opening up and said he had “warehouses and warehouses” of used books in Germany, and that he’d be happy to sell them to us for “10 cents a kilo.” He told us he was involved in decommissioning U.S. military bases in southern Germany, so it wasn’t such a stretch to think he might have books to sell.

Fast-forward to Stuttgart, and in my mind’s eye, we’re partying with Larry and some his friends in his sleazy, ‘70s-era mansion that looked as if you might find Hugh Hefner (minus the bunnies) floating around in a bathrobe. As for the books, Larry did have kilos, but they turned out to mainly grade-school math and science textbooks for the kids on the base. The U.S. military would no longer need the books once the soldiers returned home. The problem is, even at 10 cents a kilo, we’d never be able to sell them in Prague.

We ended up sourcing most of our used books in the United States, and all five partners had stories of stuffing those big U.S. postal service "M" bags with books and shipping them off to Prague on their trips home. I got my whole family in on the act, and my parents and brother got quite adept over the years at filling up those army-green duffel bags.

One of my favorite book-buying stories is a trip that Jasper and I took in 1995 or ’96 to Riverrun Books, a private bookshop in Hastings-On-Hudson, north of New York City. I was living in New York at the time and Jasper was passing through town. We met up and caught the train upriver to see what we could find.

It was indeed a major haul. Riverrun had exactly the kind of high-quality paperbacks we knew we could sell, and they were willing to make deals. Feverishly working in their storeroom at the back, the two of us uncrated box after box and neatly stacked all the titles we’d be buying and shipping back to Europe. And then we hit what we thought was the jackpot of all time: a carton filled with books and labeled on top: “Central Europe” or "Eastern Europe" (or something like this).

English translations of books by Czechs or other Central European writers were our bread and butter at The Globe. We simply couldn’t keep these titles in stock, and we salivated at the prospect of making some easy sales.

And then we opened the box. Much to our shock and amusement it was filled with porn. Loads of porn. Someone had clearly tried to hide the contents by giving the box the most unappetizing label they could think of.

One of our first hires, Pavel (straight from the Russian Navy), pictured here with Maura G. Photo credit Joan Menefee.
Typical night in the coffeehouse, circa 1994 or '95. Lots of people in this shot, including Laura De Blois. Photo credit: Jeffree Benet.
Chris M. manning the front desk at the bookstore. Photo credit: Jasper Bear.
Part of the plan was to establish links to other English bookstores in Europe, including Shakespeare & Co in Paris. This is a copy of a letter we sent to owner/operator George Whitman. Double-click the photo to open a larger image.

Our author readings were another high point for me.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Prague back then was still in the early phases of its re-opening to the world, and it seemed as if every international author coming to this part of Europe would swing through town. Once they were here, as an English-language bookstore, we were one of the few games around if they wanted to read or meet their public.

In that first year of operation, the Globe hosted readings or visits by Allen Ginsberg, Amy Tan, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, James Salter, James Ragan and several others I can’t remember now. Over the years, that list would expand to resemble a “Who’s Who” of famous authors.

Czech and other local writers came by as well. It was their chance to meet a new readership. Well-known Czechs like Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Lustig, Ludvík Vaculík and Jáchym Topol, as well as resident Prague authors like Prague Post Editor-in-Chief Alan Levy and Robert Eversz, among others, would drop in during those early days to see what all the fuss was about.

Our readings were always highly improvised affairs. We’d clear out the bookstore of stray customers, pull out some old benches we kept stored in the cellar, and set up an impromptu reading space in a cramped, sweaty corner of the shop. As the speaker was reading, the din from the coffeehouse would invariably pour through the walls and the coffee grinder would pierce its way through every poignant pause. It was comical.

The best events, of course, were when the writers would arrive unannounced.

One afternoon I was working in the bookstore with Jasper (Maura, Scott and Markéta could also have been there, but I can’t recall now), when a tall, thin guy with wavy, graying hair and an uncanny resemblance to the Pulitzer-prize-winning American writer Richard Ford strode in with a smile on his face. Jasper and I looked at each other. Could it be?

I remember quietly walking over to the fiction section where authors whose last names began with “F” would be shelved and finding a copy of one of Ford’s paperbacks. A quick glance at the author photo revealed it was, indeed, Richard Ford.

A couple of minutes later we approached him, introduced ourselves as the owners, and asked if he’d like to do a reading. He (surprisingly) accepted, and within the five minutes it took to rearrange the chairs in the coffeehouse, he was reading aloud from his collection of short stories, “Wildlife.” Even though the place was (much) less than half full, it was a magical moment.

It only occurred to me how truly special this all was months later after I had made that rash decision in 1994 to leave Prague and was standing at a magazine rack at a drugstore in my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. Those first few weeks back home in Ohio were lonelier than I’d bargained for, and I spent many an hour killing time at the local shopping plaza and leafing through books and magazines. On this particular day, I noticed one magazine in the rack, Vogue, had the word “Prague” on its cover. Eager to see what was happening in the place I’d left not long ago, I started reading it.

The article, by another prize-winning American writer, Edmund White, was an artful description of Prague’s beauty and rebirth. And then I got to the part in the story where White began describing a surprise reading by the author Richard Ford that had happened a few months before at a bookstore called “The Globe.” I nearly fell over. I was reading about our own reading.

Jasper and Nina, who was working as one of our managers in the early days. Photo credit: Jasper Bear.
Another former manager and overall multi-talented Czech guy: Aleš B. Photo credit: Greg Linington.
The highly talented Kuba V., pictured here with Alison D. (right). Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Barbara, Remi (center) and Jeffrey (right). Photo credit: Jasper Bear.

People sometimes ask what was the most unexpected thing about being involved with the Globe. That’s hard to say, but something that always surprises me is how many people met their eventual life partners over a book or coffee at the Globe. I’ve lost count over the years of how many times people have “thanked” me for the Globe because otherwise they may never have met their husband or wife. Believe me, it was purely unintended, but it does make you think about the consequences of any of our actions. One of the first of these Globe couples was the union of partners Scott and Markéta Rogers, who were married in Prague just two years after we opened the store. The New York Times announcement popped up on the first Google search.

Sometimes these expressions of gratitude occur in the most unlikely of places.

In those few weeks in May and June 1994, between when I told my Globe partners I was leaving Prague and I actually flew off for the U.S., I took a few solo trips around the Czech Republic to say goodbye to the country and get my last fill of the place. One of those trips was to the southern Bohemian town of Český Krumlov, about 160 km (100 miles) south of Prague.

I can’t remember if I drove the three hours down or took the bus (I can’t even remember why I chose Český Krumlov for one of my goodbye trips – I probably wouldn’t do that now). Anyway, I got a room upstairs at Na Louži, a friendly pub in the center of town, and went down to the restaurant to get a beer. I had just settled in to my table and was startled to see a Prague friend, John Allison, sitting across the room and having a beer with a guy I didn’t recognize. It’s not unusual to run into friends by chance in Prague (it happens every day), but in Český Krumlov it felt like an odd coincidence.

John invited me over to his table and introduced me to his friend (whose name now neither of us can remember). We chatted for a while and John mentioned I was one of the co-owners of the Globe. The guy's eyes lit up.

“You know,” he said, or possibly slurred (by then I remember the beers were starting to take their toll), something to the effect: “The Globe has a special place in my heart.”

“How so?” I asked (maybe a little too skeptically – I‘ve been in these pub discussions before).

“That was the place I first met my wife."

And then he related a charming story about how they got together. Apparently, he'd been living on U Smaltovny street in Prague's Holešovice neighbourhood, very close to us at the Globe, and used to come over in the evenings to relax.

In 2013, to mark the Globe’s 20th anniversary, I arranged a party at the old Holešovice space – now a Czech bookstore and coffeehouse called Ouky Douky. This summer, though, I was too busy with work and deadlines to organize anything for the 25th. Thankfully, Michael Sito, the Globe’s owner these days, picked up the mantle and threw a bash at the store’s current location (since 2000) on Pštrossova Street in the center of town.

It was a wonderful party on a perfect summer afternoon. I gave a short reading about the early life of the Globe and was followed up by Czech-American author Mark Slouka, who happens coincidentally to live on Janovského Street, just next to the site of the old Globe. The third speaker was the American poet, James Ragan, who may have been the very first reader we ever had back at the Globe in 1993.

In the audience, Alan Levy’s widow, Val, was sitting there smiling, and there were several other old friends around. A quarter century and it could have been yesterday.

*Most of the photos used in this post appeared originally on the Facebook group The (old) Globe Bookstore & Coffeehouse, Prague and are reprinted here with the permission of the owners. Keep scrolling down for more pictures.

Find part one of this post on the Globe here.

Greg L. (left), Pedy and Jasper B. Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Singer Tonya Graves, shown here with her band Liquid Harmony. Tonya was working the cash desk at the bookstore at the time. Photo credit: Richard Zemke.
A photo from one of the many newspaper and magazine articles from 1993 and '94 documenting the rise of thousands of 'YAPs' -- Young Americans in Prague. This story appeared in November 1993. Photo by Ivan Malý.
One of the many incarnations of The Globe coffeehouse menu over the years. We caught much grief for our prices, but 20 crowns for an 'Americano' doesn't sound all that bad.
The coffeehouse server with maybe the biggest smile, Ivanka. Photo by Joan Menefee.
A partner photo from one of the earliest days: From left to right: Jasper, Maura, Scott, Markéta and 'Milan' (the guy who painted the exterior of the store). I'm sitting at the center of the photo (not sure about my expression). Photo credit: Markéta Rogers.
From one of poet Donna Stonecipher's readings. That's Donna on the left; Jasper is on the right (with glasses). Photo credit: Donna Stonecipher.
Our first Thanksgiving in November 1993: That's Jasper cutting the turkey. Whitney on the far left. That's me, with Jeffrey Y. behind me. Photo credit: Maura Griffin.
Bookstore manager Štěpánka and Brad D. in the bookstore. Photo credit: Greg Linington.
Partner Scott Rogers standing at the bar, showing off his Eraserhead hair, shortly before opening in July 1993.
In 2013, I organized a 20th anniversary party at the original Globe location on Janovského in Holešovice -- now the Ouky Douky coffeehouse. Photo by Mark Baker.
American news anchor Tom Brokaw, visiting the Globe in January 1994. That's partner Maura Griffin standing behind him. Photo credit: Maura Griffin.
The one-of-a-kind Tonya Graves. Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Bookstore manager Rob M (right) and Sean. Photo credit: Glen Melia.
From Donna Stonecipher's reading. Donna is pictured in the center. Photo credit: Donna Stonecipher.
The front cover of the Central European Business Weekly from August 1993. They reported that we expected 50 guests at our opening party, and ended up with 300. Photo credit: Maura Griffin.
Greg L. in the center, with Aleš and Vaclava to the right and Tracy to the left. Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Kitchen manager Andrew and Pedy. Photo credit: Filip Zikmund.
One of our star bookstore managers, Štěpánka. Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Alan Levy, the late Prague Post Editor-in-Chief, pictured here in June 1994 at my 'going-away' party. Poet James Ragan is standing behind him on the right. Photo by Mark Baker.
Coffeehouse manager Todd B. and one of the few employees to make the move to the new location in 2000. Photo credit Adam Trachtman.
Shortly after I wrote the first blog post on The Globe, I found my old diary from 1993. We signed the lease on March 31, 1993. I bought my car, a Škoda Forman Excellent, two days later. We also apparently met to scrape the facade that weekend.
Group clean-up-crew shot. That's Andrew and Filip in the back. Photo by Filip Zikmund.
Early sketch of the outside of the store, showing off Doug Arellanes's logo with the coffee cup in the 'o'.
Talking about the old days at the Globe's 25th anniversary party in July 2018. Photo credit: Ted Simpson
The front of the store, back in the day. Photo by Mark Baker.
As I was going through some old papers for this story, I came across this list of my 'contributions' to our foundation capital in the summer of 1993 (in both dollars and crowns).
From the 25th anniversary party. From left to right: James Ragan, me, and Mark Slouka. Photo credit: Michael Sito/The Globe

Comments

  1. Mark,

    My father is on his last moments on earth today & seeing your post today with a photo credit for hanging on to that magazine I helped sell an ad in allowed me to publicly acknowledge his help in getting to Prague & Meeting so many of our dear friends.

    Thank you

    Richard Zemke

  2. 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, Rob, Bara, Tonya, Brad, 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

  3. Lovely stories of remembrance. I first found the Globe in Jan 2011 when taking an English Lang teaching course. But I was first in Prague in 1992 for a weekend as a backpacker on a college trip through Europe. The 90s where an interesting time. I wish I had visited Europe more often. Through your 2 articles I can feel and see what it must have been like in those free feeling days when Czech was opening up to the world again. Not the tourist trap it is today. I found in the Globe a place to look through some books and have a good meal. Just so happened in 2015 and 2017 I was in town solo during Thanksgiving and both times the Globe found me a table. I most recently chose to have my one dinner there at the end of Aug when flying out of Prague. I know there are more stories of changing hands and what happened to the 5. In August, I was in Germany for a reunion of my old Army unit from the 80s – lots of old pictures and stories like those from you cafe where shared too. As we get older time to reflect but still look ahead to the roads to be traveled.

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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