Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Praguescape: U Myšáka tarted up beyond recognition

By Kristina Alda |
Prague Daily Monitor |
25 November 2008

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U Myšáka: The reconstruction of U Myšáka cost around CZK 30 million. (Kristina Alda)The reconstruction of U Myšáka cost CZK 30 million. (KRISTINA ALDA)

On the weekend I went to check out the recently reconstructed, eagerly anticipated U Myšáka sweetshop on Vodičkova, which reopened after more than 20 years of disrepair. What a disappointment.

Architect Jan Špaček's reconstruction of Prague's most famous cukrárna can be easily summarized in three words: kitsch, kitsch, kitsch.

What had once been a cozy but dignified space – period photographs depict art deco details, low-lit nooks, and comfortable couches – is now a muddled mess that is perhaps trying to be hip. It is certainly trying to be something.

Walking through the reconstructed interior is like following someone's good intentions go awry. Things start out promisingly enough when you enter through the pressed copper door, which is one of the few original details left. Dark wood paneling lines the walls in the front part of the room (reconstructed originals), marble ledges with rounded corners run along the walls, and the floor – also original – is polished and gleaming with a jaunty but subdued geometrical pattern.

COURTESY: Confectioner František Myšák refurbished the sweetshop when he bought it in 1910. (COURTESY)Confectioner František Myšák refurbished the sweetshop when he bought it in 1910. (COURTESY)Once you move past the marble-topped ice-cream counter in the middle of the room, though, everything seems to fall apart. A black on black patterned wall paper clashes with the warm wood details of the paneling. And the oversized white lamps, which look like half-chandeliers cut out of cardboard with a dull pair of safety scissors, actually manage to appear ironic.

I couldn't stop wondering what happened, as I made my way up the shop's marble staircase (also original). Had the project run out of money? Did the design team suddenly decide to go on an acid binge? Was everyone in on some joke I wasn't getting?

Things were even worse in the cafe upstairs: more of those cardboard-cutout chandeliers, garish swirly-patterned black and white wallpaper and large-scale period photos showing what the rooms used to look like. Rather than helping establish a connection to the original interior, the photos show how poorly the reconstruction efforts did at recreating the atmosphere of the old cafe.

Špaček, who is also responsible for the reconstruction of Cafe Slavia, was perhaps aiming for a whimsical effect, using bold patterns, high-contrast tones and exaggerated shapes. But the result is cheaply theatrical rather than playful, and yet, at over CZK 30 million, the reconstruction was anything but cheap.

U Myšáka lamp: The cafe's new furnishings in many cases lack the rich detail of the original pieces. (Kristina Alda)The cafe's new furnishings in many cases lack the rich detail of the original pieces. (KRISTINA ALDA)To be fair, the design team faced a challenging task. The rondo-cubist building that housed the original cukrárna collapsed two years ago. Much of the interior had to be rebuilt from scratch. The original art deco furniture, installed by the sweetshop's founder František Myšák in 1910, was removed in 1950 and most likely stolen. None of the lost period pieces have been recovered, so Špaček only had photographs to guide him. He drew from a wide assortment when refilling the interior: Czech-made furniture, Italian marble counter tops, Dutch lamps.

If only the result was modern or, better yet, timeless. But it looks as dated as a late 90s Britney Spears music video. Unlike Britney, it could make your eyeballs hurt.

This doesn't mean that U Myšáka is not worth a visit. The cakes and sundaes on offer here are by all accounts delicious. But maybe bring along a blindfold.

Kristina Alda is the Monitor's managing editor. She likes writing about buildings and public space.
You can reach her at kristina@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.