Food & Drink

A Good Cup: Skautský institut

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The Skautský institut operates under Junák, the national organization of Czech scouts and the largest educational NGO for youth in the country with over 60,000 members. Originally founded in 1911, the organization has been forced to disband three times – in 1940 with the start of WWI, 1948 after the Communist coup and again in 1970 after the Prague Spring. Despite being shutdown multiple times in its 100-year existence, Junák always re-emerged within weeks of freedom returning to the country. This spirit of resilience and commitment to democracy is what the scouts represent to this day. Junák encourages children and youth to grow their intellect, morality and physical skills, and teaches them to care about the people and nature in the world around them. The Skautský institut shares these scouting ideals with the general public.

Prague’s Old Town is a must-see for any visitor, but the restaurants and cafés in the district are notoriously expensive. Instead of putting your caffeine fix on hold, visit the Skautský institut for an amazing (and cheap!) cup of coffee that supports an important cultural space.

Nestled next to the astronomical clock in the heart of Old Town Square, the space dates back to the 15th century. Find the entrance marked Prague Creative Center and head up the stairs for an amazing (and cheap!) cup of coffee that supports an important cultural space. Enjoy your drink in the beautiful multi-level courtyard or cozy up next to the many windows overlooking the square.

Janek Rubeš, YouTuber, tourist-trap-fighter, and one half of the famous “Honest Guide” series, calls the café “a true paradise in an ocean of tourist bullshit” – he’s absolutely right.

The café serves coffee and wine, small toasts and snacks and freshly baked goods, all for amazing prices. Known for having the best cheap beer in the district, the Institute has become one of Únětice brewery’s biggest customers. They also have their own special unfiltered bottled beer, made by a local microbrewery.

© Jan Volejníček

Newly expanded, the café is charmingly rustic with decorative branches and wooden furniture crafted by scouts and volunteers. Even the barista bar was constructed by caring volunteers. Behind the bar you’ll find a small team that fits together more like a family than as employees.

“They put their heart into it,” says Jakub Ambrozek, the Institute’s Communications Director. “Every day at closing time you’ll find them all here hanging out together. The mantra isn’t so much to be professional but rather to foster a relaxed and open atmosphere.”

While the amazing prices will lure you in, the friendly atmosphere will keep you coming back.

“The spirit of scouting is here,” says Ambrozek, a lifelong scout himself who bears the nickname “Mravenec,” or ant. “It’s informal, a little punk. Come spend some time here and you’ll feel how this emerged from the enthusiasm of a group of young people who didn’t see barriers but saw opportunities. When good people put their heads and energy together, wanting to do something for the public space, it works!”

© Skautský institut

Originally hosting just one event a month at cafés around the city, the Institute worked with city hall to acquire the location in Old Town Square. Instead of becoming luxury apartments, the space became the home of the Scouting Institute and its café just four years ago. The café is just the tip of the iceberg though.

“In 2018 there were over 500 events here,” says Ambrozek. “Around 50 every month – movie screenings, debates, seminars and lectures, even yoga.”

Charming and cozy in the winter, the space is even more magical in the warmer months when they host film screenings outside in the courtyard. Profits from the café go towards hosting these events, almost all of which are free and entirely open to the public.

© Jan Volejníček

“This morning we had the mayor here for an informal debate,” says Ambrozek. “We hope to reach more senior citizens, mothers and university students through breakfasts like this with interesting people.”

The Scouting Institute operates under Junák, the Czech scout organization. Originally created to keep the memories of the scouts alive through archives, the Institute remains dedicated to the spread of knowledge, within the troops and throughout the public.

“In the past years we’ve done the Experience of Totality,” says Ambrozek. “We put together everything we knew about the more than 700 scouts that died during WWII, either fighting or in the concentration camps. We knew very little about many of them, sometimes all we had was a name.”

Scout troops then took this information, picked a story and sought out the information of that person together, simultaneously learning about the bravery of the scouts before them and the tumultuous history of their country.

© Patrik Šimr

Through projects like this, the Institute has grown exponentially in the past five years and evolved into a welcoming cultural space that fosters curiosity and openness to ideas.

“We’ve become a think-tank for the scouts,” says Ambrozek. “Scouting has a lot to say to the public. We introduce those values through a system of informal, open education. We don’t just remain in the past, we create a space for meeting and debating. The opportunities are endless.”

The building itself is a seemingly endless maze of lecture spaces, meeting rooms and a theater, with ceiling murals, unique views of the astronomical clock, and pianos and bookshelves lining the courtyard walls.

© Jan Volejníček

You can even hang out in a tent constructed in a uniquely Czech design. In WWII there was a shortage of tarp for tents. They solved this by building a square base out of wood and connecting the tarp in tent fashion above that. This design stuck and is now a trademark of Czech scouts. Perfect for camping, the tent also makes for a cozy spot to enjoy a beer or two with friends.

The space’s mini arches and countless doorways not only connect the historic buildings of U zlatého rohu and Dům U Minuty, but also various organizations. There are around 25 organizations here, including government departments and Charles University faculty. The Institute occupies only the first floor but collaborates closely with its upstairs neighbors.

“This is what makes it all happen,” says Ambrozek. “The academics, NGOs, government and start-ups – the mixing and mingling is where it gets creative. The possibilities are limitless.”

Visit the Skautský institut M-F 9:00-22:00, Saturday 10:00-22:00, Sunday 10:00-18:00 at Staroměstské náměstí 1/4.


© Jan Volejníček

© Skautský institut

© Tomáš Tkáčik


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