If talk about your planned visit to Prague invites snide phrases like “Eastern European sex tour,” then your friends are probably watching far too much Bel Ami. That’s not to say they’re wrong, just that they’re selling the place short. Virtually untouched by the bombs of the Second World War, Prague uniquely shows off all the charm of a medieval capital by day; by night, it offers all the high culture of Vienna alongside a healthy dose of liberal hedonism.
Homophobia isn’t unknown in the Czech Republic, but in practice this is one of the most secular countries on Earth, meaning the gay community has been allowed to flourish pretty much unhindered since the Soviets were sent packing in 1989. Gay life in Prague may not be big or showy, but it’s friendly, a lot of fun and not at all shy about its sleazy side.
Unlike in Berlin or Amsterdam, there can be something of a language barrier to mixing with the locals. So unless you have hidden talents in Czech, be prepared to sacrifice a little authenticity if you plan to chat. You might start at an expat-operated venue like Saints, a small — quickly packed — bar in the heart of Vinohrady, the city’s gaybourhood. You’ll probably find actual Czechs here, too, with some effort, but either way, it’s a good starting point to map out the rest of your night.
Prague’s gay venues tend to be small and specialized, meaning there’s plenty of them, and it’s not hard to customize the kind of experience you want. First things first: if you’ve come in search of Bel Ami boys or their off-screen counterparts, many of Prague’s most buff and beautiful are all too happy to make a few crowns off it. You’ll find many such boys at Little Temple Bar or Escape. Most speak perfect English and are all too willing to bring your post–Iron Curtain perversions to life. The going rate all depends on your negotiation skills. Informal prostitution is legal in the Czech Republic (brothels and pimping are not), and in the finest tradition of sexual free spirits keeping each other company, much of the city’s sex industry can be found in Prague 3, just to the east of Vinohrady.
The only gay venues you’ll find there, however, are the aforementioned Temple, which also offers reasonably priced accommodation if you can handle the noise — handy if you do make (or hire) a friend — and Alcatraz SM Club, one of the city’s largest cruise clubs. Alcatraz, with its rotating calendar of themed parties, numerous playrooms and lack of attitude, can feel like a little slice of Berlin in Bohemia. It competes with the equally spacious Factory Club for Prague’s fetish crowd. On weekends, both venues swarm with horny men from across Europe. A more vanilla style of cruising lures visitors to Drake’s, though this darkened playground is a short hike from the rest of the nightlife. Simply cross over the river, just south of the Lesser Quarter. Unlike the boy bars, drinks at these venues come at standard Czech (ie bargain) prices, and that hottie eyeing you is far less likely to have your wallet in his sights.
Young LGBT Prague is diverse in its tastes, populating both the gaybourhood venues and Old Town bars such as Friends. These bars aren’t remarkably different from their counterparts in other European cities, though the vibe here is tangibly more relaxed. StaGe Club and Celebrity Café are both excellent dinner options, with weekend dancefloors attached (or in Celebrity’s case, next door, at swanky On Club). Prague’s signature queer techno hub, however, is Termix, a small, spirited and cruisy hall of unabashed camp. For a more authentic Czech experience, look for the blink-and-you-miss-it doorway of U Rudolfa, a traditional — and entirely LGBT — basement pub on Mezibranska, just north of Zitna Street. It’s short on English speakers but long on atmosphere. If you’re fortunate enough to be invited to join a table, do it, even if none of you understand a word all night.
A decade ago, Prague was the cheap doorway to Eastern Europe, but a rude shock now awaits visitors expecting hotels or restaurants at “Eastern” prices. Paris it’s not, but expect hotel prices comparable to Berlin. Affordable apartments and bed-and-breakfasts are another option. Tummy rumbling? Most restaurants in the Vinohrady are well priced while still being very accessible to foreigners. In either case, staying just outside the Old Town or Castle Quarter will steer you clear of tourist traps, bring you closer to the city’s gay life and give you a more authentic taste of life in one of Europe’s fastest changing cities.