There are really only two kinds of coffeehouses. One is for readers, a tranquil place with armchairs and mellow light that is adequate, but not too bright, for hours of literary travel. The other has a strong personal atmosphere that tells people they are in an original setting conducive to free-flowing conversation and drink.
Kavarna Meduza, a one-year-old in Vinohrady, is both. An auction-house chic presides over this warm, easy space filled with antique fixtures, heavy wooden tables, and nicely padded chairs. A fringed, cloth-shaded reading lamp, a standup piano in one corner, and an oriental rug add homey touches. Old oil portraits hang with turn-of-the-century travel posters, a Victorian "pornography" shot and various other paintings. The renderings of Medusa are, of course, de rigueur.
The three sisters of the mythical Medusa provided inspiration for the three women who own and manage the cafe. They didn't, however, want to make any strong statements with the theme: "We prefer a quieter approach. It's difficult for women in this country to start a business," explained Marketa Sulinska.
The clientele is diverse. Students from the surrounding neighborhood mix with twenty something Czechs, expats, and a smattering of other foreigners, often sitting amicably at the same tables. On a typical afternoon there are readers, lunching families, and friends conversing over bottles of Gambrinus 12. Afternoon music is often jazz, always quiet enough not to be distracting. It's a welcome respite from the typical techno blaring cafe/bar and the weary Anglo-American standards that push expatriate memories down lanes better left forgotten. Live piano and horn music starts most Wednesdays at 15:00.
The menu is suitable for a light meal, either for lunch or a late bite, and includes milkshakes (though watery and lacking in ice-cream), chocolate cake, and spinach, cheese, and dessert crepes. The fresh soups are a highlight. The milk-based onion soup includes carrots, which bring out the sweetness of this potent legume. The vegetable soup carries a spicy flavor dominated by black pepper, with a few thin veggies.
Meduza offers twenty coffee-liqueur combinations, as many cocktails, seven coffee choices, and the standard array of wine, beer, and juice. The "Fidel Revolution" mixes rum and champagne for ageing guerillas dreaming of Ascot. The excellent espresso is made from black, oily beans, small and strong, and the cappuccino, served in old patterned cups and saucers, tastes as good as it looks. The strawberry and vanilla ice creams have the rich flavor and texture of the Russian variety. In the highly erratic Prague pricing game for basics like coffee, wine, beer, and soup, Meduza isn't as cheap as the corner pivnice, but, at 20 Kc a beer and 35 Kc for a crepe, it leans toward the cheaper end.
At night the atmosphere changes along with the clientele, which becomes more hip, mostly young, and largely Czech. For burn ed-out Radost habitues, it's a short walk back into real world, non-expatriate Prague. Head toward Namesti Miru from I.P. Pavlova, take a right on Beigicka and you'll have time to get a key phrase straight in your head before you reach the door: "Jedno pivo, prosim, a ova krit cigarety."
Beigicka 17, Praha 2 Daily 11-2 Cash only