Why I Love the Prague Coffee House Kafka Didn’t Frequent

I Go to the Grand Café Slavia to Lose Myself in a Landscape of Desire—and Over a Century’s Worth of Czech History

A middle-aged man sits in a café, his newspaper unopened on the table in front of him. He cannot keep his eyes off the slender young woman who has perched herself on the corner of his table. Naked as Eve, she comes in a fetching shade of translucent green. A waiter hovers nearby, discreetly observing the density of this unexpected encounter.

Viktor Oliva’s painting The Absinthe Drinker (1901) hangs in the Grand Café Slavia, one of Prague’s oldest coffee houses. Much of what the guidebooks have to say about the Slavia …