Prague antiquing

Meet a local: Karen of ARTEL Glass

We met Karen, the owner of ARTEL Glass, by mere coincidence. We had been recommending her glass work and her shop for a long time to our guests, and her Prague: ARTEL Style Guide - the best Prague guide in our opinion - lies by the bed of our Prague rental apartment. When Beth, one of our guests, told us she wanted to try glass blowing here in the Czech Republic, we just gave it a try and wrote an email to Karen. She called us back within an hour… on a Sunday. Later we took her along on one of our tours and our guests absolutely loved her and her stories from Prague, which we think may have lead to some actual sales in her shop later on. 

The ARTEL shops are great. They sell both the original glass works, all designed by Karen and made here in the Czech Republic, and a selection of jewelry and other items by local designers. They also sell quirky local artifacts like the infamous Mikov fish-knife, an absolute necessity for any 10-year old when we were kids, or Antiperle, the 1960s Czechoslovak answer to the Tic Tac. We love the works by ARTEL for their colors and design. They have recently opened a third shop at the Platnerska street.  

Why did you come to Prague and why did you stay?

I came to Prague in 94’ to work for a shampoo start-up and my only qualification was that I could be trusted. But after 10 months they moved me to Phoenix, Arizona. It was not for me. So I moved back to Prague 8 months later. I had studied fine art photography, so I wanted to do something creative – yet business oriented. When I looked around and saw Czech did a lot of glass, I decided this is the industry I wanted to work in. I wrote a letter to Moser offering to be a free-intern, but I never heard back from them. So I just started my own company. I saw an article about the original ARTEL in a magazine called Glass Review, and the rest is history. I never planned to stay really.

Have things changed since the beginnings?

Tremendously, at the beginning, you would cue for everything. The service was painful, and it still is in some places. The buildings had no colors. Prague is a noble city now. Also, back then you could clearly tell who was Czech and who was a tourist. Now you can’t anymore. 

How did the Prague travel guide come about? 

When I was going to open my first store, I decided to make an add-on-purchase that would be a shopping guide as people were always asking for my recommendations. The store got delayed and the book good bigger so I ended up with a complete Prague travel guide. The process took one year start to finish. 

Your favorite places to eat?

The best bagel and lox in Prague is served at the Augustine Hotel. It’s surprisingly affordable and a big part of the experience is their extensive newspaper collection. I also love to go for croissant and coffee to La Bottega di Finestra bistro in Platnerska street. I like Café Savoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There aren’t many places that do all three well – so Café Savory is a real find. I must say I also love the “Strudel Man”, i.e. the Susta strudel in the Zizkov district. It’s really just a hole in the wall operation and he seems genuinely annoyed by any customer but I love the oddities of it all so it makes for a memorable experience, and the strudel also happens to be great. Finally, for a local experience, I would visit the U Sadu pub in Vinohrady. It’s surprisingly good and its nice to be drinking and eating with the locals. I would, however, recommend to sit either upstairs or outside as the downstairs is disgusting.

Your favorite place outside of Prague?

We recently visited and loved Capi hnizdo, a farm just behind Benesov. It is owned by Mr. Babis (one of the richest Czechs and now the Finance Minister) and it is absolutely beautiful: it’s an organic farm with a restaurant, hotel, indoor swimming pool and other facilities too. The farm and the premises are so pristine you keep thinking: “do the animals actually poop?” 

What are your favorite places to visit with your daughter?

We like to visit Cafe Savoy and then the parks in Prague: Riegrovy sady or Stromovka. We also like the kiddie train at the Zofin Island. Another good tip is the swimming pool at the Intercontinental hotel. It’s a salt water pool; it’s a bit more expensive but it’s great. 

Your perfect Saturday?

My perfect Saturday would be spent antiquing. I love the bazars in Prague including the ones at the Zizkov train station. In downtown I like the smaller, specialized shops where you can spend time hunting for that perfect fabulous find. After that, I would go to The Augustine for the bagel and lox and to read the weekend paper. Finally, to finish the day I would then head to the Mandarin Oriental Spa for a Time Ritual spa treatment (ideally 3 hours if I am feeling indulgent). And for dinner, I would head to Sansho or La Finestra as they never let me down

Your secret shopping address?

OK, I am going to let you in on a little secret – this is my all-time favorite shopping haunt for vintage in Prague: P&J Bazar. I love sifting through piles of necklaces in search of a fabulous find – there always seem to be one! You’ll need more patience than money in your treasure hunt here, but the atmosphere is fun and well organized and the prices low. I’ve had very good luck with costume jewelry and novelties here, but I encourage you to check out the picture gallery on their website so you can see the full scope of buying possibilities at this little gem.