It's happened again. I have lost the Kafe Kolonial. I can't believe it. I have been to this genial establishment at least a dozen times. I was there for lunch today. The place is only seven or eight blocks from the room in the Old Town where I am staying, and it is just across ŠirokáStreet from one of Prague's most famous and saddest landmarks, the Old Jewish Cemetery. The decor is all bicycles, including penny farthings and other curiosities from an earlier era. The specialities of the house are all fine accompaniments for Czech pilsner.
When my friends suggested a walk and a nightcap after dinner, it seemed easy and natural to come here. Yet as I led them down ritzy Paris Street, where the Devil not only wears Prada but Jimmy Choo, Dior, Hermes and a dozen other fancy labels, I became uneasily aware that I was once again about to lose the Kafe Kolonial. I realized I had turned a block too early and tried to make a course correction. And was soon hopelessly confused about where to go.
With a woman's decisive willingness to see directions, my friend Ana strode into another restaurant to seek guidance while her husband ans I loitered outside. I was puzzled to see the restaurant hostess summon one waiter, then another to confer with her. Why all this discussion? Surely the Kafe was only a couple of blocks from here and anyone in the restaurant trade would know it.
Ana came out wearing a deep frown. "They say the Kafe Kolonial doesn't exist."
"That's ridiculous. I had lunch there today. They put more food than I though possible on a skewer."
I went inside to confront the waiters.
"You told my friend there is no Kafe Kolonial."
"That is correct," said a very tall, solemn waiter.
"But I had lunch there today."
"That is impossible."
"I can show you a picture." I fumbled to open the photo archive on my smartphone to find the photo I took of that skewer.
"The Kafe Kolonial closed five years ago. I used to work there."
He was not interested in a picture of my lunch.
"Then perhaps you can tell me where the Kafe Kolonial used to be."
He began to turn away, then the other waiter raised an eyebrow and he turned back. He looked ready to spit.
"Turn right at the corner and go straight ahead," he snapped. "But you will not find the Kafe Kolonial. What is there is the Kolonial and it is nothing like the Kafe Kolonial. You should avoid that place."
My friends and I had distinctly eerie sensations as we followed these hard-to-extract directions.
There, visible from the corner through light rain, was the sign Kolonial.
I felt the shiver that sometimes comes when you sense that you are switching worlds. i could swear that on all my previous visits the sign carried two words, Kafe Kolonial.
Had I just jumped from one parallel universe to another? Did I dream lunch at the Kafe Kolonial, or was I dreaming now? Was I dead at lunch - I was certainly given enough food to lay you flat - or in the afterlife now?
We took a table in the smoky side of the Kolonial. My friend Costin looked at the penny farthing bicycle in the window behind him and said, "Big wheel, little wheel. It is my dream from last night.