Not Only Starbucks

Brno, 21st January 2017

“Why Starbucks?!” she asked me in an irritated voice as soon as I entered the door with a papercup half full. The place was Tourist Information Centre. “Our city has an incredible cafe culture. You should explore it!” “Damn, I’m lucky…”, I thought. She did not know what was IN my papercup. Venti-decaf-soy-latte. I know what you’re thinking. But hey, give me a chance.

That Saturday I got to know only one other coffee shop before settling for Bar, který neexistuje. But her words kept waking me up for the rest of the year, until…

Cafe Crawl Brno

Dear lady from Brno information office: On Sunday, November 19th, the morning after the Toastmasters Mafia Brno District Conference, I organized a Brno Cafe Crawl during which me & my friends visited 6 of Brno’s top rated cafés. This post is for you.


7:55am: Hotel Slavia

I met the first cafe crawl participant just outside the main entrance.

“When my alarm clock rang, I wanted to text you. I was trying to come up with a believable excuse why I could not make it,” said Elena as we were walking towards our first stop at Zelny trh. I wonder what happened that she did NOT text me and DID show up. I guess she was too tired. Get dressed and walk to a cafe was easier than typing a message on a smartphone. At conferences, the mornings are tough.

Whatever the reason, we were off for a good start of the day.


8:05am: Cosmopolis

“Argh!” I set up this cafe crawl to get to know Brno’s cafes. And only then I saw that the first one we would visit was going to be the one (the only one) I had already visited back in January.

Funny thing – back then I could not say whether it was good or great – I just knew it was okay. I did not pay attention. But every thing is different when you know you will visit 5 more after this one.

The waiter smiled and seemed to try to accommodate our every wish. A pity he would be working here only one more month, as he had found himself another job. I asked him what made Cosmopolis special. “Fresh cakes every day.” I hoped that not serving old cakes was a common practice. Well, at least they did not do it here. “Our staff is friendly.” Good. Nothing spoils an atmosphere of sharing a hot drink with a few friends than staff that is hostile. “But what I really want to do is acting,” he closes. I recommend him Toastmasters. As Club Growth Director, this member lead was something I could not just let go.

The cafe itself did not make any special impression. Quite a selection of cakes, none of them tempted me strongly enough to order one. Waiter did not offer me any either (maybe he was already thinking about the moves he will be starring in. The ambience was… okay. In fact, I wondered, how it got so high on the Tripadvisor charts.

Luckily enough, I was in a great company. Me & Elena were joined by Gosia and Basia and discussed the everything from the just finished District Conference to Jacek Walkiewicz. The first hour already made organizing the Cafe Crawl worth the effort.

I will remember: The waiter who wanted to become an actor.

Will I come again: Maybe (your last chance to convince me you are special).

Message to the venue: Teach the staff how to answer the question: What makes your cafe special?


9am: Cafe Momenta

Having skipped food in Cosmopolis, I entered the next cafe with my stomach grumbling. I hoped that Cafe Momenta would be worth the wait.

Just around the corner from Cosmopolis (actually, at the same address), the first thing that hit me was the liveliness. In contrast to Cosmopolis which was sleepy, Momenta had a vibrant atmosphere – especially taking into account that it was Sunday morning and most cafes I had researched were still closed.

The menu offered exactly what I was looking for – eggs and bacon. I asked for extra goat cheese (why not?). “You’ll have to pay for it,” the waitress told me, raising her eyebrow. I wondered whether it is my clothing, my facial features or my Prague accent that make me look cheap. “Fair enough.” More food costs more money. I can live with that.

An espresso on the side. It’s been a long time since I had it the Italian way, just 30 millilitres of concentrated coffee. Delicious.

I do eggs and bacon at home sometimes, but the goat cheese made it a perfect morning combo. In Prague, I’ll add it to my limited shopping list. To have a complete picture, I reached with my coffee spoon into Basia’s oats with fruits and syrup. Momenta gets a full score in the “sweet breakfast” category too.

I will remember: The vibrant atmosphere on a Sunday morning

Will I come again: Definitely

Message to the venue: When a customer asks for an extra, don’t look at him in disbelief. Encourage him! “Yes, excellent choice and you’ll pay only 40 Czech Korunas for it!”


10am: V melounovém cukru

The Polish girls left to catch their bus or their shared-car-drivers (travel to Poznan and Warsaw was something I did not envy them). I was alone again.

From the moment I entered V melounovém cukru, I saw this place was special. I greeted the three members of the staff with: “This place looks amazing!” The lady closest to me responded dryly: “How can you know, you’ve just entered.” “Well, but I can already see that!” “You’re satisfied too easily.” I laughed and took a seat at a table for three by the window. Have I told you there was a reindeer in the middle of the table? Now you know it.

I ordered Lemur without obligations / Lemur bez závazků (coconut drink with whipped cream and nuts) and a blueberry cake with mascarpone. Since July I apply no sugar rule in my diet 6 days a week. On the seventh day, the cakes taste like magic. Blueberries, mascarpone and whipped cream made it magic on steroids.

A minute after I ordered I was joined by Sándor (probably the only Hungarian living in Hungary who speaks Czech) and Mariya (Bulgarian living in Bucharest, her level of Czech is questionable).

Hey, lady from the information center: I’m spreading the fame of Brno’s cafes into international circles! For the next time we meet, you owe me a hug.

I will remember: Lemur & The Blueberry Mascarpone Cake.

Will I come again: You bet!

Message to the venue: Open a branch in Prague guys!


11am: Cafe Mitte

Raining. Cold. Time for the 4th coffee shop. When I saw the red sign “Mitte” shining into the street, I ran towards it.

When I entered the room, I turned into a broad smile. Two new participants in our cafe crawl were already inside. Both from Hungary. None of them spoke Czech. Nobody is perfect. Four more joined during the hour. Nine people are a crowd!

The place was in fact one room that barely holds six small tables. The main reason of its existence probably is the hostel in the floors above. It did not seem to have an outstanding offer of cakes or snacks. How did they make it to Tripadvisor’s top 10 cafes, I’m not sure. Maybe the filtered coffee – or as they call it V60. Or maybe the space – if small and dark is your thing. I admit, it was kind of cozy, when 9 of us filled it completely.

If I stayed in the hostel, I would love to have the chance to come here in the morning or taking breaks from sightseeing during the day. But I barely stay in hostels in Brno.

I will remember: The “Mitte” sign shining with red light into the street

Will I come again: Probably not

Message to the venue: More light in the room!


12pm: SKOG Urban Hub

Still raining. I arrived at the entrance door of SKOG, tried to push it open – nothing. Pull it open – nothing. Our group now counted seven people. With the rain falling on our heads, I imagined how enthusiastic everyone was going to be if I told them that our place was closed. Then I remembered – oh, they open at noon. My watch showed 11:55. I looked inside, and indeed, I could see two waitresses preparing something at the bar. I knocked on the glass and gave them a sad look.

Nothing.

I shared the good news – this place would open today – as well as the bad news – they would not open for the next five minutes – with my fellow cafe crawlers. They did not seem to mind. Toastmasters are a patient bunch.

Finally at 12:01, the waitress opened the door. As I entered, I almost started complaining – but then I noticed a photographer behind the corner. They were using the morning for a photo session. And taking a closer look at the place – I admit it is a great place to be photographed. Okay, I could understand that we might have not fitted into their pictures.

In the end the waitress disarmed me with an unparalelled smile (or let’s say, unparalleled this morning). She was so friendly that I invited her to take a selfie with us. She was either an artist, or not a very experienced selfie taker. She managed to get only half of her face on the photo.

I got the spinach soup and a masala coffee (double espresso with… some spices in it). I ordered a date cake too – but it took them too long. At 12:45 I canceled the order and we headed to our last stop.

I will remember: Friendly waitress who is bad at taking selfies.

Will I come again: I think so.

Message to the venue: Let people in when it’s 5 minute before opening hours and it’s raining outside! They won’t mess with your photo scene if you ask them to!


1pm: Coffee Bar Mymika

Mymika is a cozy place filled with books with a separated room in the back. Interesting pictures of animals (lovely decoration, especially the one with a goat), humus with cucumber and carrot.

Smoothie called “zasyťovač” (something like “satiator”) based on avocado was refreshing, tasty and as green as the spinach soup I had in SKOG. The problem: It did not satiate me at all.

A few more people joined us here. Especially Prateek is worth mentioning. “How to be a successful authoritarian leader” might be the name of his new workshop. I hope to see him give it at the conference in Athens. Some things you learn in a cafe crawl are simply jewels that beat the tastiest cups of coffee.

I will remember: Picture of a goat.

Will I come again: Maybe.

Message to the venue: Amazing humus! My friend Tom was impressed!


Later in the afternoon: Burger Inn

“Where can I get a burger here?”

Problem with the last two places from the Cafe Crawl was that none of them had any “Real” food. After I said “goodbye” to my friends at half past two, I realized I was starving. Back in hotel Slavia to pick my luggage, I asked the receptionist what I’m looking for and when: “Burger place. Now.”

Small, with only 2 tables (6 and 5 seats) and 9 bar stools (4 looking into the street, 5 at the bar), Burger Inn was rather for a quick burger than for hanging out on a relaxed Sunday afternoon. The small room was filled with smell of french fries and fried bacon. If you have some fancy clothes on, this may discourage you. But I was in a mood for something fried and I did not mind bringing the smell of fried bacon with me on board of the RegioJet bus direction Prague.

I ordered a burger from the special offer – Jamon Albeniz – beef, lamb cheese Albeniz, Jamon Serrano, mayonnaise and salad with mustard dressing.

Sitting at the bar, I was looking under the hands of the lady from the staff as she was preparing the burger. French fries included.

They had fresh American donuts on display – here I remembered what my grandma used to tell me when I was a kid after a meal that I really enjoyed: “Your eyes want, but your stomach can’t.” I’ll need to come again for the donuts!

The burger was top-notch and having it ready quickly fit my schedule perfectly. Thanks to Burger Inn, I was leaving Brno fully satisfied.

I will remember: The burger being made right in front of my eyes when I was sitting at the bar.

Will I come again: Definitely. For the donut!

Message to the venue: No Coke zero (or any other coke without sugar)! I mean, coke goes great with a burger. When I’m already breaking the rules of healthy nutrition with all the fried stuff, I don’t want to kill myself with all the sugar in a coke on top! Please get a Coke zero!


Epilogue

As I’m finishing this post, I have already completed another cafe crawl (this time in Budapest – thanks to Anna, one of the Hungarians waiting in Cafe Mitte that did not speak Czech) and I’m planning a third one (finally in Prague). This experience made me fall in love with cafes – and with coffee. It all started with a lady in Brno Tourist Centre who wanted me to get the most out of her hometown – and showed her dissatisfaction when I was not going about it the right way.

I would like to tell her one thing: Thanks! Your passion for the beauties of your city made an impact.

And if you ever have a couple of hours to spare, ask yourself: “Where is the best cafe and cake in town?” I don’t have the answer. But you can get it for yourself – throw a little Cafe Crawl!


Photo by Crew on Unsplash

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