Now an entertainment and shopping complex, the first business located in Lucerna Palace was a Japanese tea house. Because of the ‘geisha’ hostesses, the people of Prague believed the place to be a brothel.
Throughout the 125 years of its existence, Lucerna Palace has been home to many restaurants and cafes, but one of the first was the Japanese teahouse Yokohama, created by the Hlouch brothers.
The brothers traveled Japan extensively and were great admirers of the country. They first introduced their teahouse at the 1908 Jubilee Exhibition of the Chamber of Commerce and Trade at the Prague Exhibition Centre. Their idea was so popular that they decided to move the teahouse to the Lucerna building.
Today, Lucerna Palace is an integral part of the Czech capital. It would likely be difficult to find someone across the country who has not heard of Lucerna. It was built 125 years ago by the grandfather of the first president of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel.
Originally, he planned to build an ice hockey and winter sports stadium, but the land was too small for such a huge project, so he decided to build Lucerna. Construction took place over 14 years between 1907 and 1921, spanning the entirety of the First World War.
The concept of the Japanese teahouse caught the eye of the developer Václav Havel, and he offered the Hlouch brothers the space to create their business.
Instead of vices?
In 1909, Czech World magazine featured the teahouse, encouraging Prague’s residents to descend into the “underground of Lucerna”.
“Like a colourful lantern, the colours of the Orient are shining,” the magazine continued, “girls in fiery robes are passing by. Would you like to have a cup of tea tonight? Escape for a moment from the peaceful flow of Czech life?”
The ‘geisha’ staffing the tearoom were Czech girls dressed in Japanese kimonos. The presence of geisha was suspicious to some Prague residents, who imagined the tearoom as a brothel of sorts.
The newspapers of the time set the record straight. In 1910 the Mládenec magazine printed the following: “An explanation is needed for the article about the Geisha in the last issue. By the word ”geisha”, the writer meant a girl intended to serve guests. As is well known, in Japan they have their own teahouses instead of our restaurants and one of them was opened in Prague. The Yokohama Teahouse is a purely Czech establishment and we know nothing derogatory about it.”
The business proved to be popular among Prague residents and enjoyed a great boom for several years. However, at the end of the 1920s, the owners ran into financial difficulties and had to close the teahouse.
The Yokohama Teahouse was replaced by the restaurant Zimní zahrada.