Since moving to Brno, we’ve fallen into the habit of naming places by what they remind us of, because initially (and for me often still) we had a hard time pronouncing, much less remembering, their proper Czech names. Our local watering hole is ABC, short for Abandoned Baby Cafe. Allow me to explain: the first time we ever passed by and even noticed this place was because someone had left a pram with a baby in it outside, while enjoying coffee with their friends inside, naively unconcerned about any child-snatching potential. (Not only would this obviously never fly in Philadelphia, but it seems to happen ALL THE TIME here and we have the photos to prove it, but that’s going to be the subject of a different blog.) Across the street is Parrot, so named because of the parrot birds painted on the outside and the live birds (not parrots) on the inside.
And then there’s Cleveland in the ’80s. I can’t say why exactly this name fits, only that the inside of this grungy, hipster bar smells like wet dogs but is still oddly charming and reminds me of all the similar dive bars I used to go to in college, in Cleveland, in the ’80s. There is no T.V. There is no Internet. There is no chrome or exposed brick or artfully whitewashed walls or espresso machine. (Although I should point out, there are plenty of places here that do have these things). There is only beer and white guys with ponytails and backpacks and bikes. Like Cleveland. In the ’80s.
While it could be argued that Brno—roughly the same population as Cleveland at @400,000—is on the verge of a renaissance (enter Starbucks, Nespresso, and Swarovski on the main square), it seems that many aspects of Brno are still stuck largely in 1985:
- There are bookstores. Not Barnes & Noble type stores, but actual bookstores that sell actual books, with actual cafes that are not Starbucks.
- There are old-school music shops (like, LOTS of them), with old-school audio equipment like the reel-to-reel equipment my college recitals were recorded with.
- The mall is still a “thing.” There’s one mall in the city and another in the burbs about 15 minutes away. Both of them have food courts where people go in the middle of a workday and sit down to eat lunch, before going off to buy underwear or jeans at the C&A, Brno’s answer to J.C. Penney.
- People get dressed up for concerts. Men of all ages wear suits or at least jackets, and women wear heels and dresses. And hose. Sometimes even flesh colored hose, like Cleveland, in the ’80s.
- People still go to concerts. Live music is still a thing. People show up.
So there you have it. Though all signs point to change, for this particular moment in time, Brno, in my opinion, is really just Cleveland, in the ’80s.