The First Prague's Café or Deodat's Hut by the Bridge
In the middle ages, a bridge was the natural continuation of a street. On the bridge, stalls or even little houses were frequently to be found, blocking the view of the river. Mediaeval pedestrians did not stop at bridges nor did they indulge in the beautiful view. However, in case of the Prague Bridge, the story was a bit different.
The stalls were situated at the bridge’s ends since the 15th century on, nearby the entrance to the bridge gates. (Where the St. Wenceslas sculpture can be found today, from the house where the customs office used to be, nearby the Lesser Side bridge tower all the way to the St. John of Matha, the so called Trinitarian, there used to be an uninterrupted row of them.) The goods on offer were changing over time. For example, in the king Rudolph’s times, there used to be sword makers, combmakers, cake makers and sausage smokers on the Old Town side of the bridge. Most clearly, they were goods especially for the (immediate) consumption by the passers-by and travellers. In 1544, the Bridge Authority records mention a lease of a “spot beside the toll house” to Thomas, the gingerbread baker, to be able to sell his produce there. There were twelve such stalls in total (in the 16th century), six at each end. After the armed unrest in 1648, there were five of them left. In 1828, the last ones were removed, mostly tinner stalls at the Lesser Side bridge area.
In 1714, Jiří Deodat, a Turkish coffee maker of Damascus in Syria, opened the first Prague’s coffee house (later known as “kafírna”.) At first, he used to walk through the streets in arabic clothing, with cups, sugar, water, coffee and wood coal fired oven. Coffee was drunk whilst standing. Later on, he rented a wooden hut at the end of the bridge. After some time – surely based on his business success – he moved into a shop beside the Lesser Side tower, in the residential quarters of the former customs house. He sold coffee here till his death on December 2, 1730. It’s from the “house near the bridge” that he was carried out (according to the record in the death register) in his coffin. Deodat, who converted to the Catholic faith, was buried in the St. Thomas Church’s ambit.