Step through the automatic doors of the PARKHOTEL Praha and enter a light, spacious lobby where you are welcomed back in time by a smiling receptionist. A floating front desk with suspended lighting overhead lends a weightless feel to the room. The lobby’s high ceiling looks like the keel of a boat held up by pillars, and natural light streams from the floor to ceiling windows.
|To a first-time visitor, there is no question that the elegant entrance space sets the tone for PARKHOTEL’s new interior look.
Yet, everything feels so modern, streamlined and cutting-edge that it’s hard to believe this sophisticated minimalist style is actually a throwback to the hotel’s original 1960s history.
If you aren’t in a hurry, order a cocktail or a coffee at the hotel’s Café 7, where the bar is a custom made replica of the 1960s original. Sit in one of the winged “VITRA” designer armchairs or take a seat by the window where, in spring, you can observe flowers beginning to bloom in the garden below. Notice the six, large white concrete squares at the edge of the grassy space, each symbolizing one year of WWII. On warm days, locals come to sit and relax on the markers.
There’s a story behind the squares, just as there’s a story behind the new face of PARKHOTEL, and there’s no one more familiar with the story than the hotel’s General Manager, Monika Hilm.
Recognized by its distinctive façade of windows and its elongated building shape, the PARKHOTEL runs alongside the contour of the hill in the heart of Prague 7’s residential districts of Letná and Holešovice. Just steps away from the Výstaviště exhibition fairgrounds and Stromovka, Prague’s largest park and a recreational hub, PARKHOTEL has been a fixture in Prague’s landscape for nearly half a century.
At its origin, PARKHOTEL was commissioned by the Czech state during the relatively liberal period of Socialist rule characterized by the early 1960s. Architects Zdeněk Edel and Jiří Lavička were chosen to build a hotel on the site where Jews, gypsies and others were stripped of their names and walked down to the Bubny Station to board trains bound for a concentration camp. When Zdeněk Edel designed the hotel, he created the six markers to commemorate the war victims. Even while the hotel's progressive, functionalist style represented the country’s future, it also dignified the history of the place.
Today, the PARKHOTEL is considered one of the key buildings of post WWII architecture. With a large number of war survivors living in the Prague 7 district, Monika believes that keeping PARKHOTEL connected to local history and Czech culture is essential to the hotel’s revitalization.
During its heyday in the 70s and 80s, the hotel was featured in Czech films such as “Což takhle dát si špenát” (1977), “Co je doma, to se počítá, pánové” (1980) and the famous TV serial “Arabela.” However, poorly chosen renovations and neglect during the years 1990 – 2013 left the hotel in disrepair, with the interior spaces nearly unrecognizable. When Monika first entered the hotel as the owner representative of the Israeli real estate investment company, the Daramis Group in 2012, she commented, “It was so dark. The original lights had been removed; the windows hadn’t been washed in 10 years; there was carpet in the restaurant that hadn’t been changed in 20 years.”
PARKHOTEL’s revival (back to 60s style glory)
Initially, the Daramis Group was interested in the property, rather than running the hotel. But despite the sad state of the hotel, Monika saw an opportunity. When PARKHOTEL was purchased by Daramis in 2013, the owners chose Monika to serve as GM and head the reconstruction. Originally from Sweden, Monika has spent her career working in the hotel and hospitality business in Europe, including managing Prague’s Hilton Hotel in Old Town.
Although demolition was one option, from Monika’s extensive experience, she saw the hotel as something like “a fifty-year old, dainty lady who just needed some internal surgery.” She spent a year researching the hotel’s historic architecture and design. She met on site with Edel, who was already past 90 years old, and received extensive support from Alena Šrámková, a professor who had been instrumental in the hotel’s original interior design. Renovations were initially estimated at 40 million CZK, however, the Daramis Group eventually invested a sum of 100 million CZK to restore the hotel to its former 1960s glory.
Monika says, “I wanted to honor and recreate something that was done in the 1960s, to keep a balance between the old elements and modern features such as air conditioning, Wi-Fi and a well-equipped wellness and fitness center. I didn’t want to let PARKHOTEL become just another international hotel, I wanted to keep it Czech.”
PARKHOTEL today (little differences with a big impact)
PARKHOTEL is the largest hotel in Prague 7, offering 237 guest rooms and 7 meeting rooms for more than 200 people. A room in the hotel starts at the price of 75 Euros (circa 2000 CZK) making it an affordable option for a full-service hotel with such close proximity to the city center. Gated parking is available on site for those who travel by car. Situated on the 24 and 17 tram lines (and close to the 8), the hotel is a fast tram ride from Prague’s downtown. However, Monika notes that many of PARKHOTEL’s clients, especially Scandinavian guests, enjoy the 20-minute walk to the city center through Prague 7’s residential streets and small shops. From the hotel, it is also an easy walk to the Výstaviště fairground or through the Stromovka Park to the Prague Zoo, a highlight for families visiting the city.
In a special feature for its corporate clients, the entire PARKHOTEL can be bought exclusively for a business meeting or a special event. This is quite an unusual concept for a hotel, Monika says, and it works primarily because, instead of skyrocketing their prices in exchange for exclusivity, PARKHOTEL offers a reasonable price for the whole hotel rental.
Monika is a GM who prides herself on doing things differently. In the hotel’s gift shop, you can find a select range of Czech-made designer products from the 1960s for sale, such as Botas, a colorful, hip tennis shoe modeled from a 1960s Czech original. When she became GM, Monika issued her employees each a pair of green and purple Botas made exclusively for the hotel. “They’re comfortable shoes, and the employees like to wear them,” she says. When the hotel’s air conditioning was damaged during the reconstruction at the height of a summer heat wave, she bought fans for each room and helped employees deliver them to her guests.
PARKHOTEL for locals (giving back to the Prague 7 community)
As part of her ongoing efforts to better integrate PARKHOTEL into Prague 7 local life, Monika received permission from Prague 7 town council to hold seasonal farmers’ markets on the hotel’s garden space. As a mother herself, she also has plans for a flea market with a used toy swap.
In the hotel’s street level restaurant, which is called simply P7, Monika serves a daily menu of well-priced Czech specialties and business lunch specials for the local community. P7 is decorated in the same retro style as the hotel, but more relaxed. It has a kids’ corner to help families dine out in comfort, and it’s popular with locals on weekends and whenever there are events at the Výstaviště fairgrounds. To make use of the green space outside the restaurant, Monika has planned a fenced-in front garden, so parents can relax while their children play outside.
In anticipation of warmer days ahead, Monika has developed a picnic basket lunch concept, where locals and hotel guests will be able to order a premade picnic prepared by the hotel’s chefs. They can either pay a deposit for a proper basket and picnic blanket or simply pick up a packed lunch with no deposit necessary. For locals who like to barbeque but don’t have the time to marinate their own meat (or know where to go to get good quality cuts), Monika plans to offer prepackaged marinated meat specials for impromptu barbeques.
As work and lifestyle needs change, so do travelers’ requirements. With their new slogan, “Park yourself in the 1960s,” Prague’s renovated PARKHOTEL gives 21st century travelers a chance to feel the grandeur of a by-gone era in Czech history while at the same time experiencing all the modern comforts.
By Emily Prucha, PragueConnect.cz - Prague, 02.03.2016