Rocket Bean Roastery

Even though I stopped blogging over the last few months, I’ve still been thinking about those regular features – the howtotellifs, the littletragedies, the toilets. This doesn’t mean that much in real terms, except that I have loads and loads of pictures of various toilets on my phone for no good reason. Well, time to correct that! Every time I post a review, I get to delete another awkward conversation in waiting from my gallery, and you get a well thought out and sensitive analysis of an international plopper.


Since I’m a jetsetter and general global icon, it won’t surprise you to hear I went to Riga a few months ago. Although I liked the place in theory, I came down with some kind of travel disease literally as I entered Latvian airspace, and in practice I spent most of the long weekend being generally comforted by my friend. I don’t know exactly what kind of illness I was afflicted with, but it made me disgustingly snotty and very lethargic. “How’s that different from normal you?” You ask. “Get to fuck,” I respond.

Still, on the last day, I managed to drag myself out of my deathbed (a modern-day miracle) and trekked out of the centre to Rocket Bean Roastery, a cafe I found with the help of a specialist coffee website.

Ever since I accepted the whole “literally addicted to caffeine” thing, I’ve been working hard to make myself a less pleasant person to be around. How? Well, in this instance, I’ve been insisting on only drinking ‘good’ coffee. Do I know what that means? Not really. I am faking it until I make it. In this case, the first ‘it’ means ‘knowing what differentiates different beans from each other’ and the second ‘it’ means ‘myself a more cultured person who can say stuff like hints of melon and mean it’.

This is not a picture of Rocket Bean’s toilet; it is merely an establishing shot. As you can see, the cafe is situated in the very coolest part of the underfunded:upandcoming Venn diagram – that is, right in the middle. You can tell the area’s on the deprived side because of how shit it looks, but the graffiti is actually pretty dope, which lets you know that the place is on the cusp of getting, like, super expensive.

The cafe was on the gentrified side, by which I mean it was fucking spenny, especially in comparison to Riga, and even more especially in comparison to my base of Prague. I think I paid about 15 euros for a sandwich and a coffee, but I’m not sure about that and I don’t want to get sued for slander. I remember feeling mildly cheated, a sensation which was only slightly mollified by the friendly baristas in their matching beanies.

Before long, nature began to call. I headed deeper into the bowels of the cafe, with its natural wood and exposed copper piping aesthetic, in search of that most hallowed throne.

Before I even entered the cubicle, I was met with something I’ve rarely encountered before: a wild sink, unveiled, forcing the toilet user to wash their hands in full view of fellow customers, forcing the beleaguered coffee drinker to observe their peers’ ablutions. This is an absolutely rogue move, and I was so shocked I nearly called the whole thing off. As well as being exposed to the elements, this unholy sink lacks even the most basic components. Where, I beg you, is the soap? The hand dryer or towel dispensary system? How can I think about how cool I am when I’m deprived of a mirror?

Thank God I kept my nerve, though. On entering the toilet itself, my fears were assuaged. It turns out that those wily Rocket Bean Roasters know what they’re doing after all – that first sink was merely a decoy, a way of filtering out the fainthearted, of ensuring that only the most determined reach the main event: the toilet.

And what a toilet!

Look at that marvel! An absolute testament to Latvian ingenuity. The unit seems to float unsupported above the ground, a physics-defying masterpiece. It took me back to my first ever visit to eg the Apple Store, such was I moved by the sheer daring, by the simple complexity, of the piece.

What I liked even more than the toilet itself, though, were the audacious contrasts the architect deployed. Not content to give the toilet user a conventionally cohesive experience, this maverick has smashed concepts together, combining the sleek with the clunky, the polished with the rusty. Look at that pipe – why, it wouldn’t look out of place e.g. on a Steinbeck-esque farm or in an East German pickling factory or dockland brownstone. Contrasted with the almost offputtingly sterile john, the effect is startling: am I in a high-tech electronics store in the Arndale, or am I in the 1930s Dust Bowl? A truly masterful stroke of artistry.

These pictures further demonstrate this uneasy contrast, so masterfully delivered. Am I, one finds oneself thinking, on an old-timey ranch or in a modern day service station? The sink and soap dispenser point to the latter, but the bare lightbulb, the exposed wood, hint at a more rural setting. Both ends of the spectrum have one thing in common – both are crushingly utilitarian. Whether one imagines oneself urinating under the light of that bare bulb after a hard day haymaking, or washing one’s hands after a gruelling stint on the M60, the basic visceral sentiment is the same – that of a moment’s calm in a hard day’s work.

On the other hand, this bathroom certainly won’t make my top ten list. I’m not a fan of the brown paint, since the context makes it stomach-turningly evocative.

Now we turn to the part of the review that we’ve all been waiting for: the egregious mirror selfie, posted largely to make you realise how cool I am under the guise of advising you about the functionality of the mirror.

But, reader, what a mirror it was. Feast your eyes.

Floor-to-ceiling to allow the observer to reflect on how cool they are from head to toe, gently curved at the corners to avoid the subtle threat implied by right angles, this was a mirror amongst the very best I’ve encountered.

Whatever my doubts, that mirror will stick with me for the rest of my life. Bravo, Rocket Bean Roastery. Bravo.

Motivation

I fancy myself as a bit of an influencer. My opinions are certainly held in high esteem by my friends, loved ones, and even those peers I’m wholly ambivalent towards, like the boy I sat opposite in GCSE Maths. They come to me in droves, desperate for my pearls of wisdom, be they philosophical, political or aesthetic, and I’m more than happy to give them to them. After all, when you’re blessed with such enviable instincts and razor taste, you owe it to the world to give back.

I saw thousands of people wearing this same London 2012 shirt just minutes after I bought mine at the London 2012 Olympics. Coincidence?

Now I have a blog, my recommendations are no longer checked by geographical constraints, and the Ro Effect is being felt the world over. Don’t forget – hipsters didn’t start wearing ankle swingers until pictures of me at secondary school resurfaced. I’m pretty sure I’m at least mostly responsible for bringing dungarees into the adult mainstream, as well: there’s photographic evidence of me rocking denim all-in-ones as an unpopular teenager.

Will I show you the photographic evidence? No. It’s private.

Running such an influential blog can be a lot of responsibility at times. Sure, to you guys, it must seem effortless. “Every recommendation that falls from your lips and drips from your pen is pure gold,” I hear you exclaim. Well, that’s true. But even the greats have moments of doubt. “What if,” I think to myself, “pantaloons aren’t coming back in a big way? What then? My credibility will be in shreds.” It’s enough to keep you up at night.

The nature of the blog is that it defies boundaries. As a tech-stunted teen, I was constrained to shouting my recommendations eg at passing cars, into drainpipes, into my sleeping family’s faces etc. These days, my influence is massive: wordpress statistics inform me that most of my posts are read in over two countries.

This presents me with a quandry, though. How to continue to provide my followers with the guidance they so desperately need whilst also ensuring that any and all content is as inclusive and relevant as possible? There’s no point in my Swindon-based readership learning about the most cutting edge fashions in Prague. That just doesn’t make any sense.

I’ve decided to provide more detailed commentary about the finer things in life, thus allowing you, my dear readers, to develop your own individualised taste and instincts. Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to appreciate the specific scale pattern of a fish and market that expertise, he’ll make millions on instagram. Sure, I’m effectively making myself obsolete, but I do everything for the good of the people.

Anyway, that’s why I’m gonna start writing about toilets again. So that one day, you’ll be able to write about toilets all by yourselves. Big, big dreams.

Loos v Oslu

Friends, today is a special today, and this is a special blog post. I’m sure you could sense it as soon as you clicked on whatever link brought you to my door – this isn’t the typical Bland Blog installment. Why? Because this is my first CROSSOVER post. That’s right, today’s literary gobbet from me doesn’t just fit into one of the headings above, but two. Hold back your excitement.

Sure, most crossovers refer to collaboration between two independent sources, but I think that when you have the content, you don’t need to borrow from other people.

Today I’m continuing my hunt for a local and my quest to review every toilet in the greater Prague area. In my sights: the Belgian beer place confusingly called Los v Oslu. (My clumsy translation is Elk in Oslo. Oslo, famously, is not in Belgium.)


I was first attracted to this cosy pub when I discovered that it a) boasted a whole bunch of non-Pilsner beers and b) was located within spitting distance of my flat. What more could you want?

I really loved the decor of the place – it’s the most recognisable pub I can remember visiting in the Czech Republic, all dark wood, slightly sticky tables, and low lights. It reminded me of a generic Cumbrian pub that caters to tourists on weekends and mardy locals throughout the week. I could imagine them having a deal on kids’ Sunday roasts and legislating on whether muddy dogs were allowed. I felt very at home.

The menu was extensive – for food at least: two laminated brochures appeared before both of us. Vegetarian options, as is common in the Czech Republic, were few, although, perhaps steering into the Belgian theme, the menu did feature some dishes I’ve not seen anywhere else in the city, like two kinds of mussels. I winced at the sight: seafood dishes aren’t at all common in Prague, for the very good reason that Czechia’s landlocked. The beer menu deviated from Belgium altogether, offering the standard Pilsner Urquel or Kozel with a cheeky Flying Cloud IPA tacked on the end.

I opted for an IPA and a goats’ cheese salad, and my friend went for chicken wings. Disappointingly, considering it sold itself as a specialist beer place, the ale tasted claggy and I didn’t consume it with my usual gusto. It left a filmy aftertaste which I only later budged by consuming a lot of imported milkshake stout at my kitchen table. Resigned, it was with a heavy heart and compromised palate that my friend and I agreed not to order a second.

Whilst the beer left much to be desired, I was open-minded as I headed into the toilets. After all, some of the worst pubs I’ve ever visited, as far as drink/atmosphere are concerned, have still provided a decent urinary experience.

The ladies’ consisted, as is conventional, of two small rooms, the first containing a sink, mirror, bin etc, and the second housing the loo itself. To my surprise, however, the lock was located on the door from the sink room to the corridor, rather than between the two bathroom spaces, leaving the user with the sensation of entering a toilet suite. Given that it was a quiet night at Los v Oslu, I enjoyed this luxuriousness, but it did occur to me that it would be frustrating on evenings with higher toilet traffic.

I am not, and I hope no one will contradict me on this, a stickler for consistency, so the contrast between the bar and its toilets didn’t faze me. As I say, the pub itself felt traditional, with its varnished wood and spindly chairs, and its fragrance of beer spilt long ago. The toilet suite, however, was modern in the extreme: an ocean of glistening black tiles offset by the gleaming white john and the minimalist toilet brush. It felt like I’d been transported from the loos of a disappointing bar to some kind of luxury hairdressers’ for the super rich. I was dazzled and amazed by the contrast – the journey that the good people at Los v Oslu took me on really was a trip to see how the other half lives. I’d go even further: I felt like I’d stepped onboard a rocketship.

This second photo better encapsulates the contrast: on the right, a high-tech metal door, a gleaming sink. Steel so brushed you can see your reflection in it – literally. The blue of my Sweden-themed t-shirt appears on the door like a meteor blasting through space. Truly a journey to the cosmos.

On the left, the characteristic stained wood. This, too, is a journey, but rather than blasting off, we’re setting our sights on the past – childhood memories of teas at pubs, of being allowed Coca-Cola and not understanding the appeal of beer.

I also enjoyed the fact that the frame for adverts was left empty. Rather than forcing us to consider eg affordable broadband, half-price electronics etc while on the potty, Los v Oslu invites us to take a moment of quiet reflection. Something we can all learn from.

My experience at Los v Oslu was, then, pretty strongly mixed. Beer- bad. Food – meh. But toilets? An epic journey that takes us from the cosmos to our own memories, from a high-end hairdressers’ to, yes, ourselves.

PS Girls’ toilets only. I can’t speak for the boys’.

Lehká Hlava, Lehký Měchýř

Despite the fact that Czech traditional cookery revolves around pork fat and meat weighed by the kilogramme, Prague has a surprisingly vibrant vegetarian and vegan scene, which caters to locals and Czechs alike. Indeed, I was once told that Prague has the greatest number of vegan restaurants/capita of any European city. (I am, however, sceptical of this: for one thing, I haven’t bothered to Google around for the truth, and, for another, Prague is so small that winning anything ‘per capita’ doesn’t mean a lot.) Whilst the centre is full of meateries boasting traditional pork-based fare, the trendy outer areas are replete with avocado and meat substitutes. It was at I.P. Pavlova, for example, that I first tasted the joy that is deep fried cauliflower, and the pretentiously punctuated, uncapitalised ‘coffee room.’ in Vinohrady boasts two different kinds of avocado on toast.

Lehká Hlava (cz: clear/light head) is amongst the new generation of upmarket meat-free establishments catering to Czechs and tourists alike. I visited a few weeks ago and loved everything about the experience: the quirky decor, the friendly staff, the menu jam-packed with veggie and vegan dishes (including an incredible tofoie gras)…

Still, I know that most of my readers aren’t Prague based, and I don’t want to bore you with a gushing review of a place you’re never going to visit. Instead, please enjoy this detailed review of the toilet at Lehká Hlava. Strap in!

Also, and I appreciate the number of people who will get this is limited, I’m incredibly proud of the pun in the title: Light Head, Light Bladder. Love it. You’re all welcome.

The first port of call in any toilet review has to be the john itself. The unit in Lehká Hlava was outstandingly clean and equipped with a blue toilet duck. I was delighted, as the toilet blogging community has long accepted that blue is the optimal colour for any toilet cleaning products, and the bright white loo practically dazzled me.

The seat is at a slightly jaunty angle – this is no bad thing, as it lends the throne a certain whimsical character, which stops the tableau from falling into the trap of being offputtingly sterile. The pipe you can see on the right was somewhat rusty and aged, but in a pleasant way, like a disused locomotive or abandoned farm equipment. Overall a very decent unit.

I liked the contrast between surgical white wall tiles and rustic terracotta flooring; it reminded me of the food in Lehká Hlava itself – familiar flavours, with a modern twist.

The rustic/modern dichotomy was consistent throughout the bathroom area, as illustrated in the contrast between the Apple-white radiator unit and the tactile metal lock. I spent a few moments sliding the lock back and forth (you have to allow yourself some treats in this life), and I’m pleased to say that it was easily manipulable (it felt well-oiled) and pleasantly clunky.

Although the corner sink sacrificed comfort for space-saving (notice the awkward positioning of the soap dispenser, itself disappointingly service station-esque) the hand washing area contained this eye-catching piece of architecture. A mosaic arch was an original way to encourage patrons to spend that little bit longer lathering up. The arch itself, whilst ambitious, relies too much on spackle, as demonstrated by the sub-par tile:cement ratio. Still, an inspired creative choice.

The nature of the corner sink-mosaic arch combo was such that the mirror was unconventionally placed: not over the sink, as is usual, but on the wall opposite. Not unusable, but certainly frustrating; it would be difficult, for example, to use the sink as a makeup shelf, and washing your hands whilst also considering how cool you are would be nigh on impossible.

The final aspect of the bathroom was the most exciting. Yes, even more thrilling than the rustic-modern twist; still more exhilarating than the corner sink within its tile grotto. It’s not many toilets that include a secret cave, and I can only salute Lehká Hlava for including one here.

I was overall pleased with the bathroom. Although I generally prefer an over-the-sink mirror, the architect’s daring adventures into arches and nooks won me back. Would certainly recommend.