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Review: Tea house offering a change from standard beer joints

Čajovňa Michalský Dvor
Address: Michalská 3
Open: daily 11:00 - 21:00
English menu: No
Rating: 9 out of 10

Bratislava's warm autumn weather can't hold out forever. But as the long Slavic winter approaches, a quaint new establishment in the centre of Bratislava's Old Town is serving an array of warm fragrant beverages - 54 to be exact - in an engaging and homespun atmosphere.

Čajovňa Michalský Dvor, a teahouse, is a breath of fresh air in Bratislava's Old Town district. As the city centre develops at a dizzying rate, not many would think to build a quiet teahouse instead of a pub on one of Bratislava's most traveled streets. Teahouses have never been known as great engines of profit.

"We had available space and wanted to do something with it that was not far from the original gallery," explained owner Jozef Krasula, who also owns the Galéria Michalský Dvor art gallery adjoining the teahouse. "Both businesses help each other."

Open since the beginning of September, Čajovňa Michalský Dvor is hidden down a flight of stairs at the back of a courtyard off Michalská ulica. Inside, its atmosphere is both innocent and homey. The ceilings are low, the two small rooms are narrow, and the air is cool and musky. It's almost as if a group of creative pre-teens took over their parents' basement and decided to play 'tea house'.

"We wanted to create a pleasant atmosphere for ordinary people to sit and relax," explained Krasula. "We didn't follow the orthodox atmosphere of teahouses and try to create a spiritual centre. There is no incense burning, no rule about taking off your shoes."

Krasula hired Slovak artist František Lipták to design the interior. If you've lived in Bratislava, chances are you've seen some of his work. His paintings often feature humanoid figures with wide foreheads and eyes set far apart - sometimes they are poised with bovine indifference, sometimes they grin cunningly.

With the interior of Čajovňa Michalský Dvor, Lipták creates an atmosphere that is involved and unusual, yet childlike and unobtrusive. The walls are painted in soft colors, the tables all have a different theme - old coins, matchbooks, candles - and the several exposed pipes and beams are covered in Zebra stripes.

Besides interesting things to look at, Čajovňa Michalský Dvor offers 54 varieties of tea ranging from the banal to the exotic for between 38 and 75 Slovak crowns ($.75 to $1.50). The teas come in attractive porcelain kettles that fit above small candles which keep the contents warm.

On the high end is China Pai Mu Tan, a white tea that sounded interesting although the taste was bland and disappointing. Pu-Ehr is a black tea with a husky aroma like worn leather. Smotana (cream) tea offers a splice of chocolate. With 51 other types of tea and several coffees, there should be something for everyone.

Čajovňa Michalský Dvor scores bonus points for hip, relaxing music and swift, friendly service. People will sit in tea houses for hours on end. The homier the better. And at Čajovňa Michalský Dvor, where behind a thin curtain you can see and hear the clutter of dishes being washed and shuffled, the atmosphere is just about right.

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