Prague Theatre Le Royal in Vinohrady
On August 27th 1929 the doors opened for a screening of a silent French film at the brand new Maceška Cinema. It’s had several names since then but quite frankly it’s amazing that you can still visit one of Prague’s oldest “First Republic” entertainment venues and what is now known as Theatre Le Royal. It’s got an interesting history.
By 1929 a 52 year-old guy called Emanuel Maceška had made his fortune in the meat industry. His meat production factory in the Vinohrady district was the largest in the city although unfortunately it was destroyed during the February 14th WW2 Allied Bombing. One of his pork salami products was so popular that it was nicknamed the Pansy cake but you’ll still find it made by his company on sale today in butchers and delicatessens called Maceška i.e. his name which in English means Pansy.
So he spent some of that money on a building that would be a mere 5 minute walk from his factory. It would be the largest building of it’s kind in the area and would have both residential and commercial use. It would be called the Maceškův Palác and part of that building would be Kino Maceška or the Maceška Cinema. When you go into the building you’ll find the name of the building in the mosaic on the floor pictured above.
Firmly in the Art Deco era, the cinema gives you a look at the architectural detail that came with that period but you’ll probably miss the technical stuff like it was not built in a basement like most other cinemas and ballrooms of the period. It could accommodate almost 1000 people in the air-conditioned stalls and balcony. It had the state of the art spiral optical projection screen (to reduce distortion when viewed from the sides) which was also the largest in the country at six metres squared. It had an 18 member orchestra pit to support silent films but it was also equipped with Kinoelectric sound equipment for the new generation of films with a soundtrack. In summary, it was technically advanced venue for monied clientele.
WW2 and Communism
Following the end of WW2 something called the Beneš Decrees were enacted. Overnight, thousands of people with Hungarian or German ethnicity had their Czech citizenship revoked and property confiscated. As Emanuel Maceška’s family was of Hungarian ethnicity he found his cinema confiscated and ownership given to the “Czechoslovak State Film Company”. Then, with the communists now in power, on the 19th anniversary of it’s opening on August 27th 1948 the Maceška cinema was formally renamed to the Bystrica Cinema (it was also the 4th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising in WW2 and Bystrica is in present day Slovakia). The cinema closed 3 months later.
Opening and Closing Again
In 1968 the cinema reopened with a new name, Bio Illusion (Bio is an abbreviation of Biograf which is another word for a cinema). Although there were a few hiccups and some ownership/ management changes (the cinema was returned to the Maceška family in 1990), the Bio Illusion stayed in business either as a cinema or as a multi-functional space until 2008.
Theatre Le Royal
Following an extensive renovation the venue reopened in June 2014 as the Maceška family agreed to rent the venue to French director and entrepreneur Jean-Christophe Gramont. Sometimes referred to just as the “Royal”, the Theatre Le Royal is again a multi-functional venue that screens films but it’s stage is also used for events like Cabaret, Burlesque and Stand-Up comedy. From the moment you leave your coat in the cloakroom and get a drink at the bar at the back of the auditorium you’ll feel like you are in a bygone era. Settle down in the comfortable free-standing tables and chairs and enjoy the performance.
Here’s a tip for you. If you need to go to the loo during your visit, don’t use the one next to the cloakroom. Instead, go upstairs onto the balcony level pictured above to get a real feel for what it used to be like. Here’s another tip. If you are coming here by metro then get off at Jiriho z Poděbrad and walk back down the hill as it’s more comfortable than getting off at Muzeum and walking up. If you are coming by tram then the stop is called “Vinohradska Tržnice” and Trams 11, 13 and 18 all stop here.
Read more on the Theatre Le Royal website.