"I can't believe how crowded all the main tourist areas in Prague are these days," I say to boyfriend K as we're finishing dinner in a smart Italian restaurant on the second night, "it's definitely much more crowded than when I first visited in the 1990's :-(."
"Yes, too crowded," replies boyfriend K, "I think it would be nice to get up very early tomorrow and out of the hotel by 6am, so we can take some photos when there isn't anyone around!"
"OK, I'd be up for that :-), but we'll have to have quite an early night or it won't happen! Actually, I had been thinking that we should find some of Prague's gay bars tonight?"
Although I don't spend a huge amount of time in gay venues, it can be fun to visit them occasionally, especially when one's on holiday in a city like Prague :-).
"I've been wondering if you were going to suggest that," replies boyfriend K enthusiastically, "and I was thinking I might go on my own if you weren't interested! Have you any idea where to go?"
"I expect we can work it out, but if we're going to get up early for photos tomorrow, perhaps we should leave it until tomorrow night?"
"Well," says boyfriend K putting on one of his winning smiles, "how about we find a gay bar tonight? But just for one quick drink!"
Although I've visited Prague twice in the past, I haven't been for at least ten years, so whatever I can remember is sure to be hopelessly out of date. Luckily we have access to google on our smartphones, and a quick search shows several places that are only a short walk away. The nearest place with a promising description is called "Friends", and fifteen minutes later we're standing outside wondering whether it's actually open. It sounds exceptionally quiet.
"Well the door is open, so now we're here we may as well go inside and have a look," I say pragmatically.
It turns out that one has to go down two flights of stairs to get into the bar, and as we descend, gradually we hear music getting louder and louder. Once we're at the bottom of the stairs, we see that there are perhaps fifteen other customers so we decide to stay. A few of the customers are women sitting in pairs, so it's presumably a bar for both gay men and gay women.
In London I drink much more wine than beer, but I'm a big fan of Czech beer so we stand at the bar and order a couple of glasses of draft Pilsner Urquell. Next to us there are a couple of Asian guys sitting on bar stools, chatting to each other, and almost immediately they notice that boyfriend K is also Asian. I catch the eye of the closest one, and soon we're chatting to each other.
"Hello, my name is L :-)," says the guy who's furthest from me in a slightly camp voice, "and who are you?"
"I'm GB," I reply in a manly voice.
"… and I'm K," says boyfriend K, happy that it is indeed a friendly bar and that it's easy to get talking with some of the other customers.
The other guy introduces himself as W, and before too long we know a few things about each other. The first guy L now lives in Prague, whereas W is a tourist like us, originally from Shanghai.
"It's my last night in Prague," says W, "tomorrow I fly to Amsterdam for the last leg of my holiday."
"He was going to stay in his hotel tonight," explains L, "but I persuaded him that he should come out for a drink here one last time."
I get the impression that the two of them met online within the last couple of days, and may even have engaged in some activities together.
"And are you guys a couple?" L asks us.
"Yes we're boyfriends :-)," I say, "we've been living together in London for a while now."
We discuss Prague a bit, and L tells us that he doesn't feel that the city is 100% safe because he had been burgled within the last few months. We carry on chatting, and as me and boyfriend K finish our beers before L and W, we offer to buy a round of drinks for all of us.
"If you buy me a beer, does that mean that I have to have sex with you?" asks L, smiling. But there's something in L's voice that tells me that he's not completely sure of the answer.
"No, of course not!" I say smiling at him, "buying rounds of drinks is a British custom among friends, it doesn't mean anything really."
"So how old do you think I am," asks L, as me and boyfriend K start tucking into our second beers. "Feel the skin on my back," he continues, "it's very smooth isn't it :-)?"
Clearly L wants to be told that he looks young. I feel the skin on his back that he exposes to me, and although it is smooth, it seems mildly ridiculous to me that smooth skin on one's back is any claim to youth. Looking at him closely I decide that he's probably at least 45 years old, if not 50, but obviously it would be rude to say that.
"I think he's older than that your close friend who lives just outside London," I say to boyfriend K playfully, deliberately discussing L's age in a way that he won't be able to understand! The friend that I'm referring to is in his late 30's, so I feel that I'm being generous.
"What does that mean?" asks L, impatient to be told how young he looks.
"Well I think you're probably about 34," replies boyfriend K being exceptionally generous, "and that friend of mine is 37 so GB thinks you're 38."
On hearing this L instantly looks upset, no doubt because he wants to be told that he's still in his 20's.
"Always be kind to a lady about her age!" advises W with a smile on his face. But I am being kind!
"Well," says L, "in fact I'm 40, can you believe it?"
"No, surely not," I say, deciding to play along with him, but deciding that if he admits to 40 then he's probably at least 50!
The conversation drifts onto other subjects, and when we've finished our second beer, boyfriend K starts to look restless.
"Are there any other places nearby that are worth a visit?" he asks.
"There's a club about ten minutes walk away," says L, "and there'll be a show we could watch. There'll be lots of money boys who'll come up to you wanting you to buy them drinks, but you don't have to."
It was interesting that he used the term "money boy" to refer to what I would call a rent boy, i.e. a male prostitute. Previously I'd only ever heard Thai guys use that term for Thai rent boys who focus on gay male clients in Thailand.
"What kind of show it is?" asks boyfriend K.
"It's a clothes off kind of show!" replies L, with a bit of a glint in his eye.
"We're meant to be having an early night so that we can take some photos at 6am tomorrow!" I remind boyfriend K.
"And I've got a plane to catch tomorrow," adds W.
"But aren't either of you interested to find out what a clothes off show is like in Prague?" replies boyfriend K.
"Well, yes I suppose I am curious," I admit, and W nods too.
"That settles it then :-)," says boyfriend K, with one of his winning smiles, "let's all go, but just for one drink!"
The four of us finish our drinks and soon we're all making our way to a bar that turns out to be called Escape. It takes about ten minutes to walk there, and once there, we have to ring the doorbell to gain entrance. It seems to help that they recognise L, so the door opens and we make our way down the stairs to find a tough looking guy sitting behind a desk.
"Here's a drinks card for each of you," says the tough guy, "you use this to pay for drinks, and then settle up for what's on the card when you leave."
"Don't lose the card," advises L quietly, "they won't let you leave without it!"
Walking through the next door, neither me nor boyfriend K can believe our eyes. There's a little dance floor in the middle of the club, FULL of young guys who're all completely 100% naked! On the side of the dance floor nearest to the bar there's a pole from floor to ceiling, and the naked guys are taking it in turns to swing round the pole while shaking their tackle at the audience.
"Um, well, that's definitely what I'd call a clothes off show!" I say to L, still completely astonished at what I'm seeing.
Soon, though, the dance floor is empty and all the guys who had been naked have put shorts on and are wandering around the room looking for admirers to buy them drinks or give them tips. Clearly we just happened to arrive at the end of one of the evening's performances. Looking at one of the video screens, I see a notice that says "Live sex show 1:30am", which will be in about 20 minutes time. Perhaps there's some kind of performance every 30 minutes.
"If you want to take any of the money boys home then let me know," says L quietly to me and boyfriend K, "because I can get you a discount. The standard price is five thousand Czech Koruna".
"Thanks L, but we won't be taking any of these guys home," I reply firmly, "we don't need or want to do that kind of thing."
There's a bit of space at the bar, so the four of us make ourselves comfortable there and order some drinks, which are very much more expensive than in the previous bar. Also at the bar is a youngish looking dark skinned guy who turns out to be called F, and before too long we're talking to him as well.
"I'm actually flying back home to Mumbai tomorrow," says F once he's introduced himself, "so I thought I'd spend my last night having some fun here!"
It's not that crowded, and looking around, the people in the club fall into three categories. One category is our group, gay guys who're just looking for a fun night out, and happen to have ended up in a money boy club. The second category is the money boys themselves, showing off their bodies (and more intimate parts of their anatomies) to everyone, presumably hoping that someone will pay to take them home. Finally there are the much older guys who each seem to be on their own, none of whom are particularly attractive, and all of whom are very interested in the money boys!
Just before the "live sex show" starts, a couple of the money boys lay a blanket on the dance floor, and soon a couple of them are fondling each other and trying to make each other excited. Sitting at a table near the dance floor with boyfriend K, we get a good view of what's happening.
"I thought it would be sexy," says boyfriend K to me quietly, "but it's not, is it?"
"No, it's not," I say, agreeing with him.
"It's just sad," he says.
We spot one of the older customers making their way to the door with a big smile on his face. In tow is one of the money boys, who looks quite indifferent to his new friend. Meanwhile on the dance floor, the guys take it in turn to put each other's tackle in their mouths, but neither of them are particularly hard. "Sex" doesn't seem like a particularly honest description of what's happening!
"Do you trust the guys that we've met tonight?" asks boyfriend K.
"W and F seem real, but I'm not so sure about L," I reply after a bit of thought. "But buying him a drink or two is fine. After all, even at the high drink prices in this place, it's still not big money and it helps the night flow better :-)."
After the show, the two performers put their shorts on and come round searching for tips.
"How big you think I am?" asks one of them when he gets to the table that I'm sitting at with boyfriend K.
"Let's have a look then :-)," says boyfriend K playfully.
The guy whips it out from his shorts and stands there proudly, with his flaccid manhood near boyfriend K's face. Boyfriend K grins, and prods it gingerly with one of his index fingers.
"It doesn't look very big to me!" says boyfriend K honestly.
"Is 21.5, I show if you like?"
"OK, let's see then :-),"
"In private only, not expensive … ?"
"Um, no thanks," says boyfriend K, "I'll believe you!"
British guys typically measure themselves in inches, but with a measurement of 21.5, presumably Czech guys use centimetres. If Czech guys also use inches, then I'd be first in line to pay to have a look! The two performers move on to the next table, so me and boyfriend K go back to the bar to re-join L, W and F and buy some more drinks.
"So am I the best looking Asian guy here?" L asks me a bit later. Wow, he's clearly completely obsessed with himself and how he looks.
"Well, obviously for me the best looking Asian guy here is my boyfriend!" I reply.
"But I suppose you are the second best looking Asian guy," I continue, halfheartedly. Nonetheless, even though there are hardly any Asian guys in the club so that there's very little competition, he seems happy with my answer.
"And what do you think the best feature is on my face?" continues L, fishing for even more compliments.
"Your teeth," I reply honestly, after taking a good look at him. "Yes, you do have very good teeth :-)."
Again L seems happy with my answer, but I start to feel a bit sorry for him. It seems to me that he's got some kind of narcissistic personality disorder.
"So do you like any of the boys here?" he asks, finally changing the subject away from himself.
"They're OK for money boys, I suppose."
"So which one do you want to take home with you?"
"None of them!" I reply, starting to feel slightly annoyed.
"Because I'm very happy going back to the hotel with just my boyfriend!"
"OK. After this place, we could go somewhere else I know, if you want?"
"What kind of place?" I ask, starting to feel very wary of him.
"It's a short taxi ride away, on the other side of the river," he replies, "and it's got lots of semi-private areas. You could all get sucked off in one of the alcoves there …"
"NO!" I reply, definitely annoyed now, "and please don't bother me with any more of your suggestions :-(."
The club starts to look a bit empty now that the shows are finished for the evening, and we all start looking around, wondering whether it's time to go. Suddenly, boyfriend K has an idea.
"Why don't we all go back to the previous place?" says boyfriend K, clearly in real party mood now.
"I've got to fly to Amsterdam tomorrow," says W.
"And don't forget I'm flying back to Mumbai tomorrow," says F.
"C'mon," says boyfriend K, putting on one of his winning smiles again, "just one drink!"
Neither W nor F want the evening to end either, so we prepare to leave and go back to Friends. Getting up at 6am to take photos while Prague is empty seems like a very remote possibility now!
"See you next time," I say to L, a friendly sounding thing to say of course, but not in the context of the rest of us going back to the previous bar! Hopefully that will deter him from joining us. He looks at me with a blank stare as though he doesn't care at all, and walks away to talk to one of the money boys that he seems to know. Meanwhile, W, F and boyfriend K are encouraging some of the other money boys to come along with us.
On the way out, we discover that on top of the cost of all the drinks, there's a 200 Czech Koruna entry charge per person. Given that L knew some of the staff here and that he'd been encouraging us to buy a money boy, I can't help wondering whether he gets a cut of what we spend. It seems especially strange that he didn't warn us about the entry charge.
Fifteen minutes later, shortly before 3am, we're back at Friends bar. There are about the same number of people here as there were when we were here earlier, although now I don't see any female couples. While we're ordering our drinks a few of the money boys turn up, and it seems only fair to buy them some drinks too given that we encouraged them to come. But now that we're in an ordinary bar again it doesn't cost that much :-). Boyfriend K and some of the money boys wander off to the dance area, while I sit down to chat with W and F.
"I came out to my family back in India when I was 18," says F, wanting to share some of his life story with me.
"That must have been a bit traumatic," I say sympathetically.
"It was quite an event for the family at the time, but they've got used to the idea now! I was in love with a guy at the time and we were boyfriends for a few years, but unfortunately that all came to an end."
We chat a bit more, but after an hour or so, both F and W need to leave to make sure that they catch their flights later in the day. I say goodbye to them, and start chatting to one of the money boys. There's one thing in particular that I'm keen to find out.
"Just curious, are you gay or straight?" I ask.
"I am straight," he replies, "and I have girlfriend."
"Wow, doesn't she mind that you do this job at Escape?"
"It a job for me. She from Thailand, I hope go and live with her Thailand."
His English isn't exactly perfect, but he seems like a nice guy so I offer to buy him another drink. He readily accepts, and asks if I can also get one for another of the money boys! It's all small money, especially in Prague where all alcoholic drinks seem exceptionally cheap, so I don't mind :-). While I'm at the bar, I get more drinks for me and boyfriend K as well.
Under normal circumstances I'm pretty bad on a dance floor, but as the drinks mount up over the course of an evening, suddenly I miraculously turn into the world's best dancer :-). That point had now definitely been reached, so I spend much of the next hour or two showing everyone else on the dance floor how to do it. Things get a bit hazy now, but I can remember dancing with some of the money boys, as well as boyfriend K of course. At one point I'm pretty sure that I got up onto the stage and pointed at boyfriend K while dancing to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You", much to his embarrassed amusement. But eventually it's around 05:30am and the bar is starting to close.
"I've got a bloody brilliant idea," I say to boyfriend K as we start to leave, "it's not going to be necessary to get up early for photos at all! We can go and take all those pics and avoid the crowds right now :-)."
"I wanna go and sleep!" says boyfriend K, slurring his words slightly.
"C'mon," I say, putting on one of my winning smiles, "just one photo!"
It takes about ten minutes for us to walk over to the Charles Bridge, and it's amazing to see that even at this early hour, it's not completely deserted. For some reason, some of the photos that I take turned out to be a bit blurred, but luckily some of the others turn out fine: