culture

5 more people in Prague that you should know

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

1. Mirek

Mirek

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Sometimes beautiful, crowded and very historic.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Anywhere near the train station.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

Having this chance, I would like to meet my grandpa in his twenties.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

’Pusillanimous’ in English – I like the way it is pronounced; and ’jídlo’ in Czech – as I’m always hungry and love eating.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Brad Pitt. He also has chicken legs.

2. Javier

Javier

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

An open air museum. A world of contradictions.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Due to my work, I always hang out in the historical center, you can find not so touristy places if you look for them hard enough. Other than that, you can find me in Vinohrady and sometimes in Letná.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

The time of Rudolph II, the Renaissance era in Prague must have been wonderful.

What’s your favorite word in English and in Czech?

Maybe ’fashionable’ in English, I like the sound of it. ’Ahoj’ is one of the few words in Czech that I find optimistic, too bad they don’t use it that often, at least with me.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Leo DiCaprio or Daniel Craig.

3. Tish

Tys

How would you describe Prague?

Prague is a haggard old woman who’s got her claws in your heart. Prague is magic.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Prague 1,2,3,7,10. Everywhere.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would like to go back around 80 years and see Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong play in a Harlem blues joint.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

My favorite Czech word is ’sbohem’ (godspeed). It is so wonderfully finite and loving and tragic. My favorite word in English is ’grace’.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Russell Peters.

4. Jan

Jan Kopecky

How would you describe Prague?

A magnificent historical city where even low-income students can live a rich life.

Where do you usually hang out in Prague?

Náplavka, Riegrovy sady and Havlíčkovy sady.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

Ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome to see some of the great wonders being created.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

’Air’ because it brings about the lightness. ’Život’ (life) because the sound of it is in soothing harmony with the meaning.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper or Alexander Skarsgård.

5. Martina

Martina

How would you describe Prague in a few words?

Still running, endlessly stunning.

Where do you usually hang out in Prague?

Well, when I’m with my friends I don’t care that much where we hang out. Company is more important for me. But usually I prefer underground pubs or bars, restaurants or café anywhere in Prague 3 – Žižkov.

If you could travel back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I wish I could go back to the 60s and see Elvis Presley in concert!

What’s your favourite word in English and in Czech?

In English, ’fluffy’ – sounds so funny. In Czech, ’hovnožrout’ which means ’shit-glutton’ – so funny.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I can’t decide between Renée Zellweger (before that awful plastic surgery) and Tom Hanks – they both fit perfectly to my role and actually sometimes I’m on ’The Edge of Reason’ like Bridget Jones and sometimes I feel like I’m a ’Cast away’.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

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Bartender Ondra – the king of cocktails

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Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Ondra was recommended to me by a friend after I fell in love with the cocktail scene in Prague, it’s really something impressive and kind of measures the fast growth of Prague as a city for me. Every year there are new bars experimenting with new ambiance, drinks, and styles of service. We’ve already spoken to AnonymouS Bar as well as Hemingway, two of my favourites on the scene right now. But with Ondra being an award winning bartender, it was impossible to resist some tasty advice on where and what to drink in Prague. Ondra gives a special personal touch to all of the questions I threw at him. A very cool interview, check it out.

Where are you originally from?

I come from Prague, the wonderful city full of history.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Well, a garbageman at first as they have a huge car. Later it was a professional football player and a car mechanic. But in the end I have a job that fulfills me and I enjoy it. To communicate with people and come up with new creative cocktails? That’s definitely my cup of tea.

What was the first drink you ever had?

It’s been a very long ago but I remember it quite right, it was vodka and juice. And after that maybe a Cuba Libre…?

What was the last drink you had?

Hopefully I will have some more but the last so far was a Whiskey Sour. 🙂

What competitions have you competed in/won?

I’m not the kind of a bartender who would enter each and every competition up for grabs. The appeal of further possibilities and experience, that’s what draws me in. The first big competition for me was undoubtedly the ‘Jameson Bartenders Ball’. I managed to win the national finals twice. And then, at the world finals in Dublin, I came third. Some other wins include:

The Havana Club Grand Prix 2014 – Czech winner

The Ron de Jeremy Competition – winner (with Michal Durinik)

The Chivas Masters 2015 – Czech winner, 2nd at the world finals in New York

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That’s an impressive list of wins! How would you describe Prague’s bar and cocktail scene? Where should we go for a cocktail?

Prague is a historical city and always will be (hopefully). There are many wonderful places that make your heart beating faster and make you come back again. The bar scene has grown in the past few years, not only in Prague but in the whole of the Czech Republic; there are new businesses open with huge potential to become some of the TOP places in the world. There’s also a wide range of bars, old as well as total newbies; everyone can find something they like, there’s such a variety. When it comes to bars – you can do the best in one evening. Hemingway bar, Bugsy´s, Cash Only, Black Angel´s, L´fleur, AnonymouS and La Casa de la Havana Vieja are only a fragment of what the city of Prague has to offer.

But it’s not only Prague that offers great bars. If you happen to be in Brno, don’t forget to visit Bar, který neexistuje (the bar that does not exist, in English) a Super Panda Circus, it would be a shame to miss it!

Do you have any advice for young bartenders or bar owners?

To be diligent, responsible and enthusiastic, that’s how you can be successful in this job.

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Beautiful – historical – irresistible

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I would definitely like to be a bartender in a bar during the prohibition in the US. The atmosphere and the
adrenalin that any minute a cop could come in and we would all be in a big mess.. this attracts me. And if I had another chance to go back in time, I would love to visit the beginning of the 90s when electronic music started to get popular. I would like to experience the atmosphere in the clubs and big parties of that time.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Well, Tom Cruise tried in Cocktail and failed 😀 Matthew McConaughey would be the right one. He may be a bit older and not as handsome as me but he’s the best choice. And if he’s too busy, then Adam Sandler, Ben Affleck or Jon Snow could be good candidates.

What’s your favourite word in English?

Together, massive or huge?

What’s your favourite word in Czech?

Thank you (děkuji) – I use this word each and every day. And I am always happy when I find that other people can use it, too.

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Photos from Ondřej Hnilička.

Everything you need to know about Prague

Old Town Square at Xmas

I was recently asked to be a guess blogger on SuperBreak, a UK travel website and blog, and write about Prague. This is the end result. Hope you enjoy it and let me know your opinion…

Prague is both east and west. Slavik and romantic. If London and Moscow had a baby, it would surely be Prague. I feel as though I’m describing it the way Dickens’ would, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s said to be Venice of the east, if you consider it to be east. It’s also said to be the city of 100 spires. To me, it’s all of these things, and also home. No, I’m not Czech. I’m Australian, but have been living here for the past four years and I’m also writing a blog called ‘People in Prague’ that talks to locals, expats and just about any character that passes through the Czech capital. From their experience and my own, here is a list of ‘musts’ that one should do to enjoy the Bohemian city to its fullest. From cuisines to castles, parks to pubs, these are the essentials.

Tourist attractions:

Like any decent tourist, you should start with the main sites that Prague has to offer. This list can be endless, especially for someone who’s a history or architecture buff. After all, Prague was one of the only major cities that didn’t feel the full wrath of World War II. Around Europe there are a number of great replicas of buildings that actually still remain in Prague. It’s originality is well-preserved.
My advice would be to start from the castle and work your way down. Prague castle is easily accessible by tram from most inner city locations and if you start there, it also means that you avoid walking up the countless staircases. There are a number of decent tours available for this area. It’s definitely worth taking a walking tour to hear some of the history. Even if history isn’t your thing, the enchanting legends of the place and its great kings certainly will be. I personally love the legends of King Rudolf II and his obsession with animals and alchemy.

From the castle, you can descend into Malá Strana, the cute and quirky castle town below which leads into Charles’ Bridge, another major tourist attraction. If you want to avoid the crowds, check out the bridge early in the morning for a picturesque sunrise. From Charles Bridge you will journey into Staré Město, the old town. I’ve never been one for maps. I find them embarrassing and annoying to carry, but really, get a map for this labyrinth. A map or Google is the only way you’re going to find the old town square and the astronomical clock which despite being full of tourists, and the occasional pickpocket, is a fairy tale scene. There’s nothing quite like it.

Charles Bridge and the river Vltava

Charles Bridge and the river Vltava

A short walk from there will bring you into the heart of the city, and the Main Street, Václavské náměstí, or Wenceslas Square. The street should be seen to take in the magnificent National Museum at the top of the square, and to witness the main place of celebration and protest for Czech people. The Velvet Revolution took place here and marked the end of communism for Czechoslovakia, but these days it’s littered with casinos and dodgy food vendors. I’d avoid those at all costs, unless gambling and food poisoning is your thing.

Of course, these are only guidelines. As I said before, the sightseeing opportunities are endless here. Play it by ear as you go along.

Off-beat attractions:

In my opinion, this is where the true beauty lies. A short metro ride on the C or red line will take you to Vyšehrad park. This area overlooks the city and makes for a splendid view as well as giving you access to an awe-inspiring cathedral and cemetery. There are also some very famous Czech composers buried there. The whole area is virtually untouched by tourists and you can even enjoy a well-deserved Czech beer or ‘pivo’ overlooking the river Vltava and Prague castle.

The inner city districts of Vinohrady and Žižkov are perfect for anyone seeking a decent cafe culture, not to mention glorious food. This part of the city is home to beautiful architecture and a host of expats and young Czech families. The young and trendy vibe is felt best in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad on a Saturday morning with the farmers’ markets. Eat some fresh and delicious food and take in the atmosphere. There is usually some kind of festival happening in the square every second weekend. Like all great beer drinkers, the Czechs love a good party.

Žižkov tower

Žižkov tower

Art and culture:

Prague is a hub for classical music and always has been. From Bedřich Smetana to Antonín Dvořák, a lot of composers called this city home. Municipal House or Obecní Dům usually hosts well-known Czech orchestras which can be seen also every day. Towards the river is the National Theatre or Národní Divadlo, (talk about charity to rebuild it after the burning) even if opera isn’t your thing, the building’s interior is gold and a wonder to experience.

For some classic art, the National Gallery is worth a look. For those who like something a bit more modern or controversial, take a look at DOX, a modern art gallery in Holešovice. The Žižkov tower is a great example of modern Czech art. Controversial artist David Černý put faceless babies all over the large sputnik-like monolith to perhaps lighten up a once dreary reminder of the communist past. There have actually always been artists and writers a plenty in Prague. Many would recognise Alfons Mucha and his signature art nouveau style of painting and of course, writer Franz Kafka. Cafe Louvre on Národní street was an old hangout for Kafka and even Einstein – they also do a tasty breakfast.

Food and beer:

Speaking of fresh food. It’s worth ‘czeching’ (a cheesy pun still on every souvenir) out the local cuisine. Czech food is delicious, but heavy, very heavy. Like a lot of central and Eastern Europe, the cuisine is mainly meat and potatoes. In saying that though, they do meat pretty well. Try svíčková, the most typical dish consisting of beef marinated in a light brown sauce with some cream and cranberry jam on the side. Soak it all up with a few bread dumplings and enjoy that spongy goodness. There are countless Czech restaurants littered all around the city, but for a decent meal and beer in one, I would recommend any of the ‘Lokal’ restaurants which have a great selection of Czech beer, and a fresh rotating menu. My personal favorite restaurant is ‘U Houdku’ on Bořivojova street in the heart of the Žižkov pub scene. A lot of locals eat here because the portions are HUGE, tasty and medieval; the only thing missing is a hungry dog in the corner. They also offer a range of delicious vegetarian options. In summer, take a seat outside in the beer garden.

Czech Republic is also known for their huge Vietnamese community. Pho restaurants are now starting to spring up all over Prague and provide addictive soups, noodles and other rice dishes that will fill you up, and also cure any lingering beer hangovers. There is a particularly good one in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad near the farmers’ markets.

Vinohrady district

Vinohrady

Shopping:

Prague has all the usual European shops that you can expect to find in any major city, rather than walking around Vaclavske namesti in the cold, take a short walk to Palladium shopping centre in Náměstí Republiky – everything under one roof. If you’re into handmade things, ‘DeafMessanger‘ provides handmade diaries, notebooks and postcards with unique stencil art and other clippings (pictured), all available in ‘Luxor’ bookstore.

For those looking for something authentically Czech, you might want to check out the range of handmade souvenirs and skin products in ‘Manufaktura’, everything here is made in the Czech Republic. If you visit the national theatre, be sure to pop round the corner to the giant ‘antikvariat’ shop. Get yourself lost in a maze of old communist trinkets, furniture, art, old records and books.

Where fashion is concerned, I’d recommend having a look at ‘Pietro Filipi’, a homegrown men’s and women’s fashion store with a unique style. For those who want something a little more custom, check out the custom denim and fashion design studio at ‘Chatty‘. The label has met with a lot of success and prides itself on original designs that are authentically Czech.

Drinks:

As mentioned before, the beer is an absolute must. Pilsner Urquel is considered to be the best, but there are a lot of smaller breweries that are better. I personally love Svijany and Bernard, both of these you can find in most bars and pubs around the centre of town.

If you’re keen on cocktails, there are two great bars in town that will no doubt tickle your tastebuds, and liver. ‘Anonymous bar‘ is a classy and fascinating place based around the hacker group and the book/film V for Vendetta. It sounds cheesy, but this bar is a work of art and is well worth a visit just to taste some of their old cocktail recipes. ‘Hemingway bar‘ is also a classy cocktail joint and recently made it into the top 50 bars in the world. Be sure to make a reservation at both.

For clubbing, Dlouha street is in the heart of town and provides you with a number of options. Both ‘Roxy’ and ‘Druhy Patro’ thrive on the electronic music culture in Prague, whereas Harley’s can be more of a rock’n’pop club. In the Žižkov and Vinohrady area there is also ‘Palac Akropolis’ where you can see some of the local DJ and music talent. Try to stay away from the typical tourist clubs like Karlové Lázně, unless you want to be ripped off.

Accommodation:

For backpackers, both the Czech Inn and Mosaic House hostels are reasonably inner city and host a number of fun events including parties, theatre and comedy. They also have reasonable prices and outstanding service.

However your budget, Prague has a great variety of hotels on offer. For those who want something a little more luxurious, typical hotels like the Hilton, the Intercontinental and more are all there. But for a real treat, take a look at the Emblem Hotel. It’s still quite new, but extremely modern and luxurious and boasts a number of great services, not to mention an excellent restaurant and bar too.

If you’re traveling in a group, it might be worth getting an apartment on air b’n’b. A lot of Czechs inherited apartments from their ancestors once communism came to an end, so there are a surprising amount of unbelievably beautiful flats available for a few nights in the heart of the city.

Transport:

From the airport, I would recommend ordering a taxi or getting the bus to Dejvická followed by the metro. Prague has a decent underground metro system which I still find to be a novelty because of how retro it looks. Trams go almost everywhere and also run all night, as do the buses. There are plenty of taxi companies, but I would always call before just getting in. Prague taxi drivers have a reputation for ripping tourists off.

Things to be careful of:

– Czech is an extremely difficult language to learn, but even if you just say Dobrý den (Good day) and Dík (thanks), it will make them happy that you’re trying. However, majority of Prague residents do speak English.

– High percentage absinthe is also legal in the Czech Republic and can be a very interesting experience, but try to go to a proper absinthe bar for the real thing. Souvenir shops sell terrible stuff.

– Although I’ve never been pickpocketed, I’d advise to watch your belongings, especially around old town square when waiting for the astronomical clock to ring.

– A lot of bars and restaurants don’t take card, so have plenty of cash handy.

– Remember that the Czech Republic is NOT on the euro. Check your exchange rates to see how many crowns you’ll need to get by.

All and all, Prague is one of the safest cities I have ever lived in. It’s also very tourist friendly, and has an addictive charm about it. Once you’ve been, you’ll more than likely return. For more information on the quirks and adventures of people in Prague, be sure to subscribe to my blog.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

National Museum at Wenceslas Square

The National Museum at Wenceslas Square

 

25-year-old Marek owns a candy store!

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As I sit here typing away yet another successful interview with another of Prague’s inspirational characters, I’m munching away on a bag of ‘Flipz’, small chocolate covered pretzels that create a land where both salt and sugar can exist in harmony – an uncontrollable party for your tastebuds. This is not a food blog, but these things definitely need a mention. I ate the whole bag in one sitting so that’s saying something.

Marek is a 25-year-old entrepreneur that has successfully opened ‘The Candy Store’ – a brightly coloured and eccentrically decorated store that reminds me of that Robin Williams film Toys, not to mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The store is exactly how it sounds, filled with sweet sweet candy and chocolate from both the US and UK – every dentist’s nightmare and every child’s dream. Marek has also recently combined forces with ‘Robertsons’ to supply people with quality cuts of meat and other imported products that every expat misses, and every Czech wants to try. Halloween is coming up, get in there and support a young guy making his way with an original idea and fresh attitude to life in general. Marek’s interview is one of remarkable modesty and taste. Read below for what makes this candyman tick.

Are you from Prague?

No, I was actually born in Pardubice, about 70-80 km from Prague, and I lived there until I was about 8 and then we moved to the Netherlands because of my father’s job. I stayed there until I was 16 and then came back here and finished high school.

Where abouts in the Netherlands?

The Hague, by the sea.

Nice.

It sounds really nice when you hear by the sea, but it’s all really grey.

I’ve never actually been to the Netherlands.

It’s an awesome country to visit, but I enjoy the Czech Republic a lot more. It’s a different mentality in Western Europe and in Holland. It’s all very restricted, even in terms of business. I’m not saying it’s all better over here, but at least they are a bit more leniant.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I always really liked sports. My Dad played ice hockey a lot when I was a kid and I actually played tennis professionally until I was about 17, so I always thought I was going to be a tennis player. Around that critical time – 16, 17, 18 you have different interests that start to come up. Those are the most important years. It’s when you need to focus more and I kinda lost my focus. I trained less and it got worse and worse and then there was no point to do it anymore. You need to invest so much money and so much energy into sports. So yeah that’s what I wanted to do, which is really tough on me now because I sit in an office all day (laughs).

And how did you get this idea to open The Candy Store?

When I lived in Holland, I saw a lot of these shops selling British and American stuff. I mean, British stuff was already here because of ‘Robertson’s’, but no American stuff on a bigger scale. There were SOME shops that existed, but not many people knew about them. The shops that tried to do the American thing before, only aimed it at the expats, so we aimed it at the Czech people as well. There is a surprisingly large amount of Czechs that have visited the States or lived there long term. It’s been much easier to get there in the past ten years than it was 20-30 years ago. I started and I thought no one is going to know these products or what this is about, but slowly and surely in the first year we saw that most of our clientele was Czech. I saw it work in Holland, I saw it work in Germany and all these places and I couldn’t see a reason why it wouldn’t work here. Especially with these younger generations who watch American TV and movies and stuff like that. I mean, there is a reference to almost every product in our shop in South Park, like pop-tarts!

I saw them before and something tingled inside me.

Exactly! People see these movies and TV shows and they want to try it out. So we just thought, why not? So we found a little shop and the rent was good so the risk wasn’t that bad… and that’s basically how it all started!

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How old are you?

I’m 25 now.

25? Wow, and what are people’s reactions to being so young and having your own business?

Expats react pretty well. Czechs… it’s a bit tough.

How come?

I don’t know, there’s this perception that you need a certain amount of experience, let’s say 10 years, before you do something like that. I don’t know whether it’s still from communism when no one could start up anything or something like this, I’ve never really thought about it. It’s still much better in the last five years because there are so many more young entrepreneurs that try something new in Prague. But there are still a lot of people that ask you “oh did someone give this to you? Did your father give you this shop?” It’s a bit hard to swallow sometimes, but most of the time people’s reactions are all good. It’s my baby, it’s what I love and I will do anything for it. When people see that you take it seriously, it’s a little better. At the start is was really tough – I was 22 when I started and when someone has a meeting with a 22 year old, they don’t really take it seriously. They just think “oh you want my money to spend on booze”. Overall though, I can’t complain.

Halloween is coming up soon, is that a popular time in the shop?

Halloween is pretty popular, it’s mostly popular with expats. I mean, young people know it but it’s a typical western tradition. Christmas is our main season of the year because people always want that little extra present. Even Easter, any holiday involving chocolate.. Valentines as well. But we don’t just do candy and chocolate anymore, most of the things we sell are little delicacies so we do pretty well all year round.

What typical American candy would you recommend trying?

I think they’re really good with the sweet and salty combinations. You know Reese’s cups, obviously.

YES. I do know them, but I don’t think I could eat more than one…

Yeah, they’re intense! That’s one of our bestsellers. We carry the most known candy, anything you try is going to be different to what you’re used to.

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Do you have a favourite product?

I stay away from most things (laughs). I like Flipz, they’re milk chocolate pretzels, not the big ones but the small ones. I think besides Flipz I love the meat that Robertson’s still supplies us with. The sausages, the steak. I love this stuff. Cheddar as well.

How many places around here sell cheddar? 

Not many places sell the really good stuff, you can get the slices but that’s like gum.

Yeah it looks like plastic.

I live off that stuff now, it’s really good.

The interior is amazing! Was that all you?

Yeah, basically me and my colleague. Once you have really colourful products and walls, it kind of just goes by itself. We never really had any outside help, not even marketing. I like to do this stuff myself.

Have you ever made your own candy?

Not yet, but we’re thinking about it. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have our own thing.

Have you ever seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Did you think about this when you began?

A lot of people think it’s like that yeah (laughs). I thought the movie with Johnny Depp was a bit freaky, I never really thought of that as a children’s movie. I don’t know, I saw it once or twice but never again, it was quite intense.

How would you describe Prague?

Beautiful, laidback. Full of opportunities, but most of all beautiful.

If you could go back in time, what would you choose to see?

I’d like to go forward in time, not thousands of years but hmmm… I’d be interested to see myself at 80-90, just so I know what to expect. I was talking about this with my friend the other day; things are changing so quickly in the world right now with technology. You never know what’s going to happen in a week or a month or in a year’s time. It’s something that I ponder a lot.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you choose to play you? Obviously not Johnny Depp after what you’ve just told me.

(Laughs) Yes, true. Wow, that’s a good question. I want someone that at least looks a bit skinny (laughs). Oh man.. I’ve always loved Kevin Spacey – that would be an honour if he could play me. If not him then someone who can play a simple role like myself. Nicholas Cage or something like that.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

At home, I really like the peace and quiet. I used to go out a couple of years back a lot. But since I’ve made that jump to 25.. I’m nearly 30!

Well I’m 28, so what does that make me??

(Laughs) I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve tried to slow down a bit. I love this area around Náměstí Míru, it really has an atmosphere, it’s alive. There are so many new places around here now.

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Check out the Candy Store’s selection here.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Ryan Keating-Lambert.