"It will change your life," I'm told.
"It's the best hostel in the world," adds another.
It's 2013 and I'm sitting in a run-down pizza parlor in Bled, Slovenia. I'm out with four guys from my hostel and one of them has just said the magic word: Prague.
One of the guys leans in and, with a very intense stare, asks our fellow traveler, "Did you stay in the mad house?"
As images of straitjackets and padded walls fill my head, the table suddenly erupts into a flurry of excitement. The mad house, I soon learn, is actually The MadHouse, Prague's #1 party hostel and, according to my fellow pizza companions, "The most epic place you could ever go."
Some pretty big promises there, but I'm now resolved: one day I will visit The MadHouse Party Hostel in Prague, and my liver will just have to deal with it.
The MadHouse is an award-winning boutique hostel in the center of Prague that has become known for its welcoming family atmosphere and, on the flip side, its debaucherous nights out on the town. They try to keep things small and personal by encouraging solo travelers and refusing to take in groups of more than four. Unlike in high school, there's no "cool table" at the MadHouse. It's all one big (slightly drunk) family.
And so, after hearing countless people sing the praises of this little party hostel that could, I eventually summon up the courage and reserve my bed in one of their mixed dorm rooms. As visions of strangers puking into my shoes at 4am dance through my head, I admit that I'm feeling a little hesitant. But the hostel's website encourages me to "Embrace the Madness" and so embrace the madness I shall.
The moment I arrive at the hostel, the first question posed to me is, "Beer?"
We're off to a good start.
One notable thing to mention about this hostel is the Beer Fridge. This glorious feature makes delicious Czech beer accessible to you at any time, day or night, and all for just a little bit of pocket change. It's also worth mentioning that the Beer Fridge operates on an honor system, with a small jar perched on top of the fridge ready take your spare pennies, which tells you something about the "We're all family here" atmosphere the hostel strives create.
Also worth mentioning, your first beer is free. I strongly believe that this is the quickest way to a traveler's heart. Already, I'm liking what I see.
As I take my first delicious sip of Czech beer, people start approaching me to introduce themselves. I initially assume they're staff members who have been prompted to make the newbies feel at home, but I soon realize that these are actually fellow travelers. Everyone who comes to the MadHouse, it seems, takes the family vibe to heart.
"We've just started a game of beer pong," a super-cool Australian girl named Kim says to me. "Come join us once you've dropped your stuff."
I make my way up to my room and am pleasantly surprised. The hostel has four shared dormitory rooms, each with their own theme. Mine is an eight bed room, but I seem to have caught the hostel on a slow week and most of the beds are empty. I snag a bed on the upper level of the room, tucked away in a little nook which makes it almost like having my very own room. As I take another sip of my welcome beer, a slight smile spreads across my face. So far, so good.
As I make my way down the stairs to the common area, I hear the sounds of chanting and people banging on the table. "Here we go!" I think to myself.
I shuffle into the kitchen area where everyone is gathered and take a seat by a girl who I quickly realize is too drunk to form words. I believe here name is Huhnmnm, but I could be wrong. The two kitchen tables have been shoved together and everyone is currently involved in a rousing game of Flip Cup. It's not long before the group encourages me to join. They all introduce themselves and then we're off.
I spot a girl across from me taking a sip from a jug of wine so huge that I can only assume it was made on the off-chance there might one day be a rampant zombie attack where we all have to lock ourselves in the hostel until the Avengers have successfully killed them off (disclaimer: I know nothing about zombies or the Avengers). She offers me a swig and I accept. It is, without a doubt, the worst wine I have ever tasted. She then tells me she found it (open) sitting on top of the kitchen shelf and has no idea how long it's been there for. My guess is at least a couple of years. With that, I vow to stick to beer for the night.
After a successful few rounds of Flip Cup (at which I turn out to be pretty damn skilled) we make our way out to explore Prague's nightlife.
Now, I'll be honest with you, the rest of the night is somewhat a blur, but I do know there was a seafoam green-colored cocktail involved, which I suspect may have been the culprit of my splitting headache the next day. I also remember stumbling into the hostel at some point and having a conversation with Noah, one of the lovely MadHouse employees, about my strong desire to buy the hostel a puppy so that they could have a mascot. With this, I head up to bed.
Headache aside, I'm still the first one up in the morning. At the bottom of the stairs, I'm greeted by a sign declaring it "Wish You Had a Puppy Tuesday." Already, I feel like part of the MadHouse family.
At the MadHouse, your days are you own but the hostel often organizes optional group outings in the evening. On the agenda for tonight is a bit of Drunk Bowling. Knowing I need to shake off the effects of last night's drinks, I make my way into the kitchen in hopes of securing a bowl of cereal before I set off on today's adventures. No such luck. I am quickly chased out of the hostel by the cleaning lady who tells me I'm not allowed to be in the common area this early (it's 9:30am but I soon learn that most people don't start stirring until at least noon). With that, I scurry out of the hostel and into the beautiful cobbled streets of Prague.
(If you want to read more about my adventures in the "city of a hundred spires," click HERE)
Back at the MadHouse that evening, I'm greeted by what the hostel calls a Family Meal. These happen quite often and are an integral part of the hostel's attempt to bond all of their travelers together. The premise is simple: the staff cook the meal, you put in 10 or so CZK, and in return you get a meal and a beer. Winning!
After our meal is finished, we make our way out for some Drunk Bowling. The rules are simple: no bumpers may be used, and for every two gutter balls you bowl you have to buy your team a round of shots. A simple yet surefire recipe for disaster.
Sadly (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) my team is not as highly skilled as we had hoped. The shots (tequila, vodka, whiskey) come hard and fast, and I'll admit that I start giving mine away to any poor sucker who will take them.
In the end, from what we can remember, a great night is had by all.
So what's my verdict on the MadHouse?
First of all, it must be said that the hostel isn't ideal for everyone. If you prefer the finer things in life and are after a relaxing holiday, it's probably best to steer clear of the MadHouse. They do enforce noise rules after a certain hour and I found the hostel to be pretty well-kept as far as cleanliness goes, but you're still going to be surrounded by young travelers who are keen to have a wild night out and might not know how to hold their alcohol yet (my shoes never got puked in, thank goodness, but I did hear whispers that a guy in the room below mine wasn't so lucky).
That being said, I loved the welcoming family atmosphere. This is a hostel where solo travelers can come and not feel awkward or left out. The place instantly feels like home, whether you're curled up in the cinema room recovering from the previous night's partying, or partaking in a rousing round of Beer Pong (at which, it must be noted, I failed massively). Add in the free welcome beer, the frequent family meals, and the staff's excellent ability to remember everyone's names and you've got a winning recipe. Maybe it hasn't exactly changed my life (sorry Slovenia friends), but it did make for one pretty great trip. So if you're looking to make some new friends, have a good time, and enjoy Prague's nightlife to the fullest, then you might just want to consider checking yourself into the MadHouse.
Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility for hangovers suffered as a result of this post.
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