Prague's expat community says goodbye to a legend

Canadian expat Glen Emery was more than just a business owner, he represented a bygone era of '90s Prague. Here, friends and family honor his legacy.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 13.02.2024 17:00:00 (updated on 16.02.2024) Reading time: 4 minutes

Chances are, if you spent any significant amount of time in the Czech capital in the past 30 years, you visited an establishment owned by Glen Emery. The Canadian expat, who passed away in Prague on Jan. 31 at 59, was the driving force behind several of the most successful – and storied – ventures catering to the international community.

Emery and his partners were behind the first Macintosh computer store in the former Eastern Bloc and Laundry Kings, a self-serve laundromat for backpackers. In 1992, he launched the first expat-owned haunt, Jo’s Bar, with his sister Jo-Anne. The success of that venue led to a string of other Emery-backed ventures: Repre, Thirsty Dog, Iron Door, Bukowski’s, Elbow Room, Frankie’s, and more, all of them becoming iconic havens for both travelers and locals alike. 

Glen Emery at a Jo's Bar reunion.
Glen Emery at a Jo's Bar reunion. Photo: Sandra Dillon

But Emery was more than just an entrepreneur. He symbolized the intoxicating early days after the Velvet Revolution when anything seemed possible – in his tribute to Emery, author and journalist Mark Baker referred to his legacy as “immense,” setting the tone for what came to define Prague in its “Left Bank of the ‘90s” heyday.

Prague in 1991– when Glen first began to imagine Jo’s – was much different from how it is today. Just two years removed from the Velvet Revolution, there was little outward evidence of the city’s great economic (and cultural) promise. Prague was undeniably beautiful but dirty, badly neglected, and beaten down. There weren’t even initially many tourists. To his great credit, Glen was one of the first – if not the first – to recognize that potential.”

Writing for Reflex, Marek Gregor described Emery’s knack for creating a constellation of bohemian gathering places populated not just by expat patrons but some of the era’s top stars, including Nick Cave, who dedicated his song “Thirsty Dog” to Emery’s pub of the same name.

Of Jo’s Bar, Gregor writes: “Ric Ocasek and Pavlína Pořízková used to go there for a shot of tequila, Isabella Rossellini and Gary Oldman went when they were filming Immortal Beloved.” He adds that the pub also performed an essential social function in the pre-internet era.

Jo's Bar in its heydey. Photo: Matt Pollitz
Jo's Bar in its heydey. Photo: Matt Pollitz

“On the giant bulletin board, you could find accommodation, work, or ask for a beautiful blue-eyed girl with an Irish accent who you’d had a few drinks with the day before yesterday and then disappeared.”

The Reflex story references Emery's connection to another Glenn. American businessman Glenn Spicker who recently revived the Malá Strana space once home to Jo’s told us how the two came by their nicknames.

“When I opened U Malého Glena, we were good friends. And this one regular at Jo’s, Honza Kral – also known as Honza the Terrible – referred to him as ‘Velký’ [Big] Glen and me as ‘Malý [Little] Glenn.’” He calls Emery a mentor with so much knowledge about the Czech Republic that people would call him “the front desk.”

Spicker, together with Emery's family, will organize a memorial service for his friend later this month.

“The day you meet Glen, you think, wow, this is a force of nature. Prague was built for Glen. From all the wild stuff going on then, Glen stood out above it all. You just wanted to tag along and learn from the guy. I wanted to open a bar or restaurant, and this guy was doing it. He opened so many doors for so many of us.”

In a statement shared with, Emery’s family said they hope his legacy lives on not only in the physical spaces he created, but also in the stories told by those whose lives he touched.

Glen’s ability to see potential in forgotten spaces, coupled with his unique ingenuity, enabled him to transform forgotten buildings into magical places of fun and excitement. He always had a keen eye for adventure and fun surroundings.”

Emery was born in North Vancouver, Canada. The family moved often as his father worked contract jobs for paper mills, mines, and large infrastructure construction projects. In 1978, the Emerys moved to Ružomberok, Czechoslovakia. Glen embraced the local culture, quickly learned the Slovak language, and, according to his family, made life-long friends. 

Emery’s childhood nickname “Haywire” (“he was always looking for something fun to do, like to blow up his sister’s Easy-Bake oven or throw his Mom’s new lipstick on a fire – to see what would happen,” his family recalls) suggests an early tendency for lighting up the night.

In a post to a Facebook group devoted to 1990s-era Prague, Bethan Lewis Delorme, who lived worked at Jo’s Bar from 1993-94, confirmed that Emery possessed a spark igniting “energy and community wherever he ventured.”

Emery is preceded in death by his father, Louis Derek (Joe) Emery, who died in 2010, and his mother, Arigje Johanna (Ans) de Klerk (née Emery), who died in 2023. He is survived by his sister, Jo-Anne Emery, and her husband, Lorin Levac. He has aunts in the Netherlands and Jersey, and many cousins in the Netherlands, England, Jersey, and New Zealand.

A celebration of life for Glen Emery will be held on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Prague. For details about the service, see Facebook.

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