One trip, three taxis
Look, Natalie Hof and Neil Stoddart were there and can confirm it.
It all started out perfectly normally, or what passes for "normally" in our world. We're at the Prague Hilton for the EPT event and we had to get to the "Hany Bany" club for two things: we were giving out all the bracelets to people who won World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) events this past September, and the regular EPT player party.
Now, I'm going to make a brief detour here to say that I speak absolutely no Czech. But when I was being told about the party venue, it was pronounced (by non-Czech speakers) as "Honey Bunny." I don't know if there is (or is supposed to be) a relationship between the two or not. But given Prague's reputation as an awesome destination for bachelor parties and the like, it's not unthinkable that "Hany Bany" means (or is intended to mean) "Honey Bunny."
Which made it pretty damn funny when PokerStars colleague Sophia Denham said at breakfast, "Why would you have a party for a bunch of poker players at a club called 'Honey Bunny?'" We just sort of looked at her.
So with a comfortable cushion before the appointed hour, co-presenter (and Friend of PokerStars) Natalie Hof, legendary PokerStars photographer Neil Stoddart, and I presented ourselves at the pick-up location for the shuttle to take us to the, ah, Hany Bany club. We waited and waited, but no shuttle arrived. Finally, as the minutes were ticking down and Neil (who had to get all his photographic gear set up) was beginning to panic, the shuttle (a 10-pax mini-van) arrived. It had an EPT sign in the window; it was obviously the right vehicle.
We loaded up, piled in, and the driver pulled out of the hotel and turned right (the direction is relevant). We couldn't have gone more than half a mile when we got pulled over by a bunch of police who had set up a checkpoint. It appeared to be one of those random checkpoints that you see in many countries - they're checking for proper registration, driver's license, etc.
I will say at that moment that I was really glad we didn't have the WCOOP bracelets with us because, well, they're Very Valuable. And you can imagine a scene in a bad movie where the good guys, carrying something of significant value, get pulled over at a faux police checkpoint and everything goes downhill from there.
But we didn't have the bracelets and this was a real police checkpoint, anyway. I mean, they had uniforms, cars that said "Police" (I can infer that much Czech), and they were packing heat.
So the cop come to the window and he and the driver have a discussion about the various documentation he wants, which the driver produces. Of course, the discussion is in Czech, so we're getting exactly zero of it. But documents are reviewed and replaced. In the meantime, the driver fires up his mobile and calls somebody (we have no idea whom).
Now the cop goes away and comes back with a breathalyzer. We sit up a bit straighter in the back seat. Our driver blows into the breathalyzer and the cop says (in perfect English) "F***". He returns with another one (are such devices one-use?) and asks the driver to blow again, which he does.
They have a short conversation, then the cop walks back to his car. Driver buckles his seatbelt and starts to pull away from the road shoulder where we've been sitting. Good, we're back in business.
"I have to take you back to the hotel. It's not my fault, but the boss is making me."
Neil starts to say something and I kinda shush him. I mean, something just isn't adding up, but I'm not sure what it is. Anyway, the guy gets us back to the hotel, we grab our stuff and head to the taxi rank. As we're walking to the taxi, I say to Neil, "You think he failed the breathalyzer?"
One of the hotel taxis pulls up and we ask him if he knows the Hany Bany club. He kinda says "Sure" in a way that doesn't fill us with confidence, but beggars and choosers and such. So we pile in the taxi. He pulls out of the hotel.
And turns left. You will recall the original driver (who at least knew where he was going) turned right. But our man is on the mobile, and he's talking in Czech, and in the middle of it we hear "Hany Bany" - he has no clue of where he's going. But he gets what appear to be directions and heads off into mid-town Prague.
In the back, we're discussing the odds that our original driver failed the breathalyzer. Representing Germany, the UK, and the US, we agree that in our home countries, if you fail a breathalyzer, you're going into the back seat of a cop car, and you're definitely not driving people back to the hotel. But we don't know what the protocol is here or maybe our guy talked his way out of jail but not out of getting busted by the boss.
We finish our conversation, and the taxi pulls up in a narrow street and says "Ok." I look and there's nothing that says "Hany Bany" anywhere. We discuss this with him and finally I roll out of the cab. Three doors down, a sign says, "Hany Bany". Awesome.
We pay the cabbie, grab our stuff, and walk to the club. But we're looking at it and it doesn't look anything like a place where they'd be hosting the EPT party and the WCOOP awards ceremony. I volunteer to go in and have a look around so Neil won't have to schlep his stuff in there.
I go in and this is a little two-room bar/café, no downstairs or anything, and it's definitely not where the EPT party is. We walk down the street toward a major thoroughfare and see a big hotel. Neil points out there should be taxis near the hotel, and sure enough we come to a random taxi sitting at the curb. We approach him and ask if he knows where the Hany Bany club is "Near the Congress Center" I say, remembering what Zeljka, our marketing person, said. He doesn't.
I call our colleague Chris Straghalis, who is already at the event. He puts on somebody who is actually at the club and speaks Czech. I hand my Blackberry to the cab driver. A conversation ensues and the cabbie seems satisfied he can find it.
Then I call Zeljka to tell her we're going to be even later. "We went to the wrong Hany Bany club."
"What? I told the driver it was the one near the Congress Center."
"We're not exactly in the shuttle. See, there was this checkpoint, and..."
Just a few minutes later, we pull up in a front of a large standalone building with a giant sign that says "Hany Bany." Neil picks up this cab fare and we make our way into the club, extremely relieved to see our colleagues waiting for us. They are making a futile attempt to cover up the humor they see in the situation. I admit that I'd probably be doing the same thing if I hadn't been in all the taxis.
We get downstairs into the party area and PokerStars blogger Lina Olofsson says to me, "I always look at situations like this and think 'What a great blog post this is going to make'." Honestly Lina, I was thinking the same thing.
And best of all, Natalie Hof and Neil Stoddart can confirm the entire thing.
Lee Jones the Head of Poker Communications at PokerStars; he first joined the company in 2003. He has been involved in the professional poker world since the mid 1980's.