Allow me to be presumptuous. I’m assuming that since you follow Cold, you love – or at least appreciate on some level – a great beer or five.
Back in the day when I was a Prague-dweller, beer-drinking wasn’t just for weekends or evenings. You could drink beer any time at all and with absolutely no social repercussions! My boss had a large cardboard box (I mean it could have fit three Barbie Dreamhouses fully assembled) next to his desk and it was piled high with empty beer bottles. In fact, I once sauntered into work around 9:00 am (or thereabouts) and was immediately assaulted by four drunkish colleagues – in addition to said boss – who proceeded to hold me down, lift up my skirt and spank me with a willow branch. I remember thinking during this whole surreal episode, “If this happened to me in America, I’d be rich.”
Men could be seen having a beer for breakfast and no one even blinked.
Would you like one of these with your coffee and pancakes, sir?
So, in honor of my Prague glory days, I thought I’d take myself and any willing Cold reader on little pub crawl through Prague. I’ll drag you to some of my favorite pubs and beer gardens – even some places I’ve never visited personally, but came highly recommended by Czech friends. I’ll wax nostalgic about wonderful hell-holes that have long-since closed. Communist slop-houses with dirty tablecloths, surly waiters (I’ve been told to “blow myself” for asking for a refill – no joke), food that gives a new Webster definition to the word “greasy,” emphysema inducing air, and great stories with even greater cheap beer.
I’ll even introduce you to where I first met my husband, and you’ll see why we’ve lasted so long.
Ah, so where do we begin? Being that it’s spring, I think we must begin outside, while we’re still sober enough to enjoy a good view.
Behold the Letna Park Beer Garden – hands-down my favorite spot to down a brewsky in Prague. Not only does it offer some of the most beautiful views of the city, but boasts a refreshingly un-diverse menu of traditional Czech food – like this goulash for instance.
They serve Gambrinus beer – at least they used to. It’s a beer named after the King of Flanders for his mythical brewing abilities. In truth, who cares? Because any beer you drink in Prague will be better than the sad, watered-down carbonated glug you’re used to drinking on most nights – even your self-respecting microbrews.
Moving along, once you’ve watched the sunset from Letna, you might be in the mood for something more…cultivated. A nod to Prague’s illustrious past, perhaps. In this case I’ve got two suggestions for you. The first is for the purist. For that, I recommend trekking on over to U Fleku, which is no less than a national landmark. U Fleku is, I believe, the only brewery in Eastern Europe that has been brewing beer for 500 years straight. They started brewing only a few years after Columbus discovered America, in fact, so they’re pretty damned good at it. The food is meh, but it hardly matters. The atmosphere is straight out of the 15th century – and there’s even a beer garden.
And for something less historical and more posed, but really no less enchanting, you can try any number of medieval “themed” bars. Don’t get turned off by that description. They’re more often than not located in centuries-old buildings and decorated in a style that is totally organic to the Dark Ages. So it’s not like going to a Old World version of TGI Fridays. And the beer, no matter what, will be outstanding. Here’s an example:
What’s great about Prague is that even what you might think would turn out to be a cheesy theme bar can have more magic than any place you’ve ever chugged a pint. The pub where my husband and I met, for instance, was and is still called Molly Malone’s. And yes, in addition to Czech varieties, they do serve Irish beer. But that’s where the similarities end. Molly’s sits in a centuries old building and becomes a fire-lit Pilsner fairy-land once the sun goes down.
This is Molly’s on the outside. I’m blushing.
For more traditional Czech pub encounters, you still have plenty of options – even if the pubs of yesteryear aren’t quite the dime-a-dozen they used to be. Most of them offer lace curtains, vole (the Czech version of “good ole boys”), families, bad hygiene, ladies who will happily show you a good time, accordion music, beer cheese (you don’t want to know) and no non-smoking section. I love them, but they’re not for everybody.
My favorite Czech pub food is Smazeny Syr – or a breaded and deep fried block of cheese served with french fries and copious dollops of mayonnaise. Pardon me while I have my heart-attack.
Don’t know where I can find a beer bath, but Czech this out anyway (bad, I know). Doesn’t it make you want to move there?
And finally, but downright at the top of my list are the pubs of the bygone era – that magnificent time when communism was already kaput, and everyone was free to think, speak, do whatever the bejeezus they wanted to do, but the whole place was still trapped in a time warp anywhere between 1951 and 1968. It was when pubs and restaurants like Deminka and Slovansky Dum had yet to be privatized and still offered great, uber-cheap (as in a few cents) beer, awful food, and a staff that was chronically lazy, rude, utterly classless, smelly and could be counted on for absolutely nothing – except to bring you a fantastic beer.
At Deminka, a waiter actually slapped my head when I dared to pick up the menu off the table. “What would it look like if we let everyone touch it?” he demanded. When I asked for french fries in place of dumplings with my pork, I was told that “Only an idiot would ask for that. Everyone knows it doesn’t go together.”
Sadly, I could find no pictures of those establishments. You’ll have to use your imagination.
But know, that now matter what, at the end of the night you’ll always end up looking like this:
Victoria Dougherty has for nearly twenty years distinguished herself as a master storyteller, writing fiction, drama, speeches, essays, and television news segments/video scripts.
In Prague, Ms. Dougherty co-founded the acclaimed Black Box Theater, translating, producing and acting to sold-out audiences in several Czech plays – from Vaclav Havel’s riveting “Protest” to the unintentionally hilarious communist propaganda play “Karhan’s Men.” Black Box Theater was profiled in feature articles in USA Today, International Herald Tribune, and numerous European publications.
Currently, Ms. Dougherty lives with her family in Charlottesville, VA, and has recently completed a series of thematically linked Cold War spy thrillers. She is represented by Josh Getzler of Hannigan Salky & Getzler.