Jolly Boys epic – Beer Warrior visits Prague.

After being talked about for several years, chat became reality in March 2006 when our intrepid Warriors began their journey to Prague. Preparation was in the form of a fifteen page handout, much of it based on information from Ron Pattinson’s excellent website

Flying from Doncaster Airport, our ‘plane landed on time and our pre-arranged people carrier was waiting for us. Our accommodation, the Old Town Residence Apartments was very well placed on the corner of Narodni and Splen. Clean, reasonably spacious, and close to a number of good hostelries, it was good value at just over 15 per person per night.

Freezing in Prague

Some figures: The exchange rate at the time was around 40 Kr to the pound. Beer is sold in 0.5 litre measures (if you are lucky!) and strengths in the Czech Republic are expressed in degrees Plato. Converting this to ABV depends on which website you follow. Dividing by 2.5 is probably quite close. Thus 10 degrees is 4% and 12 degrees 4.8%.

Day one started in U Medvidku or, if you prefer, The Little Bears, in Na Perstene. This is fairly unspoilt, despite being popular with tourists, and an added attraction was its location about 100 metres from the apartment. Both light and dark Budvar 12 degrees were sampled. At 26 Kr this was very good value, given the location and popularity of the hostelry.

On to the famous U Fleku. Most informed visitors to Prague say that although the building is very interesting and worth seeing, it is wholly geared up to tourists and expensive. A 0.4 litre glass of the only beer they sell dark, made on the premises, and 14 degrees is 59 Kr (over 1.60 a pint). Quite tasty but not exceptionally so. During the summer, U Fleku is crowded with tourists but on a cold, mid-March, day only a handful of customers were to be seen.

After deciding that one drink was enough we called for the bill. “Five hundred and fifty” the waiter said without blinking an eye. When this was queried he confirmed that the price per glass was 59 Kr. He then took a calculator from his pocket, punched the keys and got a total of, from memory, 460 Kr. This was still more than what it should have been but we paid and left – without leaving a tip. Our opinion is that by all means enter, and have a look at the rambling and historic building, but check your bill carefully if you eat or drink.

Tasting the beer

Next was U Bubenicku, a short walk away in Myslikova. Inside there is one L-shaped room with a slightly raised area surrounded by some distressed pine railings. There are two beers 12 degree pale Pilsener Urquell (26.5 Kr) and dark 10 degree Kozel at 21 Kr. We also had dinner – typical Czech food, good-sized portions, hearty, tasty, and reasonably priced. The bill for 14 half-litres of beer and seven meals came to 1550 Kr – less than 40!

By 8pm we had made our way to Pivovarsky Dum, a relatively new home-brew pub in Jencla. Most of us sampled the pale and dark both unfiltered and unpasteurised – at 33 Kr. One brave soul had the sour cheery beer (disappointing) and one a mixed. We also tried the beer cheese rather smelly but tasty. This elicited some ribald comments and gives me a good reason not to elaborate further.

An hour later we were in U Pravdu (The Truth) around the block in Zitna. There is a courtyard at the end of the corridor that contains two large trees but this is closed in the winter. There are two pleasant rooms one either side of the corridor and in the left hand one Gambrinus 12 degree pale and dark at 29 Kr were consumed.

Around 10.30 we found our way back to The Little Bears. The standard closing time for pubs in Prague is 11pm but the Little Bears has a separate bar that stays open to 3am. However, by one o’clock the fairly early start and the journey had taken its toll and all returned to the apartment.

Next morning, by arrangement, we all met at 11pm. Being an early riser this gave me plenty of time to check out a number of possible venues although tramping around in icy streets several degrees below zero soon lost its charm. I did though pop into U Rotundy at 10.20 to do some research (i.e. have a beer!).

We caught the No. 22 tram to the Pohorelec stop. From here it is a short walk to my favourite pub in Prague U Cernho vola (The Black Ox) in Loretnsk nm. Although near to the castle and the tourist hordes and in lots of guide books, locals still outnumber tourists. In the early 90s it was going to be gentrified and turned into another overpriced tourist venue but some locals clubbed together and bought it. A proportion of the profits go to charity.

There is a standing-up drinking area in the entrance and inside one fairly small vaulted ceiling bar. The two beers sampled were Kozel 12 degrees pale and 10 degrees dark at 27 and 24.5 Kr respectively. This is very good value considering the location.

After a very pleasant hour it was time to move on to Klasterni Pivovar which is a brew pub by the Klaster (monastery). This is about a ten-minute walk from the Black Ox. Inside there is a cheerful, modern, decor with the copper tuns of the small brewery prominent at one end. Two beers 13 degree amber and 14 degree dark were on draught. Not cheap at 49 Kr for a 0.4L glass but the beer is only available here and the adjacent restaurant. The general verdict was that both beers were tasty and reasonably hoppy. The brewer found time to talk to us about his brewery and show us the ‘cellar’ where the brews were lagered.

Back to town by the tram and then to the Little Bears. A couple of beers in the downstairs bar then up to the top floor to visit the small brewery recently opened. Again, we were able to talk with the brewer and see the plant. One darkish beer, Oldgott is produced from the small plant. This is a darkish brown, well-flavoured beer of 13 degrees. After a couple of these it was time for dinner.

We ate at U Pravdu. Again, good hearty Czech food and the bill with 2 to 3 beers each came of 1770 Kr. We left at 10.30 for the Little Bears. Some returned at 1am, two or three at 3 (closing time).

We met earlier the next at 10 and I persuaded four of the group that U Rotundy was worth a visit whilst the others did a little shopping. This place is an astonishing time warp and it is amazing it is still open when so many similar pubs have been closed. Inside there is a small bar counter and standing-up drinking area. To the right there are two small high-ceilinged rooms connected by an open doorway. It is gloomy, fairly smoky, basic, but friendly, and I imagine that tourists are very rare. The menu is in Czech only and the staff have about six words of English between them.

It is busy from opening time to closing time. Many of the customers are workers and these pop in for a beer and either a large plate of sausages and six slices of dumpling (54 Kr) or goulash and dumplings (59Kr). Only one beer is available, Staropramen 10 degrees at 19 Kr a half litre. If you are in Prague then do go there before it, too, disappears.

We then made our way to U Pinkasů which is just off the Narodni end of Wencelas Square, where we met up with the happy shoppers. This has a strong local following despite 12 degree Pilsener Urquell being 33 Kr.

After a beer it was time to visit another home brew pub, Novomestsky Pivovar in Vodickov, not far away. They brew both a pale and dark 11 degree beer and is quite good value at 30 Kr for a half litre. The place seems to be geared up for tourists and young Czechs but at 12.30 it was fairly civilised.

It's frothy, man!

Five of us had soup for lunch and two goulash. One of the plates of goulash was garnished with what appeared to be a Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper. One Warrior said that he liked chillis and popped it in his mouth, chewed a couple of times, and then swallowed. A few seconds later he was swallowing again, this time most of a full glass of beer. When he was able to speak again, he confirmed that it was, indeed, a Scotch Bonnet chilli; one of the hottest peppers in the world!

At the entrance to the pub in an arcade take-away prices are shown. We were interested to see that a 30 litre keg could be had for 600 Kr. This works out at around 10p a pint. We thought the chance of being allowed to check in a keg as cabin baggage was somewhat unlikely so didn’t purchase any!

On both previous days we had tried to have a drink at U Zlatho Tygra in Husova. Both times we were turned away because all the seats were taken. Even so, I don’t think my explanation that it was necessary to queue to get a seat at opening time (3pm) was really believed by the others.

Anyway, we arrived outside twenty minutes early. No-one else was there and two members of our band said “sod this, we are not hanging about in the cold, lets go to the bar opposite”. Off they went, and paid 50 Kr for a beer! As soon as they left a Czech joined the queue. In the next few minutes more and more appeared, and by 3 o’clock when the doors opened, there were around 35 eager customers stamping about trying to keep warm.

In we rushed, followed by the others. All tables were reserved but we were allowed to sit at one where the reservation was for 6.30. There is really only one bar although there is a very small annex at one end that holds about seven people. The bar has tables and seats for about 70 people and by six minutes past the hour, it was full.

There is only one drink, half litres of 12 degree Pilsener Urquell pale at 30 Kr. Customers, mostly locals, go there to drink beer and talk animatedly with friends. It is the pub where Vclav Havel (ex-President of the Czech Republic) took Bill Clinton (ex-President of somewhere else) for a drink, simply because it was the former Czech Presidents favourite pub in Prague. Most unfortunate, as Americans still tend to come in, point to the photo on the wall, shout, and take flash-lit photographs. This happened whilst we were there.

Last day in the Black Ox

There is one barman filling up the glasses and another distributing them to the thirsty customers. By 3.15 some were on their second drink, there was a huge buzz about the place, and noise levels were high. We stayed for about 90 minutes and had several beers. A great place, a must in my opinion, but remember what it is; an unspoilt local, and behave accordingly. Sorry about the lecture, but if you go there, and remember to queue, you will see what I mean.

The next visit was Branicky Pivnice. This is almost next door to the home brew pub we had been to earlier. Another throwback in time. One small bar, with both a standing up area and a few seats. Very busy at 5pm, and all the customers were locals apart from us. Three draught beers Branik pale 10 degrees, Branik pale 12 degrees at 19.50 Kr and an unusual Staropramen  12 degrees at 19.5 Kr for 0.4 litre.

After a couple of beers each we made our way to U Pravdu where we had a very good meal and some beer. I made my way home at 9pm (it had been a long day). The others returned to the Little Bears and thence, at intervals, back to the apartment. Two made a late and, I understand, somewhat noisy, return at 3pm.

It was hard to realise that Thursday was our last day in Prague. We started with another visit to U Rotundy. Beer and four different platefuls of sausages (cheap and tasty) were consumed. Six of us walked across Charles Bridge and up the hill to The Black Ox for more beer and more sausage before starting the journey home.

Everyone liked Prague. The reaction to Czech beer was mixed. Some of the group found it too cold, one or two rather tasteless. My personal opinion is that it certainly isn’t the best beer in the world, but it is very palatable, and about the right temperature for its type. It tastes even better in summer. At first sight, measures look to be well short of the half litre but it is traditional to have a large head on the beer and over sized glasses are used.

It is possible to pay £2 a pint, or more, in Prague, but if you do you will almost certainly be drinking at soulless tourist haunts and missing so much. Try some of the traditional places mentioned above before they disappear.

Beer Warrior in Prague was Kiwi

March ’06