Loretánské nám. 107/1, 118 00 Praha 1, Czechia
A gem of a pub, U Černého vola (the Black Ox) is a place you could walk past a hundred times without knowing it was there. Granted, you’d have to be a bit stupid and not like drinking beer at all, but there are billions alive that fit that description. This boozer shares streets with typically touristy, overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops due to its proximity to Prague’s castle. You can watch the changing of the guard and have a cheap tasty beer sat in front of you while sat among locals in the space of ten minutes. You’d hardly believe it, but it’s true.
Diving through the plain doors outside (albeit with a rather impressive facade above the doorway, if you stop to look at it) offers you immediate refuge from the hustle and bustle of the crowds outside, with a very unprepossessing entrance area that looks a bit more like the front of a mechanic’s garage than a pub. It’s almost as though they’re actively trying to keep the crowds at arms length. Head right on into the taproom through the door to your right. You may already spy a few fellows milling about in the standing areas having a quick drink and a smoke.
The pub operates a similar tapster/server set up to many busy Czech pubs, a reliable system involving in this case a mute, middle-aged bearded man silently dispensing light and dark Kozel, while an amiable enough server trots around doing the necessary interaction. The understated pride and commitment with which they carry out their jobs may be easily overlooked but it is worth acknowledging and all adds to the overall feel of the place. As with many of these places, once you get started on your pint, your near empty glass is replenished with military efficiency, and only your beer mat on your glass and a wave of your wallet will cease the pouring of your next beer. These pubs hug you and grip you in their boozy welcome and it’s extremely tempting to let entire afternoons go by in them. And mmm, that black Kozel is absolutely delicious.
When the tourists disappear from Castle Hill, the locals emerge (along with nearby backpackers) and seek out U Cerneho Vola for a few jars, transforming the venue’s fairly sedate afternoon atmosphere into a vibrant, sometimes rambunctious destination. Getting a seat is essential to fully enjoying your time here, but be aware space can be in high demand. Don’t be shy – if it means sitting shoulder to shoulder with a stranger, so be it. You never know what conversations or chance meetings might be in store. Don’t be too British about it either – the tapster will lose patience with any loitering and shout at you (in Czech of course) to sit down with the rest of the crowd and stop being such a wallflower. You will notice the seat by the taps is permanently reserved, a necessary evil in this case to ensure the pub retains its purpose and isn’t consumed by tourists. If you ever want to incur the wrath of the staff, just try going anywhere near it!
The venue is largely set up for communal pubgoing, with bench seats filling up quite quickly around lunch hours. Except for a slightl lull in the afternoon, the pub becomes fairly busy from early evening onwards until chucking out time (still a sadly old fashioned 23:00 hours). No music though, the sounds to enjoy are that of the conversation going on around you, the clink of glasses, the occasional plate of pub grub (fried cheese, smoked sausage etc) emerging from the kitchen. Grab the food menu – nothing on there pushes 100czk. It’s that kind of place. It’s all basic as hell – salty, bland and piping hot – enough to work up a hankering for more beer.
In terms of the décor, there are some attractive stained glass windows which temper the light to an almost constant ‘early evening’ type feel. You’ll note medieval insignia painted above the dark wooden bench seats, otherwise it’s the typical curved Czech pivnice/hospudka type ceiling with walls stained yellow from smoke. There is a rather kitsch bulls head with red lights for eyes which I’m not sure quite works, but at least proves it’s a living pub and not a museum. Otherwise, U Cerneho Vola is pubgoing stripped back to its core and none the poorer for it.
Additionally, Max Bahnson of Pivni Filosof has advised that U Cerneho Vola are run essentially non-for-profit and the money they make goes towards social projects. The place was due to become one of those Pilsner Urquell Original type places until the intervention of a benevolent bureaucrat. While such altruism might not be foremost in your mind as to where to go for a pint, it’s good to know in the background a pub has its heart in the right place, especially if the gruff Czech service ever puts your nose out of joint! Even if they bark their dissatisfaction with you for your foreign indiscretions, it’s only because they want you to sit down, eat their food and drink their beer. Suck it up! Happily: a thousand times over.
- A: Quality and/or choice of drinks – 9/10
- B: Style and Decor – 9/10
- C: Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 10/10
- D: Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10 (mainly for the social projects and the cheap food)
- E: Value for Money – 10/10
- F: The Pub-Going Factor – 10/10