A Weekend in Prague – Trip #2 of 2023

Prague in Czechia will be subject to extensive research this year in advance of a dramatic new offering on European Bar Guide (details of which we will keep under wraps for now). With 44 guide entries on our guide – which is only here to recommend the best venues in Europe, you’d be fooled for thinking we’re close to cracking it, but the truth is we are probably halfway through at best!

February 2023’s trip involved a flight into Bratislava before getting the train to Brno and Kolin the following day, joining up with Czech Beer Fan Club in Prague for 3 nights. Time in Prague on this occasion was to be focused on exploring authentic, down-to-earth and working class pubs, including those with a bit of history.

Day #1 – Arrival in Bratislava, PM

On arrival to Bratislava we’d seen the opportunity to visit a unique looking venue in the outskirts, Múzejný Hostinec. The route to Podunajské Biskupice takes about half an hour with 2 buses from Bratislava airport. Not straightforward but not too onerous either. This suburb is part of Bratislava but once you pass the tower blocks everything goes low-rise and village like until the pub hoves into view on the corner.

Múzejný Hostinec is a revivalist pub with fittings and décor redolent of the Austrian era into the 1920s Czechoslovakian era. Frilly and dressy, genteel, but don’t be fooled. There are no pretensions to appeal to an elite audience; this is otherwise a down-to-earth village boozer with local life. Múzejný has several strings to its bow too. Brewpub operation, museum, live events venue. It’s a destination venue that genuinely warrants the trip out to its obscure location. The beer options are extensive with seasonal specials along a wheel of styles traditional and modern.

On the way into the centre we had to assess the situation with Hostinec Richtár Jakub, one of Bratislava’s best pubs. A multi-tap marvel in a classic half step basement, this really defined all that was best about Czechoslovakian pub going – and it brewed its own beer. Unfortunately they have left this great location and set up in a new one called Gallery Šenk. We visited to find the brewing still going, but the venue itself leaves a bit to be desired, so will be removed from the guide. The tapster was unable to tell us the reasons for the move in either English or Slovak.

Before checking into the hotel we could squeeze in another visit so popped down the road to perennial favourite and reliable stopgap Steinplatz which also features on our Days Out guide to Bratislava. This basement venue, a former public convenience, has been decked out in a truly complimentary manner befitting its location, with exposed brickwork, muted lighting, antique musical instruments and what feels like a cosy little warren of rooms. Friendly and atmospheric. The beers are 0.4l pours sadly, but there are at least 8 taps with a range of largely independent Slovak and Czech brewers represented. A must visit.

After check-in and a rest, it hadn’t escaped our attention our hotel was handily located by the cult pub Bernard pri lýceu. This tiny Pivaren has an appealingly odd-couple blend of grizzled regulars and young groups who come for the amazing Bernard range on tap and excellent value beers, with the 12 degrees unfiltered lager clocking in at 1.70 euros for 0.5l. In summer the terrace provides a spot for people that might be intimidated by the extremely local atmosphere inside. It has never helped that the service is very frowning and gruff. A few words in Czech or Slovakian go a long way to breaking the ice here.

Our final stop was somewhere we have generally struggled to get a seat in, but this time we toughed it out until a table opened up (a 10 minute or so wait). Čierny Pes, aka Black Dog is an old town venue with a deservedly strong reputation. Set onto a slope, you enter with a few steps into a basement setting with curved ceilings and some exposed stone. Lit with hanging lamps and furnished with chunky wooden tables, each corner feels intimate and set up for winter socialising at its best. We perched by the bar waiting for our chance until the table by the entrance became available. Once seated, it was clear we were in the place to be. The social scene is warm, friendly and collegiate, managing a range of people without the pub alienating any specific group. This is extremely difficult to execute without being bland. Its character does the business, as does the range of Bernard beers, including the Nitro keg version of their black lager (the spinoff nicknamed Black Avalanche). Mark it on your to do list. There was no need to go anywhere else, so with an early start the following day, we immersed ourselves in the hubbub and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day #2 – Brno, Kolin, arrival in Prague

On a chilly winter morning, we departed to catch our 8am train to Brno through snow flurries and quiet streets, a ‘grounding experience’ for central Europe in February, one that we’re well used to by now. A crowd in Bratislava station entrance normally means train delays – there is no reason anyone in their right mind would want to spend more time than strictly necessary in that place. Unfortunately that was the case here, and a 45 minute add on of time ate into our available time in Brno.

The train was calm, warm and quiet and travelling through winter fields from the previous week’s snowfall emphasised what a pretty and largely rural place Moravia is, with rolling hills, farmland and idyllic pastoral scenes that don’t make Josef Lada’s lovingly twee drawings seem overly cartoon-like after all.

Brno centre was reasonably busy on a Saturday morning, and we wandered through the centre assessing our options. The recent Česká televize series Příběhy starých hospod (or ‘Tales of Old Pubs) featured Restaurace U Průmyslovky, an old pub in the Veveří district walkable from the old town. This pub offers faded grandeur with high ceilings, stucco, tall curtains and hanging lamps. It has clearly since then moved to operate to the working class market, so also offers an interesting balance of vestigial formality and totally down to earth service and customers. The lunch of Smažený sýr (fried cheese) and Polička beer was about as stolidly mediocre as you could expect, with the decent price only reflecting the middling quality. Despite the time of day there were a few groups in, from the bar fly to the youngsters behind me. It needs something else to really elevate it to a guide inclusion though.

Lunch finished in time to reach Hostinec U Bláhovky up the road (also featuring in the above series). The pub is known to us from several visits in recent years, and has been known to Brno residents for far longer. It is really their direct equivalent of a pub like U Hrocha or U Jelinku in Prague.

When there are a queue of people at midday opening time, you know you’re at a cult venue. The sense of anticipation grows because the staff aren’t ready to pour straight away. For 5 minutes you watch them gradually set up everything they need to function for the day ahead, before the order is made. Here, unless you specify something other than a beer, that’s what will arrive if you stay silent. Then when it arrives, let the head climb up the glass, again all adding to the suspense, before diving in, nose first into the 3 fingers of foam. Some pubs give you a fuzzy feeling of a happy place, and this is one such venue. Known for its huge pork knee (genuinely bigger than a human skull) and for the rhythm and patter of its crew of tapsters and servers whose banter is all part of the atmosphere at this great place.

Further train delays led to a window of dead space and so, with little time to make any serious commitments we visited EFI Hostinec Zelňák. It’s a brewpub with a venue on the Cabbage Market, Brno’s main square, and offers a tidy range of traditional and more modern beer. Price point is fair, with a weekly beer on for a decent reduction. Their 8 degree lager brewed with Kazbek hops was a suitably modern effort, dry as a bone, citrusy but with a note of wholesome Kellerbier style flavour in the aftertaste. At 35 crowns for a half litre, it was a surprise competitor around the cheapest beer of the trip. As for the venue – a confused café with Austrian era fittings and thick curtains not sitting with the stark glass and larger modern posters. Unless a similar situation arises, or if the food looks good perhaps, it’s not a venue we’ll rush back to.

We are always keen to visit somewhere new on each trip to stimulate the senses and cover ground. This time we settled for the option that was staring us in the face – Kolin. This medium sized town is one we’d passed several times to and from Kutna Hora, however it never looked that appealing from the trainline. How wrong we were – the centre is a classically restored ensemble of pastel houses and charmingly crenulated civic monuments, stone towers and a Jewish quarter. Perhaps it hasn’t got the size or breadth of others, but is diverting enough to seriously warrant a day excursion.

The pub situation was less promising though, with only two options in the whole town centre that looked even above average. The main target, Hostinec Stoletá has a revivalist taproom with a smart wooden bar, curved ceiling and ethnic patterns in the arches as decoration. The selection of antiques in the window and closer inspection heightened expectations. This wasn’t going to be a stopgap after all! Then disaster, as we attempt to visit the taproom and are told it is closed. We are turned around and told to sit in the lobby area, which was full. Eventually we are moved to a backroom, unlit, to sit on our own. This is pointless, so we leave, cursing our luck. There was no reason why the taproom ought to have been closed. We’ll return to this…

The second option, Hostinec U Tří pírek was a genuine stopgap, not unlikeable as a venue but not much of an actual pub. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the half litre of Kutna Hora 13 degrees dry hopped lager. While not an exceptional example it was well kept and competently brewed.

It was getting dark and time to leave for Prague. As we left the main square, past Hostinec Stoletá we suddenly noticed the taproom was open and full of people. It must have been a matter of 20 minutes. The staff who turned us around did not have the wit to explain this, denying us opportunity to sit in what is almost certainly the best bar room in Kolin. Computer says no!

In Prague we were situated in Karlin, a district euphemistically described as up-and-coming for the last 20 years until recently it actually has started to resemble that. The twin towers of its central church are iconic, as is the Vitkov hill overshadowing what is a riverside district. After checking in it was time to meet the Czech Beer Fan Club & friends for beers.

I was informed they were in První Pivní Tramway, a great choice other than the fact it it possibly the most remote pub to choose, nearly 50 minutes on the tram. Nevertheless, we boarded the 14 and embarked on what is in some ways a classic voyage and pilgrimage, sweeping through the centre, on to Nusle before picking up speed and off at the terminus in Spořilov, a clearing dotted with grim looking towerblocks and the ramshackle outbuilding which houses this lovely pub.

Possibly our 6th visit here, it is great to see the place going strong and still attracting a great mixture of people, the type you find in good quality English boozers. The Konrad 10 is still on at a decent price and the multitap offerings, now almost unremarkable, should be recognised as the first place in Prague which attempted that as a format.

The next stop, Zlý časy has caught up, surpassed then left-for-dead Tramway in terms of its local fame, while still offering something rather similar. Multiple tap options of great beer among a familiar – but still distinctive – homely surrounding of warm wood and glowing lights. Delighted to find Poutnik on tap, we stayed for a few. This is a place where you can find high quality craft and classic European options.

Our final stop of the evening was a 1st time visit for us, Pivnice Špeluňka. As part of research into ‘4th grade venues’ this little boozer had appeared to tick all the boxes. Arriving 20 minutes before closing time and with Justin from the group falling sleep, we didn’t immediately endear ourselves with the tapster. Armed with some Czech I assured him we would be out of there in good time. A rare outing for Branik on tap (the beer that’s ‘not all that bad really’ by any standards other than Czech ones), a small venue with a simple format, with a crowd in the backroom and what appeared to be a rather large safe by the entrance. Then it was time for bed.

Day 3 – A Full Day In Prague

A beautiful clear sunny day followed, a great excuse for a wander around some of Prague’s more obvious beauty spots. The Royal Route, takes you from Náměstí Republiky to Prague castle. Taken at a steady pace, and allowing for stops for photographs and general gasping, you can take in a whole 45-60 minutes of spectacular architecture. Moving from the old town to Charles Bridge, seeing Malá Strana and Prague castle in front of you, yet to be reached, is one of the touchstone moments of sightseeing in Europe, a feeling that never gets old, even if it is never the same as the first time.

As part of the pilgrimage, a trip to U Černého vola was compulsory, being one of our top 20 pubs in Europe. Set up on the castle hill, but just – just far enough up the road to avoid the excessive tourist footfall, a balance of locals and tourists fill this majestically Cro-Magnon, rustic and raw boozer with its medieval sigils, super chunky tables and gruff tapster/server combos. A love or hate place, no doubt. Even its adherents like ourselves have had one of those moments of being shouted at in Czech for not sitting in the right place. A dark Kozel here, for us feels just right.

Joining up with the Czech Beer Fan Club once more, we took the tram from Pohořelec west to U Prezidentů, for only our 2nd ever visit. One of the most distinctive pubs in the city, its decoration of famous Presidents, dictators and politicians and distinctly anti-authoritarian streak sits charmingly alongside a genteel, rustic, cabin-like decor staffed by a friendly team that welcome tourists, (not that they will get as many out here in near Ladronka park). The moment of our visit was being presented with a plate of what appeared to be Czech stromboli. Cheesy, tomato turnovers with sausage and gherkin inside. With the price of 35kc per piece, this plate of piping hot deliciousness ended up being irresistible. More pubs should do this – just present people with hot food and wait till they crack!

Down the hill and down the stairs back to Bělohorská to pick up the tram one stop to Hostinec Drinopol. Our 2nd visit here, this venerable century old pub is a local classic, with a striking white tall corner building emblazoned in green paint with Hostinec on one side and Drinopol on the other, offering a simple and honest selection of food and drink among football trophies, memorabilia, car number plates and wood strip interior. Popular with local 5-a-side teams for an after game pint on Sundays, we arrived to find a shirtless fellow and a barrage of unintelligible banter passing back and forth. This settled down sufficiently while still being atmospheric. A busy, social atmospheric pub of no pretension and plenty of character.

The real luncheon was to follow at the even older pub Hostinec Na Slamníku, a place that makes Drinopol look like a veritable teenager with its 400+ years of history. Our 4th visit here, the signage is equally iconic and you’re feeling good vibes before even stepping through the door. Slamníku is a more upright affair which attracts middle class families for good quality lunches, and its beer offering from Unetice is excellent. In the past I have had several excellent dishes (including a platter of quail), this time there was shredded roast duck serviced with red cabbage in a savoury wrap. Delicious but a little more basic than usual.

The nearby station pub Dejvická Nádražka came next, another venue featuring in the Czech TV series on old pubs, more surprising in a sense because this former upstanding station restaurant has long ceased to be anything other than the most unvarnished, rough and ready boozer, with live gigs, laid back attitude and focusing on an affordable price point. To find Staropramen 10, poor though that beer is, at 29,50kc (£1.10) for 0.5l is startling in this inflationary era that has been affecting the Czechs severely. This pub isn’t for everybody but for those it is aiming at, it’s a cult venue and the site of some of the best nights out many have had.

Going cheaper and scuzzier than the last place is nearly mission impossible but with U Prašivka only up the road, it was about to happen. In a visit in 2022 they were still clinging on to 27kc per beer. The dam has burst but at 28kc for a half litre of Chotěboř, and fair prices for a small range of more glamorous rotating alternatives, this is about as low as it goes in the city limits. The pub is an intimidating no-holds barred pajzl with grizzled guests and snarly service. It isn’t for wallflowers. Yet a lot of this is facade (or at least a mirage based on prejudice and social expectations). Keep on going before it settles and you’ll discover a hugely charming pub. It defines ‘4th grade’, and used to be the bin man’s destination of choice, knocking off their shift for a pint at 9am, still maintaining those hours. In the summer, being kicked out after last orders near 9pm in broad daylight is a truly odd experience.

It was time to go somewhere new – Fraktal is a venue that had been loosely on our radar for a while, an odd mixture of traditional Czech hospoda in some respects, with quirky decor in a Theme pub with Mexican food. Perhaps it was just the spittle-flecked barbarity of the last place but it felt like the service was really warm and friendly here, putting us at ease. There’s a little raised area with seating where you get a good view of the bar. As our numbers swelled we visited the side rooms with striking chrysalis type lighting and more general oddness. Difficult to put your finger on what’s going on here. A little worn, but distinctive and stubbornly difficult to dislike.

Next stop and a venue that has crept up our radar with each visit. The homely U Pivoje down the road is a tidy and compact little Pilsner Urquell Pivnice with blackened wood and a simple appeal. On first glance to some it looks like it might be a bit intimidating. However, the service – family-run – is pretty friendly and it’s nice to see such an operation survive amidst the change around them. It was more atmospheric this time with a group of musicians in the taproom and the place shined as for the first time we went from imagining what it may be like when it gets going to being there in person.

U Velblouda (the Camel) followed, a little Pivnushka type pub with a tiny bar in the entrance and basement hangout. Svijany and Unetice beers on tap provide a change of flavour.

Time was well and truly moving on and Cross Club was our next stop at the request of Justin who had designed the route and wished to see the steampunk decor and environment. It is no doubt a work of art, but as with all such places you have to avoid scams (tourists being overcharged being one) and without enough customers its raison d’etre can appear unfulfilled.

As our group tapered off, mainly to go to bed, this left a final fling at Bondy Bar, a short walk away. Located right next to the modern, contemporary Vnitroblock, this vaguely naff theme bar was saved by its natural surroundings of brick vaults, candlelight and the tapster, a well-loved local character whose service is kind and adds to the atmosphere. Parts of you will desire to hate the place, with its USA and Redneck flags, but it’s genuinely quite difficult. After this it really was time to call it a day.

Day #4 – Also All Day In Prague!

The best way to kill a hangover: fluids, a good breakfast (preferably with salt) and fresh air. We set off from Karlin to Wenceslas Square, and explored the ‘pasazy‘, shopping precincts and passageways that were built between the late 19th century up to the 1960s. Many of these interconnect and can lead you into a maze. The ensemble of preserved decor, such as in Lucerna, is every bit as beguiling as some of the more conventional sights.

We arrived at U Rotundy for opening time to find the typical tapster in operation, a paunchy unshaven fellow with an unbuttoned waistcoat. He is generally friendly and although it doesn’t seem like it will be the case, he can converse in English should you need it. As our article above describes, this is one of the few remaining genuine working class boozers in Prague 1. Prices have risen in accordance with inflation, but at 38kc a half litre, it still represents great value for a city centre largely offering beer above 50kc these days. There’s a genteel simplicity here, at a venue where you are as likely to find workers in dirty overalls drinking beer as you are local magistrates in their suits and tie. Their addition of Cerna Barbora, a dark lager is a welcome move and an improvement on the Staropramen Dark they previously offered.

We can cram in the words pilgrimage and institution one more time, surely? Yep, let’s go. This time it really was to one of Europe’s finest establishments, a Top 10 pub U Hrocha in Malá Strana. Rather like in Brno, there was a queue of people waiting for the place to open its doors at midday. After that, the place was full half an hour later. With Wolfman on the taps, you know the půllitr of Pilsner Urquell is going to be sublime, but honestly on this occasion it was like a return to the days where we were convinced it was the best lager on the planet. The orchestra conducted masterfully at will with a flick of the taps. Deciding to decline ještě jedno was the toughest decision of the entire trip, due solely because of the ground needed to be covered today. We left the pub in a very, very good mood.

Going across town to U Dandu to drink Gambrinus was a bit of a comedown to say the least, although not because of the pub, which is an authentic ‘legit’ boozer. A second visit here. Bright orange with frilly net curtains and a taproom that is one of the more masculine, unvarnished places you could visit in the city. The adjacent Šenk is a truly local pit, be warned you may not be permitted in there unless you’re armed with intermediate Czech at least. A curio but not quite reaching the heights required in our guide.

Next stop, U Růžového Sadu was not a choice we personally made, but when one is going with the crowd, some diplomacy is called for. Rather than the pub being bad as such, there is more a general absence of much distinctive going on to warrant the diversion. The most notable aspect was the unfiltered Gambrinus which is still a sleeper hit. Definitely one of the better regular ‘beers from a big brewer’ in Czechia.

Things were about to get more interesting, following on from yesterday’s theme of rough and ready boozers that by rights should have closed down decades ago. Hostinec V Lucemburské is one of Vinohrady’s remaining such places, with an interior that looks unchanged for a long time. The glazed circular patterns in the windows are a dead giveaway of such places, while the inside had a worn tiled floor and battered old black furniture and fittings, all lit with a warm cream glow. To say we stood out on entry would be underplaying it somewhat – we had well and truly invaded a local’s domain. After a while of hostile stares it appeared, as it so often does, that some were simply curious and as we made to leave they began a conversation with us. Proof that what is on the surface can often simply be prejudice. Potentially a really nice old pub which we will return to.

Our next venue was a classic for the district – and Prague in general – U Sadu. Its main room with hundreds of objects pinned to the ceiling, the turtles in the urinals, pinball machine, freezer full of ice creams, Belgian beer selection, crypto payment facility and unorthodox menu are among many reasons this is a standout, one that likes to do things a little bit differently to everywhere else. It barely ever closes. We had a great time, needless to say, and were joined by another couple from Czech Beer Fan Club, Steve and Nicki that happened to be in the city at the same time.

Following that place is a difficult task but it made sense to go somewhere simple and small. Pivní lokál Ostrý provided a pause from all things Czech. The ever present smell of bratwurst and Aldersbacher beers offered a little window into Austria for a while as we drew breath. Pleasant service and an environment of blue and white chequered table cloth and yellow walls, the place always seems to be either completely full or completely empty.

Down the hill to the main drag in lower Žižkov to U Vystřelenýho oka, one of our favourites for later night drinking, but on this occasion simply early evening. A fantastic ceramic heater keeps the back wall warm and it is prime spot in this very dog-friendly pub where there are always people playing cards, coming and going for a smoke and just plain old hanging out. There are occasional gigs too but on this occasion simply the raw pub itself to enjoy – which is fine by me.

The crawl suddenly lurched to Anděl due to a request to visit Pivnice Jamajka, a semi-regular pub well-known to us. At this point we had done a few attempts to beat a taxi via public transport and again managed to arrive via tram just before the taxi arrived. Viva an efficient public transport system. They don’t know how lucky they’ve got it. Jamajka is a lovely simple pub in a half-step basement which offers beer from Unetice and Postřižinské. It has a natural social environment that favours medium sized groups and manages that difficult balance of appealing to a wide group while not becoming overly bland.

We decided to split off from the group and head towards the direction of home past a couple of spots. With 5 minutes to go until last orders we bagged a spot at a table in U Zlatého tygra. After a lukewarm introduction several years ago the place grows on us with each visit, the familiarity helping, of course. It was busy but ‘nicely busy’, with the servers looking forward to winding down, and a group of Brasilians marking Pélé’s death in a corner table. The Pilsner Urquell was very decent too, and the atmosphere was such a lovely ur-typical Czech experience we can easily recommend to everyone local or foreign.

A last stop before home was a combination of coincidence and residual memory, as we remember reading Fred Waltman‘s many visits to Minirest on Twitter. A small little drop-in place in an area more known for shopping than pubs, offering a multi-tap experience of good beers from independent Czech brewers. The selection is strong and the environment was good too, busy, social and with a positive feeling from the mixed group, more of a gender balance than the heavily male-slanted venues we had visited so far. With the last beer and some twisty pastry thing they were selling in a tub next to the bar, it was home and off to bed.

Day #5 – Final Day and Home – Liver begins celebrating

After the barrage of pubs and pivo, we took it a little easier on the final day, leaving Prague at 4pm. Starting with a trip to Karlin church then a central museum before the 1st pivo at U Jelinku which almost completed the central core Pilsner pubs (Sorry U Rudolfina and U Vejvodu). It was quietish in there as could be expected at midday on a Tuesday but totally unchanged. Then back to U Rotundy to have a final beer and lunch with the core group, splitting off to have a final pivo at Hostomicka Nalévárna which at that points struck me as the last one on our regular circuit unvisited. Again, this is a pub where you can turn up knowing nothing at all has changed. Their beer from Hostomice is a rare sighting around Prague which provides beer fans a justified reason in and of itself to visit, before you get to its cosy, compact ricketyness.

Final thoughts!

Bratislava is a dynamic place where businesses close and open more noticeably regularly than many cities we have visited. It is a true shame about Richtar Jakub, which was in our Top 100 bars.

One of the most striking changes since our last visit to Czechia in September is of course the effect on prices of inflation, however the good news is that most pubs were full or either exactly as busy as you’d expect on any given time of day. The extent of its working class pubs may not be what it was, but is strong enough to spend all day every day for a week visiting. Most are hostile and intimidating to the uninitiated but carry no real threat, particularly if you learn a few phrases. Starting up a discuss with a local and feeling part of the city experience, a welcome guest rather than an intruder is a special moment in such places.

Prague remains affordable, colourful and with charms that both instantly meet the eye and take years to grow on you. Kolin was a nice discovery among the patchwork quilt of pretty town squares that dot the country and make Czechia an ever appealing place to those who enjoy imagining themselves transported into the past.

It also shows we have a lot of work to do in advance of our plans later in the year, with only a couple of venues further forward to the 110 we are aiming to fully write up.

2 thoughts on “A Weekend in Prague – Trip #2 of 2023

  1. Thanks Jack a very comprehensive write up with lots of tips for potential bar visits and fun. A proper blog with the tease of what’s around the corner 😀.

  2. Pingback: Trip#5 of 2023 Part 3 - The European Bar Guide

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