For the next 5 days we would visit the pubs and bars of Brno & Prague, go hiking in the Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise), visiting Turnov & Liberec in Czechia 🇨🇿 before navigating the borderlands of Zittau, Görlitz in Germany 🇩🇪 then Zgorzelec & Legnica in Poland. 🇵🇱
Day 1 – Planes, Trains & a Šalina named Desire – Brno & Prague
After a very boozy evening with our Zagreb 🇭🇷 pal , followed by a cripplingly early start to the airport I wasn’t feeling all that great on landing in Bratislava 🇸🇰. Arrival early and in the pouring rain we headed for an omelette and a lemonade in efforts to perk up. Semi-successful. A 50 minute delay on the train to Brno didn’t improve matters as we kicked around the cold damp station concourse of one of Europe’s less pleasing stations, but eventually we were away.
Our 2nd visit to Brno 🇨🇿 this year after our January trip, and something like 8th occasion in this lovely city, it is nice turning up somewhere already knowing where things are and how to get to them – not least when the rain is absolutely hammering down. Good old April 🌧️!
Such conditions require safety first decision making, meaning an umpteenth trip to Pivovar Pegas 🇨🇿 for lunch and a beer (but equally important warmth and dry). Stolidity is an underrated quality on such occasions. Traditional with more of a pubby feel than perhaps even the creators initially intended, they churn out a core range of beers which vary from alright to surprisingly good, with a roster of seasonal specials. Food is city centre prices and decent enough.
Once fed and watered, I emerged to find the rain easing off, the city itself quiet aside the tram stops. Brno’s term for trams is Šalina, which is nearer in terminology to ‘Streetcar’. As with most of central Europe these are very useful, normally in good condition, quick, clean and cheap, all allowing people to explore far more – I can’t encourage their usage enough. A few stops up the road dropped us off at one of Brno’s cult pubs, almost the first name that comes off people’s lips when you mention Brno boozers: Hostinec U Bláhovky 🇨🇿 .
This place has a draw. After a first experience here, if you find yourself even in the same region you feel an almost magnetic pull to head there for a pint. Pilsner Urquell is not the standard beer in Brno as it is in Prague, the picture is mixed. Aside of Stopkova in the city centre, this is the next known place for it, something recognised in Prazdroj’s ‘Legend Tapster’ series, with one of the acclaimed individuals pouring the beers at Bláhovky.
Rather than being a big beer hall, this is a neighbourhood pub on a corner. You’ll encounter the regulars on a table adjacent to a bar, groups of people who know each other well, the great, good and everyone next on the rank. On weekends you’ll find a queue of people outside in preparation for opening. A beer is assumed unless you make an interjection, and this can be enjoyed on the stand/na stojaka by the bar or sat on high tables opposite or the backroom. The local life and the ingrained rhythm of service is special, this is a truly outstanding bar in Europe that made this year’s Top 100.
On a limited timeframe, we had time to squeeze in three more venues before our journey to Prague 🇨🇿 . We prioritised seeing somewhere we hadn’t been to before and two venues we hadn’t been to for a few years. Starting at U všech svatých (The All Saints) 🇨🇿, we were keen to revisit on account of not really exploring the pub properly. Multi-room with mid-brown wood panelling and large religious prints, this is a Poutník pub with their regular light lager and its unfiltered version on tap, both at very reasonable prices. The service was kind, even giving a smile as I launched into the few exchanges in Czech I can handle without difficulty. They have rather shot themselves in the foot by only having one enormous stamgast table at the bar, which kind of rules that room out as being a social focal point when no-one is there. But the pub is likeable, naturally likeable, almost with a bit of underdog spirit, local charm, quite versatile too. And the beer… good grief, it was every bit as tasty as it looks.
A change of scenery followed as we walked back to Brno’s central square, the Cabbage Market, Zelný trh to Air Café 🇨🇿, our 1st visit here. By no means a beer bar, this central bar specialises in spirits and has a theme, decorated with WWII memorabilia to recognised British and Czech co-operation in the war. Service and the atmosphere is international, it felt like the bar guy would rather have conversed in English. I did enjoy the fact my small beer (Fagan, from a small Moravian brewery) was poured schnitt-style with a big head. Kudos to the bartender for that. The venue deserves an inclusion to the guide, and offers something a little bit different.
Further train delays meant only one thing – further beer. Somewhere quick, somewhere close by – ah! Pivnice u Poutnika 🇨🇿. Among Brno’s cult venues, a Pivnice with classic grumpy mute tapster, the curved ceilings and net curtains, but a slightly wilder knockabout vibe. An evening hangout, not somewhere to go for a meal or a date, put it that way. It’s name is instructive – they serve Poutník, and it’s bloody fantastic. When you get nice vibes in a virtually empty pub you know you’re somewhere pretty good. I know you’ll look at the below and think ‘what’s all the fuss about?’ – Trust me.
Having slightly overindulged, a 3 hour train journey probably wasn’t the worst outcome in order to sober up, or perhaps snooze it off. A relatively quiet train allowed for that, and it was early evening by the time we alighted at Praha hl. n and made our way to Žižkov district to check into our accommodation, drop bags off and relax for a few hours.
Our approach to exploring Prague bars these days is as follows: hit a few of the absolutely non-negotiable core venues, revisit one or two lesser visited, and find a few new venues. This keeps a nice balance of familiar trusty rewards, risks and novelty value.
With the weather brightening up, a walk along the Royal Route from the Powder Tower to the Old Town square and along Karlova to Charles Bridge and through Mala Strana up Nerudova to Prague Castle offers an entirely free and infinitely repeatable way to be astounded by mankind’s creations (not the pedestrians).
On the way, we attempted, perhaps foolishly, to get a seat at a table in U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿, without luck. It would take another 2 tries on our trip before we succeeded.
Normally the next selection would be something like U Medvidku, U Vejvodu or U Rudolfina, all nearby, but I was in the mood to go straight for the bullseye. On entry to a Top 100 Bar in Europe, U Hrocha, 🇨🇿 things didn’t look any more promising in terms of seating, but the atmosphere was terrific, and I engineered – awkwardly – a leaning post in one of the niches. The server was struggling with the swell of people and it was difficult to get people’s attention, but I eventually secure the treasured Pilsner, which at the time of writing cost 49 crowns, unreal in that part of Prague. Bustling and glowing with that steam you get on wet evenings in warm rooms, this was the pub reaching its zenith – it was just a shame no-one else was with us to enjoy those moments.
The climb up to Hradčany, Prague’s Castle Hill is usually followed by the reward: a beer at U Černého vola 🇨🇿. This time however it was not to be, with no spaces opening up on the tables inside. More than a little frustrating given there aren’t exactly a ton of pubs up at the top of there. In fact it was a rare occasion where on a trip to Prague we didn’t manage a visit.
Tram #22 from Pohorelec stop is the way out from there. You can drop down and round back to where you started, or head west, which is what we chose to do, in search of a pub that had eluded us for years: Majk L’Atmosphere 🇨🇿
Originally recommended by Pivni Filosof Max Bahnson in his 2015 edition of Pisshead’s Guide To Prague. Several years have passed including Covid, with a period of silence as to this bars operation. I noticed it had also moved, though not far, across the other side of the road. Initially we were worrying it had gone altogether.
The place is clandestine to say the least, the exterior doesn’t exactly scream “come in”, although as you approach the door the sound of drunkenness bleeds through. On entrance, something of a madhouse. Cackling old server with frozen perm, a group of rastafarians, and one or two others smoking. Another venue which gets around Prague’s smoking ban by turning themselves into a club, in the most ad hoc way possible. Ring the bell, be buzzed in. Ta-da!
I chose a table adjacent to the bar, somewhat appropriate for my rubbernecking rather than deep dive into this culture. Before long a guy started up conversation with me – who revealed after 10 minutes he was the owner. Florian has run the place for the last few years and was interested both in my efforts to learn Czech and the fact I knew one of his beer suppliers, Pavel Kyslousek who brews at Pivovar Olešná. Oh yes, despite the bar giving off no promising vibes whatsoever about good beer, they actually stock a beer on tap from one of Czechia’s modern facing little independent breweries. Go figure!
One of those memorable down n’ dirty dive bars, an experience you can only have through taking a risk, stepping into the weird looking room.
Not that the weirdness was about to stop. After this I decided to go further away from the centre. When you’re used to the tram movements, honestly, nothing phases you about getting around this city. U Prezidentů 🇨🇿 is a true one off. A family-run hospoda in a genteel and very un-pubby neighbourhood that has taken a step further and turned the space into a plush living room covered in portraits of previous presidents along with graffiti and scrawled excoriations of many of them. The elderly gentleman is kind and runs the show in a hospitable fashion that is just not taught these days. This was our 3rd visit and what really stood out this time is how much the owners actually enjoy what they do.
Several beers in now, I had to refer to our list of tweets and camera footage to confirm what happened next: Minirest 🇨🇿 happened! This place is convenient as hell – it is located yards away from Náměstí Republiky and Masarykovo nádraží and stays open until 2am most days. This helps stitch together bar crawls very well. The interior, curved ceilings aside, is no great shakes, but the beer is excellent, focusing on offerings from small independent brewers, the atmosphere is always intimate and social, and there’s usually football/hockey on TV. The bar guy is pretty gruff, but it’s Prague where anything else is actually notable.
So endeth Day 1 in Czechia.
Day 2 – The day the rain turned to rain…
From the point of waking up to falling asleep it did not stop, mostly persistent, heavy rain, sometimes easing to simply ‘rain’. I can’t remember in the last 10 years a day I spent abroad that was so unrelenting. However, where better to find oneself in such a situation than Prague? City of indoor activities – boozy ones!
After a tactical lie-in, I figured it was best to visit some fresh target venues today, starting with a soggy walk up the hill to U Mariánského obrazu 🇨🇿. This came after some quite persistent recommending on Czech Beer Fan Club. I found it a decent diner with a local crowd, good food at honest prices in a very familiar feeling setting. Think of places such as U Veverky that do similar. One thing it was not though, was a pub. It’s an eatery! This is not really somewhere you’d go to hang out during the day and was a little lacking.
Sated in the stomach, if nothing else, I decided to make the next venue an out-and-out boozer, Hostinec na Schůdku 🇨🇿 It was not a long walk away, and on approach it looked promising. Telltale Gambrinus signage and a personalised look. Unfortunately, on entry it was obvious it had received a bland renovation, spoiling things. Even some of the Bohemians signage I had seen online had been removed. And then the wifi wasn’t working, leaving me with a handful of mute customers and a jar of Gambrinus (I wasn’t all that keen on drinking it), yet trapped there until I did. Not a bad place exactly, but not up to the mark for our guide.
After two strikeouts it was time to go somewhere that delivers over and over again: U Sadu 🇨🇿. Too much written about it already to say anything new, but the main pub room was as always, a timeless dusty and atmospheric experience even during a quiet rainy afternoon.
A break from beer and bars followed with some classic Prague tourist stuff and a rest. The plan was to have an earlier evening out rather than the heavy two previous days. We were going somewhere new though, to Dva Kohouti 🇨🇿 a brewpub that’s one of Prague’s hippest, happening and all other fuddy-sounding adjectives that betray my latent prejudice and my guilt through feeling out of touch at being disinterested in visiting a US-style brewery taproom in Prague. I was however still interested in their beer and understanding why the place is popular.
Karlin is generally the test-bed neighbourhood in Prague for whatever globalised derivatives they are attempting, financed by whatever unimaginative businessmen can see already happening in America. This is fair enough – the locals want more than simply Czech restaurants, and to be honest, the taproom itself is a welcome addition, no matter how unexcited I may have been by the unimaginative décor, an exclusively middle class white crowd and amusingly expensive prices (64kc for 0.4l of the house lager brewed on site – effectively £4 for a pint in Prague. Guys, it’s tasty, but it’s not that good).
The summary: You’ll have been to somewhere like this before, it’s clean, it’s shiny, there are tasty beers. It’s fine. If you’re seeking a little bit of a distinctive experience with your product, maybe head elsewhere. We did.
I was keen to get back to Prague’s roots after that, and took a first visit to the trad Pilsner Pivnice Na Mělníku 🇨🇿 in the district of Holešovice. This simple boozer ain’t changing for no-one, with its time-worn cream walls, dark chunky furniture and round after round of decent Pilsner Urquell keeping the customers happy. While a familiar format this is a likeable bolthole with varied custom that’s enough off the tourist trail to feel like a genuine local’s pub.
Keeping our eyes on the prize, next stop was Hangar Pub & Pivotéka 🇨🇿 a short walk into Letna. Still raining, by the way. This venue benefits from the classic Czech hospoda arrangement, social space simply furnished in a half-step basement, a layout that encourages cross-table chat and feels neighbourly even in a city centre. The beers were so-so, not all that great value either, however this was complimented by an eye-catching selection in the fridge. Service was by Prague’s standard warm and welcoming which helped. Their airplane theme adds an identity without smothering the place, so all-in-all, tastefully done little pub that we added to our guide.
This part of Prague is going through a really hot patch, and I’d recommend it as having just as many good pubs in number as the Old Town and Malá Strana put together. Yes, some of the venues don’t have that sense of history and institution but they ably compensate in their authenticity, the absence of tourist churn and perhaps less focus on food too. Our next stop was a classic example, our first visit to Na Sekyrce. 🇨🇿Personalised, local and social, this is very much about local gossip and the social connections people there have, one of those pubs that becomes more than just the sum of its parts and we were convinced to include it on our guide.
After a long day out we had a long rest and, with the weather unrelenting, only popped down to the neighbourhood pub U Járy 🇨🇿 near our apartment for a pint, which was ticking along, server jolly as ever. The visit was perhaps our final chance to taste Pardubický Porter, a creation that has a history of being a celebration beer in Czechia in the years prior to revolution when the choice available was so much more limited. The brewery has been closed down by their parent owners and while they are persisting brewing some of their brands off-site, this one is unlikely to be anything other than a very occasional limited edition brew. A sad day for all concerned. At this pub, this very strong 8% abv beer was always available for pennies.
Day 3 – Final day in Prague
So far, a proper seat at some of Prague’s more famous venues had eluded me. Keen to put that right, an early start and walk in Petrin park was sufficient to work up a thirst ahead of arrival at U Hrocha 🇨🇿 shortly after opening time. This time I didn’t have to hide under some niche like a guilty interloper, but secured a table facing the taps, one of the best seats in the house. Wolfie wasn’t on taps this time but I recognised the other geezer from previous visits.
Dropping down the hill next, we checked out a café bar that’s been gathering plenty of attention and rave reviews: Roesel 🇨🇿. This is a modern venue although in a historic building. You enter via an alley and work your way to the back of a small courtyard, entering a room with a curved ceiling. These guys serve up to date beers and a good standard of basic Czech pub food that’s purposefully tuned up a notch. While inevitably attracting a certain segment that you might call the Instagram crowd, that’s not too distracting. This is definitely a place where individual groups keep themselves to themselves, it is not as social a venue for mixing, and it narrowly missed a guide inclusion – probably for that reason alone. Enjoyed it – the interior and experience was better than the pictures make it look.
After this we were marking time until the opening of The Golden Tiger, U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿 at 3pm, but doing so in two of the old town’s best pubs, U Rotundy 🇨🇿 and U Medvidku 🇨🇿. These stalwarts offer reliable, slightly different experiences. U Rotundy is a frozen in time hospoda with simple and basic wares, sport on telly and a scruffy, but friendly tapster. Medvidku is a giant beer hall equipped to deal with inundations of people, but is a perfectly decent place to stop for a pint – they also brew their own beers.
Finally it was time – not quite – 2.40pm which is about the time you need to be joining the queue outside U Zlatého tygra 🇨🇿 to ensure a seat. Once open you have effectively 2 hours until the table reservations start kicking in, after which your chances of getting sat down reduce dramatically. You’ll be guided to a place by the server – be sure to take a look around because unless you’re with a group of people, these folks are your drinking buddies for the next two hours. I had a group of Finns to my left who were friendly and inquisitive, and a Prague resident with a Mongolian he had befriended in the queue. This is the joy of the place. There can be frustrating aspects, sure, but among the throng you become initiated, time slides away, you’ll be lucky to escape without necking shy of three Pilsners, often many more. Simply one of Europe’s best pubs.
Even though the beers were padded down securely by a round of Ďábelské topinky at The Golden Tiger, it was still time for a well earned rest.
In the evening we made a couple of first time visits in the Žižkov district. Unijazz 🇨🇿 is a café bar/Kavárna/bookish type event space with predictably warm, friendly service. The interior is homely with huge rugs and vintage furniture, and the audience were a predictable crowd of post-grads. Their beer selection is decent, more similar to the independent options you tend to find in Brno. Although it didn’t grab me by the scruff of the neck, I still quite liked it and it was only a few tiny points away from an inclusion.
The next venue is too much of a well-known pub in Žižkov to not have ever visited. While I wasn’t entirely convinced it would make the guide, it deserved at try: Planeta Žižkov 🇨🇿 is the epitome of an all-rounder. Yes, it does everything reasonably well to a good standard. It’s quite pubby and certainly popular. The decoration won’t last long in the memory but good service and social environment is on offer. Not distinctive enough to earn a guide recommendation but as a fallback option it will serve well.
Day 4 – Český ráj – Bohemian Paradise
Part of our trip was intended to explore the national park Český ráj, reachable by train from Prague in a couple of hours via the town of Turnov. The journey became extended due to a rail replacement service from Mlada Boleslav, meaning we arrived a little later than planned. However, we were still able to catch the train and walk from Ktova through the famous rock formations at Hrubá Skála to the clifftop chateau of Hrad Valdštejn with enough time to return before the rain – and possibly thunderstorm – set in. It is a truly beautiful as well as distinctive and unusual area with little caverns and crevasses to explore, and rocks towering above and below you.
On our way back to Turnov we passed by the village of Mašov, making sure to check the local pub situation. Hospůdka Sokolovna Mašov 🇨🇿 is part social club, part pub with darts, three cushion pool, and community events. The beer (Svijany & Rohozec) was as expected, very cheap and the welcome was reasonable, all things considered. While the pub won’t enter our guide it was nonetheless a bit of a living museum to a particularly local experience.
A review of Turnov’s nightlife did not look promising and to make matters worse, it was a Sunday too. However, even in smaller towns you can generally expect to find a local brewery (Pivovar) and their taproom, which was no different here. Dinner and a very tasty pint at the modern, warm, but rather angular and sterile taproom Turnovská pivnice Slavie 🇨🇿 kicked things off. There was about as much socialising going on there as the local graveyard and a couple of the young staff were a little too staring and rude.
The subsequent ‘choices’ weren’t selections so much as finding anywhere that was open. Things were about to get very local and a little bit too much so as we wandered across the bridge to Hospoda Stará Smrt, 🇨🇿 translating to ‘Old Death’. I certainly received a slice of that from the woman serving, not through any lack of etiquette on my part. Mustering all my Czech pleasantries – greeting the staff as I arrived, ordering politely and asking if a table was free, and in return receiving a barely veiled hostile stare. It tells you how important welcome is to a pub, because if she’d been pleasant I may have considered including this raw, unvarnished and entirely authentic smoky pajzl. A community of grizzled locals, yet another three cushion pool table (what’s going on in this part of the world), a seriously cheap pint, but no feeling I could be at ease.
After this there was virtually nothing left. I passed by the empty and beginning to close BAR ne BAR. That was somewhere of close to zero interest so carried on until reaching Barrel Bar 🇨🇿. This competent late night bar specialised in rum, while also offering pivo of course, but other than the clique involving the bartender’s friends, there were no customers and it generally reeked of all the bad elements of provinciality.
A last ditch effort to salvage a guide entry in Turnov was made, walking to a pub with virtually no online presence or recent reviews in just the mere hope it might be open. For all the world I assumed it had been shuttered long ago, but then as I drew near – the lights were on at Hostinec V Zatáčce 🇨🇿. On entry there was an old woman working the taps and two paralytic customers. I quickly gleaned it was closing time and nodded as the tapster confirmed as much. While I didn’t see much to write home about it is good news the pub remains open for a town not endowed with many choices.
That was that – in lieu of a great pub we could at least get an early night and prepare for a long day of travel ahead.
Day 5 – Liberec 🇨🇿, Zittau 🇩🇪, Görlitz 🇩🇪, Legnica 🇵🇱
A hop step and jump is required when trying to get from Czechia to Poland. A row of mountain ranges and lack of huge cities make most border arrangements long and without much backup if things go wrong. The simplest way from Turnov to Poland happened to be via Germany.
First, a train to Liberec, a city we had visited once before in 2018 to visit the incredible town hall and Jested tower in the snow. In slightly warmer weather this time we saw nothing to divert us from Radniční sklípek 🇨🇿, the town hall’s beer cellar run by Svijany brewery.
Back in 2018 I felt the venue was useful rather than a great pub, but on this occasion I was able to see beyond the utility to what is a truly beautiful premises which has been well restored to show off stained glass, a curved, cloistered ceiling and candelabras, which along with the beer offerings (including 2 unpasteurised tank poured options) is an opulent venue that if placed somewhere like Prague would be busy every day. Despite the plum location the daily menu remains fair value and as it serves predominantly locals, it has to make the price fit the wallet.
I made a vain attempt to locate any other sort of pub or drinking hole between here and the train station, but it was futile, in fact it also caused me to miss my connection by maybe 30 seconds as I ran to the platform to see the train in motion, departing.
I was soon enough on the train to Zittau though, a beautiful little town. It was Monday mid-afternoon so expectations were low for pubs, but I figured there would at least be a competent Wirthaus or Gaststätte open. But it was worse than that – there was nothing! All I could do was look at Café Filmriß 🇩🇪 in the market square and dream about it being any other day and time.
Rather than hanging around for a miracle, we moved onto Görlitz. Our 2nd visit there, one of the most beautiful towns in Germany and possibly the most beautiful in Saxony. As we discovered, it is also rather middle-aged and staid, not a great combination for a vibrant nightlife.
After a tip-off we visited Sud Ost 🇩🇪, a café and minibrewery for the first time. As so often happens, the product was good – very good, the service was friendly and helpful, but the venue was awfully lacking, without social space, too many high chairs and the problem was acute enough that I barely found the place to be eligible, let alone other considerations because it is more like a coffee shop.
There is however a jewel in Görlitz which comes in the shape of Bierblume 🇩🇪. Here you can have home brewed beer but in a truly comfortable, cosy, friendly and all-round lovely environment in a historic old town building yards from the Polish border. 4 years ago I had popped by and spent an evening drinking the proprietor’s strong Dunkles bier with a Polish friend, and again this time, once seated it was very hard to even consider leaving. There was also no motive to, as it was 3 hours until the train from Zgorzelec (the Polish sister town of Görlitz) to Legnica was due. Sit back, relax, drinking Zoigl and Hefeweizen. Delighted to report this place goes from strength to strength.
Eventually time comes calling, and I reached Poland on foot from the footbridge over the Neisse, with a half hour walk to Zgorzelec station as the mist of the evening rolled in.
The Polish city of Legnica is halfway between Görlitz and Wrocław. It isn’t somewhere we’d been previously but appealed due to some nice postcards of the churches and the restored tenement houses in the centre. As it is, Legnica was a reasonable evening stop-off but I doubt we’ll be back any time soon.
On a Monday night bar choices were going to be a challenge, as it proved. Legnicki Browar 🇵🇱 , the typical ‘brewery taproom’ was open as we passed from the station to check into our apartment, but closed when we returned 40 minutes later. With other options closed due to being Monday, this left a selection of chain bars, namely Piwiarna Warka 🇵🇱, Pijalnia Wodki i Piwo 🇵🇱 and Ministerstwo Śledzia i Wódki 🇵🇱, the latter of which was by far the best. Yes, mainstream and towny but with a pleasing nostalgia-retro décor and some actual nightlife action going on.
The step down from drinking excellent Czech and German beer hours earlier was brutal, the Warka even by its own dismal standards one of the worst single beers I’ve ever had that was clearly meant to be as it was.
Legnica may prove a handy stop off for you at some point and is not without its diverting landmarks either, but it may make most sense to head direct to Wrocław, which is where our story next picks up!
There you have it! Part 3 of 4 of April’s trip. Please join us for Part 4 as we explore Poland 🇵🇱 for the remaining days of our trip, visiting Wrocław, Poznan, Bydgoszcz, Torun, Warsaw and Łódź!