Although perhaps not a holiday destination all by itself, Brno’s compact city centre, with towers, squares, castle, cathedral, armoury of interesting, hidden-away pubs and its very low-cost living makes for a great day out and easily justifies a night stop-over.
The city itself is not tourism-reliant like Prague so outside of festivals and holiday season it feels very much like a working city. However, work-hard, play-hard, right? Like quite a lot of medium-sized provincial cities across Europe, the nightlife is full-throttle, especially on Friday and Saturday night, so there’s a lot of choice available of places with a good atmosphere – the problem is more about trying to get seated.
Shall we begin?
From the train station, you must make your way north-west across the old town, but be sure to visit the main landmarks along the way: the cabbage market (the closest thing to a main square in Brno) and Svobody square (more of an expansive thoroughfare than a square) with its impressive pastel-coloured art-nouveau mansions that resemble parts of Nove Mesto in Prague. The square features a modern take on an astronomical clock that –purely coincidentally of course – looks like a giant black sex toy. After you’ve finished giggling, plot a course for Brno cathedral and climb Spilberk castle, each offering terrific views of the wider city.
After you’ve descended from Spilberk, taking a few pictures and so forth, I hope you’ve worked up a thirst. It’s pub time. Yep, Czechs don’t wait until the evening to start drinking (in fact some pubs open in the early morning when the bin men finish their shift) and the traditional ‘hospoda’/’hostinec’ or pub tends to twin a beer with some food. There are usually no obligations to eat though.
I recommend starting at 1. Hostinec U Blahovky, Brno’s oldest and best Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant. These are now ubiquitous , trading on a reliable brand name and newer models verge towards the generic, but the older Pilsner pubs preserve a character from a different, simpler time and are well worth visiting.
You know what to expect – a pristine glass of fresh Pilsner Urquell served with a good 2 inches of thick head with the appearance of a layer of milk (ask for a ‘Mliko’ pour if you are feeling adventurous).
U Blahovky is a small, locally famous and – as you’d expect – permanently popular place. Make sure to turn up at 12 o clock on the dot to ensure available seating, as I honestly doubt you’ll find a place if you just rock up expecting lunch or dinner service. However, don’t be alarmed if all the tables look reserved – check the times written on the cards – if any are for 1.30pm or afterwards they will try and squeeze you in – and they will point out matter-of-factly when they need you out of there.
As with local Czech places, make sure you don’t plonk yourself on the stamgasty table (usually the one nearest the bar) reserved for loyal patrons otherwise that will invoke the ire of staff and possibly one or two truculent old men nearby. These people are usually friends of the owners and have been visiting the pub for decades like clockwork, and they tend to be treated as superior beings.
Blahovky’s big event is koleno: pork knuckle. As reviews online will attest to, they deliver big portions and cook the stuff very well. A meal of this sort will set you up for the day, but don’t over-do it! There’s no rule stating you have to eat everything in front of you – and there’s a long road ahead today.
This pub is typical of a bustling old Czech pub – loud conversation, a down-to-earth working class feel and the sense at lunch that you’re being set up for the day.
After reluctantly hauling yourself out of there, pop back into town to 2. Hotel Pegas. What? Why on earth would I want a beer at a bloody hotel bar, you rightly ask. Well, calm yourself. This operation has its own pub and mini-brewery which are quite separate from the hotel. You won’t be tripping over any carry cases or hordes of children – the pub stays a pub.
With Pilsner Urquell available at any given opportunity, here is an opportunity to try something else – beer brewed on site and – barring the odd shipment here and there – uniquely available at Pegas’ own pivnice.
(Incidentally: Pivnice/Hospoda/Hostinec? I initially thought there must be a distinct difference between the three, but as time goes by I must admit they are completely interchangeable)
Pegas has a classically central European feel, with dark brown wooden panels, communal tables and open plan look, with a few partitions. It is one of those places that’s newly built to look old, if you get my drift. It hasn’t quite gained the character of years but it’s a suitable venue. I recommend the Pegas Gold which is served German-style in a steinkrug with a ceramic dish underneath which collects any run off. Fresh, sweet and very easy to drink.
If you weren’t able to get food in Blahovky, Pegas is a great opportunity to do so. Getting a seat isn’t as difficult, and the food, while not perhaps a local legend, is a solid reliable way of lining your stomach for what’s ahead.
Depending on if you’ve been working your way through Pegas’ entire repertoire or not, you may want to choose this moment to have a break – head to a museum, do the underground tour, climb a tower or just smell the roses (though don’t ask me their location). I guess it must be mid-late afternoon already! Sheesh. Tempus Fugit and all that.
Mid-afternoon drinking feels less like alcoholism if you pretend you’re doing something that could be passed off as vaguely respectable, so I recommend popping over to 3. U Richarda , which appears to be a taproom for a larger mini-browar west of the city. It’s homely, low-key and a tad quaint, even. So long as there’s a nice number of people in there it feels a little like the old concept of a pub.
Don’t worry too much about volume of consumption at this stage. Most beers so far are low % and will only take your body an hour to process. However I recommend taking a bottle of water and getting a snack if you ever feel like having a break. The fun thing is that you can always go outside and see more of Brno.
It’s time to stretch your legs and we are heading north of the old town to 4. U Karla, one of the best old-style pubs in the city. This place kicks some serious arse. Also, while in the neighbourhood, if you’re into modernist villas, abandoned football stadia or botanical gardens then you’re in luck, as Tugendhat villa is just across from the park, the legendary Za Luzankami and botanical gardens is only an extra 10 minutes away.
Although, if you knew what I knew you’d just head straight to U Karla via just west of the tramlines heading up from Lidicka. This place doesn’t look like much initially, in its rather concrete and anodyne surroundings, but almost instantly upon heading inside you feel catapulted back in time.
Counter to the common experience of surly service, the staff in U Karla are as chatty and friendly as though you were in Dublin or Amsterdam. If you’ve picked up the menu card by this point then you must be thinking what I thought – amazing. Yes, you can get two courses and a beer for £6.00 no problem at all in this pub, and it’s no cantine slop. It might lose a rosette on account of its amusingly utilitarian presentation, but the food is fresh piping-hot home cooking and the operation is confident and assured. If you are able to grab a table in the dining area this is the core of the pub as far as character goes, with oil paintings lining wood-panelled walls and a core crowd who you could be sure to see here every week. There are a few places where light, sounds, smells and warmth combine to appeal like an enveloping hug. You’d be forgiven for calling this crawl off right here and now and bedding in for the evening. But no – we have work to do!
Heading back into town to start the evening off right, stop off at 5. Ochutnavkova Pivnice a bar on a first visit I didn’t quite see the big fuss about this place. Certainly looking at the décor, it’s nothing to get carried away with. There’s a 4-sided bar, one of which faces the entrance as you walk in, which has a nice stand-and-deliver character, but otherwise the design choice is generic and feels soulless at quieter times. There are such times earlier in the day, however, once it gets going there’s a real buzz about it.
The whole point is 6/7 taps on rotation, with specialist beers to peruse in the fridge – a format much more similar to English pubs, which is becoming commonplace in Czechia outside of provincial backwaters. They have Primator’s beers which are decent enough, but also try and cram in the wares of regional breweries and occasionally Belgian and German ale. This is definitely a beer geek’s place, but isn’t so arch in its approach as to scare off a traditional crowd. In my opinion this is crucial to retaining the atmosphere of a pub rather than a bar, which is what this place definitely has. They need to sort the furniture and décor out though.
The last place breaks up what would have been a long walk into town, so even though you may feel pulled back-and-forth, I’m doing this in your best interests – some of these places have a peak operating window – others aren’t even open until 5pm onwards.
So, we’re walking back Svobody square, having passed by the enormous church of St. Thomas , but take a right as you meet the next church (St. Jacob) and look for 6. Posledni Lec translating as Final Lesson, but possibly meaning Finishing School. If you’re looking for motivating for further drinking you could pretend it means One Last One. Despite the ornate glass arch outside, the way in is actually more prosaic. See that brown glass door to your left? That will take you to a communal entrance hall to a theatre, where the pub’s entrance in the first door on the right.
Now, just like the last pub, this place is really all about drinking, except it isn’t much bothered about offering lots of choices and the service is back to grumpy old Czech times. So choose whatever variance of pale lager – Svijany, Chotebor, Hauskrecht – suits your needs, give the server your most earnest angelic smile and take a seat up the steps near the back.
Now this place feels really old. Cranky, creaky floorboards, ancient cobwebbed grills and a vague sense of grandeur from a time, long, long past. However, it works really nicely as a pub – a hideaway feel yet pretty much in the centre of town and its used chiefly by young groups of students, probably on account of its great value. It opens at 5 and stays open late most nights.
This theme continues in the next pub, at what is likely the height of the evening’s entertainment. A pint of Poutnik at 7. U Poutnika, one of the ultimate purely drink-focused pubs that even rivals some of the top places in Prague for atmosphere.
Follow the link above for my full write-up. It’s another hidey-hole, situated in a courtyard area just off the cabbage market. Hugely popular and buzzy, going on rowdy, this is the typical down-to-earth pub experience you want from a trip to Czechia. Unvarnished, ungentrified, communal and fun.
The one fantastic beer on offer is dispensed via the stereotypically paunchy near-mute tapster, and it’s so good that at peak time demand is such that he becomes a cog in the chain. A simple nod of the head or shout of “one” will procure your drink. If you’re lucky enough to grab a seat the server will do the business on your behalf.
From there, simply get stuck into a conversation, or sit back and enjoy being part of a timeless atmosphere.
There’s one stop left – I really hope you can manage this – 8. U Alberta – situated at the entrance to the park up to Spilberk castle. You have probably walked past it this morning without even realising! This is another quirky location, seemingly taking advantage of an old house or disused park building to create a rustic little pub. Just like U Poutnika this one is known about locally so be prepared to sit at the bar if there isn’t room. In winter time it’s very cosy and you can sup ale and watch the snacks being prepared. U Alberta’s offering focus on Czech craft beer but they’re wise enough to stock a 12 degree pale lager for those unadventurous sorts. For me, U Alberta caps off a great experience around town in Brno – a friendly communal pub with nice people.
It’s so bloody busy everywhere, Brno’s residents sure as hell enjoy a beer or ten.
If you get stuck finding a table, fortunately there are an abundance of other venues of any of these should fail. Here are a few others for starters:
Vycep Na Stojaka
A modern and popular bar in the centre, lively and busy with a thirty-somethings crowd – now with a spin-off close by
Zelena Kocka Pivarium
Regional beers on rotation and a quirky layout
Another classic pivnice in a traditional setting
Down to earth drinking, Brno style
Super Panda Circus
If you fancy switching from beer to cocktails, this venue is prized for its flamboyant décor and drinks preparation.
Do you have any recommendations or comments to add? We’re always interested so please get in touch in the comments below or via our Facebook group!