Czechia has a decent claim to be the only Slavic nation with a true pub culture, a consequence of its centuries of interactions within the Holy Roman and Austrian empires. The hospoda is as much a treasured cultural institution as the pub is in the UK & Ireland, serving a similar purpose, an informal, versatile and inter-generational community/family venue for chatting and socialising, as opposed to bar/café culture around the Mediterranean.
The humble Hospoda is everywhere, but you will see a few different names on the signage: Hostinec, Pivnice, Restaurace, Krcma, Klub, even occasionally Café. This is dealt with in our Glossary. There is no true guide to what to expect these days, but as a general rule, Hostinec & Pivnices historically tended towards drinks focused lower grade places. The names of the pubs follow a not dissimilar line to English pubs. While they lack the definitive article, you will notice “U” effectively replacing “The” before the likes of Hippo (Hrocha) or Black Ox (Cerneho Vola). Often the more historic venues will have had no numerical address and their property would have been distinguished by name. Some pubs have carried that on into the present, such as ‘U Dvou Sluncu’, or ‘The Two Suns’ on Nerudova in Mala Strana, Prague. It’s a very nice, characterful touch.
Czech pubs are usually simply furnished with white walls and chunky wooden tables designed for communal seating, a circumstance where someone may enter a busy pub and be able to find a seat on the end somewhere.
The traditional pub keeps steadfast hours of 11am-11pm but there are some quirks out there, for example in Prague there is a pub that opens at 9am and shuts at 9pm due to mainly being used for binmen coming off their shift, in the 80s at least. The real drinks-focused places occasionally have only an evening license, opening only from mid-late afternoon.
Modernity has reached all corners, and even the traditional pubs have started to improve their offer of drinks, formerly having 1 or 2 house beers tied to a single brewery that would provide glassware and tablecloths etc in return, but now several pubs in most towns and cities are independent/non-franchised, offering a range, sometimes on rotation, of guest beers, often from smaller and more interesting breweries. Licensing rules and the fervour post-independence has led to a flourishing in the Czech brewing scene, and it is healthy enough these days that you will find there will generally be 1 traditional upright-looking town brewery and 1 craft beer/independent brewery with its own taproom or independent pub in nearly every large village upwards. That helps diversify the offering and give the locals a chance to taste something that isn’t a Czech staple, ie. something other than Pilsner Urquell, Kozel, Radegast, Gambrinus, Staropramen, Budvar.
Czech beer still centres around lager, indeed Bohemia is at the heart of ‘Lagerland’. A Pilsner is a Lager, and Czechs speciality is Czech Pilsner (possibly an oxymoron given Plzen is a Czech city). This can be as straightforward as any lager you have tasted before, or it can be a flavour journey that is almost symphonic in its majesty and panache. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, sometimes krausened or pitched with extra yeast, there are lagers in the country that will make you completely reset your idea of this style of beer and even fall in love with.
Be careful to look at the signage too. Instead of ABV% you will get a ° which indicates the Plato scale. This is a rougher guide to the percentage of alcohol in a beer. The most common are 10, 11 & 12°, all of which are between 3.8-5.3% ABV as a general rule. Czech beer culture both from brewing and the class dynamic has centred around this small range. People on lower incomes will gravitate towards the 10°, usually being the cheaper option, with an occasional 12° (Pilsner Urquell being one) serving as a treat, often enjoyed with a lunch. Decades of experimentation in the breweries, along with family traditions (maintained or lost/recovered) have led to both subtle and striking differences in flavours, texture, aftertaste and drinkability, in a similar way to Franconia or the Upper Palatinate in Germany (with the 1920s Financial Crash / World Wars / Communism causing major disruption inbetween). The beer can be whatever you need it to be – a casual drink to not think too much about, or a truly worthwhile exploration. This is inverted too, sometimes people with no major interest in comparing brands will wax lyrical about a particular tapster who they prefer pouring the beer, and this comes from a time when there really was much less choice about what to drink.
Moving back to the pubs, you have striking examples of highly personalised venues that have gone from being simple and every day to become cult venues, which definitely results from singular efforts to create something a bit different. Prague of course, has the greatest selection of strikingly distinctive venues but don’t discount Brno and Ostrava – they have a dynamic and present alternative scene too. You may have to dig around to find anything similar in smaller towns, and, as with everything, what is there one year can have disappeared by the next.
It isn’t all about beer, either. The old school wine pub or Vinárna, is still in evidence, albeit vanishing rapidly due to the advancing age of owners and customers that frequent them. These places have a similar appearance to pubs, heavy on the wood panelling and simple rickety charms, though can be smaller and more intimate. Across the lands of former Austro-Hungarian empire there is a simple no-nonsense format that entirely belies Western prejudice about wine drinking being pretentious.
There are quirks to Czech pub going that warrant acknowledging too. Formalities like customer and server greeting one another on entry, normally with ‘Dobry den‘ or ‘Dobry vecer‘ if later evening. Some venues still have curtains at the entrance, a throwback to when the gentleman, taking their partner out for the evening, would check around the curtain to see if the venue was suitable. (There were also certain advantages to venues not allowing outsiders direct visible access to what was happening). There are subtler pieces of etiquette to observe too: place the beer mats on the table in advance for the server to use, don’t allow the tally slip they will write for your beers to go astray, don’t pour the remains of one beer into another. When paying, round up to the nearest whole figure if you’ve had a few beers, tip at least 10% if you’ve been eating as well and had good service. When paying, state the number you want to pay, and don’t hand the server a big note and say “thanks” (or dekuji), as sometimes they will take the note and not come back with any money! Watch out for a ‘cover charge’ when eating – this can be justified merely by plonking a bowl of bread on your table. If you don’t desire this ask them to remove whatever they’ve placed straight away. Don’t sit at the stamgast (regulars) table (normally the one by the taps) and look out for reserved signs on other tables, which may actually be free if you check the time written on them.
Still, this makes it all sound like a minefield, whereas in fact the joy of Czech pubgoing is its simplicity. Often there is a streamlined offer of drinks which itself has an effect of binding people together in ritual. While Czechs have an uneasy relationship with tourists (and a dollop of nationalist Chauvinism, though hardly unusual for the region) their culture brings people inwards, slowly and gradually.
What else to remark on? The fact that many Czech pubs serve beer for the same price as a mineral water? The Herna Bar, 24 hour Non-Stop pubs? The venerated ‘Tapster’ or ‘Vycepni‘ whose job is to pour the beer and leave human interactions to a bare minimum? Yes, there is so much more we could get into here, but for now, we hope this provides a flavour of what’s to come.
Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|Blues Bar Traubka||Brno||9||9||10||7||8||9.2|
|U Poutnika *||Brno||9||8||9||6||9||8.8|
|U Bomby||Brno Kralovo-Pole||9||7||8||6||7||7.5|
|KMPCB – Na Mlysnke Stoce||Ceske Budejovice||10||8||9||8||7||8.4|
|U Cerneho Konicka||Ceske Budejovice||9||8||8||8||8||8.2|
|U Nezmara||Ceske Budejovice||7||8||8||8||8||7.9|
|Traveller’s Pub||Cesky Krumlov||7||8||8||8||9||7.6|
|Na Louzi||Cesky Krumlov||8||9||7||7||7||7.6|
|U Krale Jiriho||Cheb||8||8||8||7||9||7.7|
|U Kudeje *||Olomouc||10||9||9||7||9||9.5|
|U Zrzave Mary||Ostrava||9||9||9||7||8||9.1|
|Kurnik Šopa Hospoda²||Ostrava||10||8||9||8||7||9.0|
|Vinarna U Bielase||Ostrava||8||9||8||7||8||7.9|
|U toulave pipy||Pardubice||9||7||9||6||7||8.0|
|Prvni Pivni Tramway||Prague||9||9||9||7||9||8.7|
|Hostomicka Nalevarna *||Prague||8||8||9||6||9||8.3|
|U Rotundy *||Prague||7||8||9||7||10||8.1|
|Hospoda Nad Viktorkou||Prague||8||9||8||5||6||7.9|
|U Suchy Dasne||Prague||8||8||8||8||8||7.9|
|U Sv Antonicka||Prague||7||8||8||7||8||7.6|
|Los V Oslu||Prague||9||8||7||8||8||7.5|
|Pivnice U Lva||Tábor||7||9||10||8||10||8.9|
|Pivnice U šneka||Znojmo||9||8||9||7||8||8.5|
|Pivnice Na Stadionu||Znojmo||8||7||8||8||7||7.6|
|Hostan Na Kopečku||Znojmo||6||8||8||7||8||7.6|
A working class town on the outskirts of Prague with an excellent and weird brewery near the station. Well worth a diversion from Prague and Karlstejn Castle for that alone.
A large town that dominates rural South Bohemia, Budweis was a town with a German majority before the war. Famous for Budvar beer still owned today by the Czech government. The city is compact but retains a historic layout including an impressive central square, which perhaps is now too big for its own good. Nightlife is decent but unspectacular.
A centre overrun with Russian mobsters and Asian tourists, there is no real bar life to speak of other than casinos and drab hotel bars. To find nightlife climb into the hills or walk the other side of town where the locals life, where you can find a typically Czech range of down to earth boozers and lunch hospudky.
This border town has a mixture of historical sights and a typical market town square that can easily evoke times passed. There is a small cluster in the centre of busy bars of various descriptions and you can guarantee real local life and no tourists to speak of.
This medium sized town near Olomouc, pronounced ‘Krum-yeah-zzheesh’ is too easily bypassed, however as a former bishopric it has a disproportionate bounty of religious buildings and an impressive central square that make it a diverting visit for an afternoon. A central brewery and one or two sidestreet pubs offer a reasonable choice, but don’t expect anything too dramatic.
Given Kutna Hora is well on the tourist trail you may expect it to feature more in the way of nightlife. However, the strange long drag and touristic centre seems to have distended the town somewhat. While the town is worth exploring on its own right, it would be nice to find more than just the reasonably pleasant pub restaurant Dacicky and a long drag of drab sports bars towards the train station.
A city of this size should have a far better selection of pubs and bars. I’m afraid I have little to report except the blandest chain bars. Liberec operates as a skiing hub during the winter but out of season it is slightly sodden and drab, as is its nightlife.
Sprawling and industrial/post-industrial, Ostrava is not a place to go sightseeing unless you are into monolithic pig iron works and panelaky/towerblocks. The historic centre architecturally pales in comparison even to many small towns, however it would be unfair to write off visiting Ostrava, which has plenty to offer outside of the usual Czech attractions while still offering excellent nightlife. Some of the venues may require a tram ride, but there is a reliable core of central pubs that are down to earth and almost entirely visited by locals, a huge benefit versus somewhere like Prague.
A provincial city albeit one with an international airport, Pardubice is a fair way down the list of destinations, however its central square, network of canals and nearby castle easily justify an overnight stay. The nightlife lacks a true core and as the city is so spread from West to East, get to know the local public transport to help you along. A few standout pubs and an art nouveau cafe should provide a modest spread for the evening, while the usual city brewery and Pilsner Urquell venues provide fallback options.
A typical market town with activity centred around its town square. However with a small Jewish quarter and a brewery not far from the centre, there is enough here to merit a stop off in between Brno and Telc.