Slovakia

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Hostinec Richtar Jakub Bratislava 9 9 9 7 7 9
Mestiansky Pivovar Bratislava 9 6 6 7 7 8
Bernard pri Lyceu   * Bratislava 8 6 8 6 10 8
Omama Bratislava 8 8 8 7 7 8
Pivaren Stupavar Bratislava 8 7 9 7 7 8
Dungeon Pub Bratislava 6 6 9 9 8 8

It would be tempting, partly through my own laziness, to think the guide to Slovakian drinking could be done simply by copy-pasting the information from the Czech guide, but there are some immutable differences between the two that are worth exploring.

First of all, Slovakia has the euro, so while it still is a place for incredibly cheap drinking, the economic effects naturally increase the prices by a touch from what they would otherwise have been. In the right places though, you can still find a very good desitky (light) lager for around 1 euro. Hardly the stuff of nightmares.

Another difference is simply the lay of the land and the infrastructure. Slovakia is nowhere near as densely populated as Czechia, and the shape of the country itself, largely spread West to East covers a surprising amount of terrain. By the time you reach the eastern city Kosice you’re snaking close to the Ukranian border and the sub-Carpathians. It’s impossible not to concede that there will be cultural consequences of that.

Most people will find themselves in Bratislava, being within a day trip of Vienna and on one of the fastest train lines in central Europe. The city is not so different from many Czech places, just with a smidgen more of an Austrian vibe to some of the streets. The beer scene reflects that a little bit, with fewer traditional Pivnice style places and more modern and alternative bars. There are some decent hospodas around that offer a classic slice of Czechslovak drinking, and although Slovakia’s primary beers aren’t a patch on Czech ones, there are a couple of reasonable central breweries to explore.

Out in the rest of the country, beer has to compete with schnapps and slivovitz in the mountainous regions, and wine in the south and east.

The craft beer revolution doesn’t suit Czechia much as they already had very high standards, while their obsession with the price of a pint is only matched in England and Germany. However, I think there is room in Slovakia for this, firstly because the self-contained brewery tap concept would work well considering how much of an arseache distribution is in such a rural country, secondly because certain areas are lagging behind in their offerings, when you consider their neighbours, including Poland are enjoying a better quality and better variety of beer.

Lastly, while in the countryside make sure to visit a mountain lodge or inn, akin to Slovenias Gostilnas, as these places with their chunky wooden seats, roaring fires and home cooking are famous for good value, good portions and a homely ‘Traveller’s Rest’ feel.

Cities

Bratislava, pop. 424,428

A good rule of thumb to use when deciding to drink in Bratislava is to ask yourself ‘does this stand out?’ If the answer to that is Yes, you are probably going to the wrong venue. Most of the quality venues in Bratislava are tucked away, and are certainly not located along the main tourist streets in the old town which contain ripoff joints and bland/towny venues. Fairer prices and local life can largely be found on the periphery with some inconspicuous/hiding in plain sight spots in the city centre.

Bratislava follows a Czech style format in its offerings. There are multiple brewery pubs – a surprisingly high number actually – which are focused on food (apart from Starosloviensky Pivovar which has more of a drinking feel, and Pivaren Stupavar which is a tap rather than a brewery site) and simple backstreet hospodas which, by contrast, are heavily drinks-focused, with food being more of a side-interest.

The best idea is to visit Omama/Hostinec Rychtar Jakub in the same evening, as they are located very close by, and are enjoyably enough to spend a long time in. Any other pub you find on the way there or way back will supplement those, which really are classic examples of the Czech format and fondness for ruralism, and simplicity.

Trenčín, pop. 55,725

Trenčín, castle aside, has a pretty but one-horse old town on the east bank of the river and plain, working class suburbs on the west bank. You’ll find prices take a nosedive towards 1 euro in some places (still not as good as Czechia though) but none of the venues stand out especially –simply try to avoid the Herna bars – 24 hour sports/betting venues which are often very depressing places, even if they sometimes are the only ones open at certain times of day/night. Nevertheless, Trenčín has a prolific and experimental brewery, Lanus, which, while relatively expensive, is certainly worth dropping by for lunch, or a post-lunch drink. While pleasant and tastefully done, there isn’t the kind of atmosphere we’re really looking for.

Trnava, 65,515

A provincial town with a scattering of limited attractions – a large central tower, surprisingly enormous church and some city walls. On a winter’s day there’s not much to hold your attention above an hour or two, leading to immediate thoughts of the Pub. If you scratch around there are a few passable pubs which have jumped on the recent growth in multi-tap regional/small brewery offerings. The venues themselves are nothing special but beat chain-pubs hands down.