A Weekend In Seville – Trip #4 of 2023 🇪🇸 

A Weekend In Seville

Hot on the heels of November’s trip to Andalusia covering Malaga, Cordoba and Granada, the glaring omission was of course the region’s capital, Seville! An opportunity came to meet friends (including a Seville resident) for 5 days.

Seville in southern Spain 🇪🇸 experiences only 50 rainy days a year. Rolling snake-eyes, 10% of their annual precipitation coincided with our 5 day visit. They say if March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb, and sod’s law, once we returned to the UK, Andalusia has reverted back to warm sunny days.

However, poor weather drives you indoors, not such a bad thing when you’re out here exploring Seville’s bars!

Day 1 – Malaga & Seville 🇪🇸 

We arrived and departed via Malaga, which allowed for a quick stop and meeting with friends at Antigua Casa De Guardia 🇪🇸, a frankly terrific bar on Malaga’s main boulevard into the city centre. It used to operate as the old police station before a conversion into a bodega of sorts. With huge original barrels lining the walls filled with various fortified wines and sherries the place is very  distinctive – even in a region that’s partial to an ostentatiously displayed barrel. That old word – institution – springs to mind, but here there is not only the bar’s history to admire but its rhythm of service, with smartly dressed men of various ages dashing up and down a long bar, writing the bill in chalk on the wooden counter and occasionally ringing a bell loudly – for a reason that wasn’t immediately apparent, but from researching happens whenever someone leaves a tip – which I find rather jolly!

Just don’t peer at the ground as the place couldn’t be described as occupying the height of hygienic standards. Several vermouths, sherries and pajaretes later you’re unleashed, buzzing, onto the bright streets of Malaga, in our case en route to the train station.

On arrival in Seville (approx.. 2hrs 30 journey) we did the necessary check-in and had a rest before meeting friends in town at El Comercio 🇪🇸, a bar which closes unintuitively early, in fact it seemed to only be getting busier and busier as 9pm approached. Apparently it operates as a breakfast bar with churros being particularly popular. A classic bodega with striking black and gold frontage and an open front directly onto a shopping street, it really is an inviting view. Inside past a long bar with the usual haunches of meet hanging above the counter, you’ll find a tiled pub room with typical, familiar bodega surroundings. A twist here is that they serve their cañas of Cruzcampo (a beer we would swing from detesting to tolerating to surprisingly enjoying, all the way back to detesting several times around during our visit) in glazed pots kept in the freezer until they were frosted. Did it improve the beer? No.

Moving on, we visited Ajoblanco 🇪🇸 a little way north east of the centre. This tapas bar leans in a musical direction (Jazz and Blues specifically) with large posters decorating the wall and a selection of records on sale near the back. The proprietor is front of house and runs the place with charisma. Underneath these characterful twists, the nuts and bolts of the place worked. The tapas – unpromising at first – was good, the atmosphere was pleasantly local with a cast of regulars and while we were there it slowly, almost imperceptibly got busier and busier to the point where when we left, it was really getting going.

The hubris of attempting to get in Seville’s most famous bodega, El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 at 10pm on a Saturday night wasn’t lost on us, but as Michael Jordan said (before presumably tucking into a delicious tapa of Pringá) you lose 100% of the shots you don’t take. We didn’t get in and it would have to wait until later in the trip.

We then moved to Urbano Comix 🇪🇸, for a change of speed, a late bar with quirky, frequently fluorescent décor and comic book stylings but also quite dark and broody. Like the last place, we arrived a little early and it became quite lively as it went along. A late bar and hangout space, this is somewhere you can go to play pool, shoot the breeze and enjoy a drink that isn’t Cruzcampo or wine based. In many cities other than Seville the beer selection wouldn’t be particularly notable, which underlines the extent of the problem here. In a place like Seville this really stands out. Fans of the likes of Klapper33 🇩🇪 in Frankfurt will get on with this place.

The evening moved on apace and the next stop was the heaving Bicicleteria 🇪🇸, a place with more admirers than seats, but somehow, stomping our size tens around, we managed to cleave space for 4 around a table while the other 3 of us marked time until some chairs became available. Most cities have this kind of faux-shop kooky café bar with a bike or two stapled to the wall or ceiling, and this one didn’t do too much new, but couldn’t fault the execution or the atmosphere, as it really did feel like being at the core of the social scene. The nightlife around Plaza de Monte-Sion is well worth checking out.

As a few of peeled off to go to bed, there was time for a final drink and where better than the venue I had at the top of my list – Garlochi 🇪🇸. There are bars and there are bars – and this one is something really quite different. Decorated with the most kitsch Catholic iconography, this makes something like Cofrade Las Merchanas 🇪🇸 in Malaga look tastefully understated. Adding to the consuming intoxicating colours is burning incense which in quite a small venue feels truly transporting. We were made to wait for the experience though, arriving around 1AM to find a line waiting outside. Part of the charm of the character is some elderly front of house dressed like a Yorkshire farmer who attends to proceeding, being seemingly attentively involved and totally redundant all at once. Garlochi 🇪🇸 surprised by offering a bottled Spanish craft beer, a welcome break from Cruzcampo, but its stock and trade is cocktails and mixers.

An aside: Andalusia bars seem to enjoy concealing their menu from customers which slowly becomes irritating when you enter a bar and find staff assuming you must have all the information stored in your head.

We went to bed having had one of the best bar experiences of our travels, not a bad way to begin the trip!

Day 2 – Ruins, Towers & Flamenco

The day began with a trip to Italica, ruins of a Roman city near Santiponce, a village on the outskirts of Seville. Trajan/Hadrian era, the amphitheatre alone is extremely impressive and worth the cheap 30 minute bus ride to see.

On return, the bad weather setting in so we switched to indoor activities (Clue: not knitting). A historic tapas bar Casa Morales 🇪🇸 made sense to visit but, perhaps owing to the rain, was too crowded to be worthwhile. After a quick look we backtracked to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 50 metres back down the road. This bar was not on our initial hit list but its appearance was tempting and it also has a history. This now upright, stylish bodega has attractive frontage and a classical interior. A refurbishment has smartened the place up without losing its soul. This place is a fixture of central Seville and during the mid-20th centuries became a fashionable meeting spot for the political and cultural set. These days there is a mix of old stagers, some tourists and that unmistakeable ‘city centre’ rhythm to it, even when quieter. One of the eye-catching elements of the pub is its enormous urns at the back of the room. Try those baby aubergines pickled in chilli and garlic oil – unreal.

In between here and the next venue, we visited the cathedral, a monument to Catholic excess – minimalist it is not – and climbed La Giralda, its bell tower for spectacular views even in the pouring rain.

Time to put our feet up – we visited Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸, another central tapas fixture. Unlike the previous place this venue is content to get ever more ramshackle and informal with wobbly seats, locals yelling banter across the counter and a large menu that slowly vanishes as the day progresses. Here the tapas was not great first time around, but it has largely excellent reviews and did impress on a 2nd visit.

After a rest back at the apartment, we ventured out for the evening. For a change of format and scenery we looked to visit a first explicitly craft beer slanted venue Lartesana 🇪🇸, a short walk east. Unfortunately we didn’t have a great time here, being deserted and cold, the doors unnecessarily flung open on a cold wet evening. The draft beer options were also pretty mediocre, though there were one or two interesting bottles available. While we didn’t eat our friends reported the food was particularly poor. Not a good start to the evening!

To make up for that we had another try at getting into El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 – successfully this time! There is a front-of-house whose job is managing the limited space and ensuring the room doesn’t get overfilled – if only more tapas bars had that philosophy! Luckily we were able to squeeze in a leaning post at the bar and enjoyed a few cañas with salted cod, delicious. The bar itself in an interesting old thing, the space on the left belonging to a fin de siècle type school of design with ornate frames and a lighter appearance, while the main bodega with its upturned barrels, urns and gnarled ceiling features a more ancient appearance. 

After a core Seville bar experience it was time to dip into the wider culture and experience some Flamenco! La Carboneria 🇪🇸 is an atypical venue for Seville. Large, airy, a little off-beat and folksy too. It used to be the old coal warehouse, now it is a performance venue with bits and pieces of old tapas bar stuck on it like mosaic pieces, and an attractive leafy courtyard. This is where to go for a rawer, less slick folk performance than the lavish corporate dance shows put on for wealthier tourists. Despite the size of venue it is a rather intimate experience with the place hushed during the music performances. With a decently stocked bar and effectively a free show, this is good value and one of the best choices to experience this on a budget.

After that, we took a risk to visit Bodeguita La Chicotá 🇪🇸, but no luck – it was closed on arrival, leaving us in a bit of a nothing area without too many bars nearby. La Jara Tienda 🇪🇸 was a decent stop-gap with a nice selection of beers including Founders Porter on tap, but we dug into the Spanish craft beer in the fridge. The venue itself was overly lit and indistinct, but anyone who is happy to drink good beer in any old venue should probably make a note of it.

Last up, Bodega La Aurora 🇪🇸 near our apartment was continually busy every time we walked past, so we thought we’d give it a go. A really nice atmosphere is to be found inside, a tapas place that has been brought into the 21st century through some careful tasteful adjustments, but still retaining the essential informality that is the key to their charm. The only aspect that remained firmly in the past was a breathtakingly narrow toilet that comprised one urinal and barely enough space to park your anatomy between the door and the porcelain. Welcome to Seville!

Day 3 – The rain in Spain…

Day 3 was supposed to involve a trip to Cadiz but with more alarming bad weather particularly near the coast, we aborted the trip, instead making do with what turned into a long, enjoyable day out around the bars.

We began with some sightseeing at Plaza España, the beautiful square that is normally not far from Seville’s postcards and promotional material. It is spectacular – odd that it is detached from the centre in a park though. Imagine if the Piazza Del Campo was somewhere near Siena’s football stadium, it wouldn’t make sense. But there you are. The scenes themselves are well worth it.

After lunch to line our stomach we moved to Casa Morales 🇪🇸 which you may remember was a strike out on Day 1. This time we explored the venue a bit more, locating a 2nd room to the rear, arguably superior with more of those huge urns (10 ft tall or more) in the corner. The quality shone through this time, and after sharing a bottle of Ribera among us we moved on to a second visit to Bodega Diaz Salazar 🇪🇸 which provided a reliable repeat experience.

The next stop however, Casa Moreno 🇪🇸 was to prove a real standout. Not just for Seville but for Andalusia itself. A surviving ultramarino from 1940, this grocery store also serves as a bar. With a beautiful black and gold frontage the closed door and wares near the window don’t give off the flung-open Mediterranean welcome of some tapas bars, and perhaps this helps keep tourism to an acceptable minimum. On entrance you’ll see a few old-stagers chatting with the shopkeeper behind a large corner counter and plenty of tinned fish etc on the shelves. Peer around to the doorway on the right though and you’ll find a tiny characterful bar! This little space with its aluminium counter, Semanta Santa photographs and bullfighting memorabilia is a concentrated shot of Sevillano life. The regulars on the few tables at the back of the room look like they never really leave. Even spending 20 minutes here is enough to get a strong, lasting flavour of the place, an operation within an operation, clandestine, bunker-like, unaltered and fantastic.

We moved back to the centre of the Casco Antiguo to La Teresas 🇪🇸 which was recommended for food. Although reviews online were variable our food was notably superior with a few dishes a notch or two higher than their equivalents we’d tried elsewhere. The venue has outgrown its original little bar to adjacent buildings so it feels almost like 3 businesses in one. Café bar with high ceilings and large posters, tiny bodega with hanging haunches and a mounted tribute to the carving knives noting their period of service going back decades.

From there, the socialising continued into the early hours. La Goleta 🇪🇸 is a tiny little drop in place, perfect for a chat out of the rain. Small and yet personalised, no overbearing music or annoying crowds either.

A return to Bodega Santa Cruz 🇪🇸 almost next door was successful, less so our first visit to El Chiringuito 🇪🇸, not because the bar was bad, but because it was simply far too early in the day to get the most out of. The place has less of a traditional character and more of a late night hangout feel to it.

Uptown to our next destination Bodega Soto 🇪🇸 near the limits of the old city to what was a lovely authentic neighbourhood pub with a purely local crowd. A little larger than the tiddly central places, here is where you can host gatherings of families or friends. The décor is still traditional and the atmosphere can be absorbed pleasantly. It is really quite an approachable option.

Keeping it local, we visited Casa Vizcaino 🇪🇸, a well rated neighbourhood Bodega in the district of Feria. You’re unlikely to find a more typical example of a classical tapas bar. Set directly off the Plaza Monte Zion in their heart of the local action, there’s a good spread of generations to be found here which adds to its social quality, the venue itself broad enough to accommodate differing needs.

Before calling it a night we paid further visits to El Rinconcillo 🇪🇸 and the star of the show, Garlochi 🇪🇸 which unsurprisingly was not as busy on a Monday night.

Day 4Palaces, Gardens, Baths…pubs!

After a full-on day we took it easier, focusing on a few essential tourist activities, firstly visiting the magnificent Alcazar which gathers together some of the best aspects of the Alhambra and other palaces we’d visited in the region. The central location makes it really easily accessible but remember to book tickets ahead of time.

After a few hours there it was time to turn attention to bars again, starting at Bodeguita Romero 🇪🇸. Food was serviceable there and the place had a polished feel to it, but was certainly more foodie and not somewhere you’d spend time to hang out. Also shelves on high tables are a bad idea, so we spent most of the time kicking our shins into them. They always seem practical until you actually sit on one (Also looking at you, U Blahovky 🇨🇿 in Brno!)

The next stop was a very welcome foray into world beer and multitap drinking at Cerveceria Internacional 🇪🇸. Very much a last gen beer specialist pub, this pre-dates craft and is mainly focused on the best Belgian, German and Czech beers. Given the volume of Cruzcampo consumed this was very, very welcome. Despite the beer geek element this is a pretty welcoming and approachable place, with tall ceilings and ample space in the room to socialise. Decorated with beer ephemera and personalised, it has a good degree of character and was overall in our Top 5 venues in the city.

At 4pm we had an appointment with the Aire Ancient Baths, soaking in thermal pools and Jacuzzis. We had visited something similar in Cordoba in November. While expensive it is a superb place to unwind. Before then we had a little snack and a drink at Bar Alfafa 🇪🇸, which had a promising exterior, good deal of local character, a young crowd and charismatic staff, but somehow the sum of all parts didn’t impress…as a venue itself wasn’t much of a standout.

After turning into prunes bobbing about in briny water for two hours we emerged to seek drink and sustenance. A table had been booked at Casa Ricardo 🇪🇸 one of the few remaining historic venues on the Seville circuit we had yet to visit. On arrival it transpired that was an outdoor table set quite detached from the pub itself, to the point of basically only being on the street side. That was not the plan at all, so a couple of us had a crack at securing a corner in this very, very busy popular bar. While many tapas bars featured framed photographs the density here must be very high. There needs to be a scale devised like they do with Wetherspoons carpets. This would have been up near the top. If there was space to screw a frame in, it was taken. Once again a lot of these were related to the Easter parades and family heritage, making a characterful venue. The menu here is brief and service lightning quick. You give your name, pay up front and wait for it to be called. So small, you can virtually reach out over the bar top any time you like. This is a really classic, typically Spanish format that is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, cramped and claustrophobic but hyper-informal and reflective of their own social scene.

We parted with the group to visit Clan Sibarita’s 🇪🇸 a little funky neighbourhood wine bar up the road just off the Alameda. This place specialises in natural wines by the glass and hosts occasional live music. High quality, aiming for a thirty something crowd, not trying too hard to be something it isn’t.

Surely there’s some craft beer in Seville? Well, let’s not get our hops up. Hops & Dreams 🇪🇸 offered the best of the scattered, nascent and rather abortive attempts to transplant a craft scene into a very conservative beer culture. The taps focused on Spanish craft and there were some adventurous canned brews in the fridge. The venue itself was so-far-so-industrial-chic that it was difficult to remember a single defining feature aside of the fact it was empty. We have had some very promising, lively craft beer experiences in Palma di Mallorca, Barcelona, Malaga but less so here. It seems like it is still missing a well-located central reliable bolthole.

Lastly, to round off Seville we attempted to visit Taberna Gonzalo Molina 🇪🇸. An intriguing set of reviews spoke of a bar being held up by scaffolding reinforcements, almost rotting away, and some pictures online seemed to support that. However, it seems as though that may have finally bitten the dust. What we can say is Gonzalo Molina continues as an operation in a tiny little bar with some erratic opening hours. Characterful with tiled walls and personalised interior as well as local life, the sort of place that might have been too local to want a crowd of 4 or 5 English people, but we were welcomed in, and glad to see a dark beer on tap – the unexciting Maestro Dunkel – but at this point we were glad of small mercies. The place was cute and memorable enough but what capped off the evening was a frankly bizarre show, as the streets emptied to look at what appeared to be 50 people crammed inside a metal frame slowly carrying it along the road. With a sort of hushed reverence it was very difficult to work out what was going on, but more so why it was happening after midnight? It appears that these men were practising, a rehearsal – if not a dress rehearsal – for the Easter parades.

Day 5 – Malaga then home

Spain’s trains are excellent. If not cheap then they are fast and generally reliable. However, they have a crucial flaw – they sell out and there aren’t many during the course of the day. You have a ridiculous situation where you can’t actually travel by train between two major cities because they’ve sold out. This makes planning in advance crucial, but it shouldn’t be so inflexible. This left us having to book coach tickets, a long 2 hour 30 journey to Malaga, which I did in a huff and in a rush.

As it goes when you’re not thinking straight, I didn’t concentrate properly and booked the wrong date! We could have very nearly missed our flight as a result. Mercifully the bus driver took pity and allowing us to fill the remaining seats on the coach.

Due to all this, rather than having all day in Malaga we only had a few hours, but there was enough time to return to the classics Cofrade Las Merchanas 🇪🇸 (quiet but still atmospheric), El Pimpi 🇪🇸 (busy, touristy but good) and of course Antigua Casa de Guardia 🇪🇸 for the final fling. That place is bloody addictive!

Final thoughts:

Seville is a wonderful destination to visit if you take care to do so outside of the Easter Parades, the intense summer heat and any other looming religious festivals. Its sights are impressive and tie up a lot of the sense of Andalusia you pick up from visiting the likes of Malaga, Cordoba, Granada all in one place. The cathedral, tower, Roman ruins, palace, baths will keep you well occupied before you even get started with the bars.

Bar culture in Seville is as close as you’ll get to traditional for such a large, otherwise cosmopolitan city. The sheer numbers of uninterruptedly legit, authentic bodegas, tabernas etc is fantastic, helped of course by the level of tourism remaining manageable.

The flipside is that with little incentive to change, you’re left with some downsides, primarily pretty poor beer options virtually everywhere and a stunted craft scene that didn’t leave the impression there will be a wave of change coming soon. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of venues are set up for food or at least tapas snacking. There comes a time in an evening where you simply can’t fit any more food inside you.

Prices are fair virtually everywhere you go, not unusual at the time of writing to be paying 1.80 for 0.2l of beer and between 2.80-4 euros for a tapas dish. If you’re in a group and happy to share food, value increases exponentially by choosing a media or racion portion which frequently veers to the very generous.

It is relevant to mention that vegans or anyone more intensely involved in animal welfare may find Seville’s overbearing displays of meat and in-your-face bullfighting culture veers towards the obnoxious. There are some competing strands of thought about that and Spain is currently engaged in a rather confected culture-wars type conflict between generations who would otherwise be on the same page in terms of the overriding economic issues keeping them both down.

It’s very possible the Catholicism might also be too cloying, from the overuse of gold leaf, the Klan style pointy hats, incense burning even in bars and lachrymose iconography. It is intense, it is in your face.

As a distinctive, less corporate and more authentic city Seville really stands out and, depending on your tolerance for the above quirks, it could be just the thing you’re looking for. From a bar perspective, to come away with over 20 recommendations and a hatful underneath that which were fine/good, shows there is a lot of mileage in a trip here.

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.