Pivnica Mali Medo, Zagreb

 

Tkalčićeva 36 Street, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia

*BRONZE AWARD* *Good all-rounder*

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –7/10
  • Style and Decor – 8/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 9/10 
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

The ‘Little Bear’ is located in the centre of Zagreb’s old town and offers by far the best example of a pub around these environs. Otherwise, your options are identikit café terraces or the odd raucous rakija bar. To be honest, a night out spent solely Zagreb’s old town would be pretty bland unless you dedicated yourself to drinking shots, or visited this place.

Mali Medo acts as brewery tap for Pivovara Medvedgrad (translates as Beartown), named after an old fortress in the hills North of the city which has undergone a rather appalling renovation, but is worth seeking out for the view over the city.

The brewery, operating since 1994 precedes the craft beer craze and concocts a range of different beers – including their own attempt at Kriek – highly peculiar by Croatian standards where anything outside Euro Lager seems to be regarded as otherworldly. Their beers aren’t unpleasant but they’re some way short of the wider standard these days and a bit ‘last generation’. Nevertheless, a couple of the more traditional styles are competent enough to put away a few of, and the extra flavour and freshness will come as a relief after drinking the likes of Karlovacko everywhere else.

They operate a number of pubs, but the best of the lot is, in my opinion Mali Medo in the centre of town.

The pub itself has a typical pivnica look, dropping down off the main cobbled street to a large half-basement area with a curved ceiling, and some partitioned niches with bench seating (one of my favourite pub features) along with the typical long tables you’d expect of a central European cellar pub.  Mostly, the décor is in-keeping with inn-keeping, wooden framed artwork on the wall, and traditional furniture, a step above bland. It’s suitably cavernous in order to cram in the many hundreds of people who flock to it daily – worth a reminder at this stage that it is the number one venue slap bang in the centre of town.

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As there is a beer terrace out front with much coming and going the atmosphere is very noisy and lively, sometimes pierced by live music performances. The upstairs area serves as a stage, with performers opening the windows to serenade people on the street. Very unusual and atmospheric. You  get the picture that this is one of the cultural hubs of the city. Be warned, if you’re after peace and quiet, this isn’t the place for you.

As with most pivnicas there is food available. Sometimes this can turn a place too much like a restaurant, but here it blends in with people turning up for a drink of beer better than some others, and as the evening progresses you can tell this is chiefly a drinking spot – good.

Considering the hustle and bustle, service is actually not too bad until it comes to the point of paying, where you almost have to grab the staff by the lapels and shove the money into their pockets. As per usual, table service slows up the whole arrangement. This is a very inefficient method when you compare it to those mega-brauhauses in Germany and Austria where a tapster and a token system means hundreds can be catered for by just a few people, or simply an English pub with a big bar where you can walk up to the bar staff and order – sort yourself out rather than relying on others to carry a glass for you. Unfortunately in Eastern Europe there appears to be an unwritten rule that one must never ever approach the person pouring the beer, or expect them to be able to operate a till.

Any place, city, town or village automatically feels enhanced by a centrally located brewery and/or its taproom, and this is certainly the effect Mali Medo has had on Zagreb old town. There is some work to do on the beers themselves, and it would be nice to see a few more pub touches, just slightly, to add character. It wouldn’t be an 8/10 unless there was some constructive criticism to encourage improvements. Aside of this, it still remains an essential, indeed desperately vital place to go for a beer in Zagreb.

Senk Na Parkanu, Plzeň

Veleslavínova 59/4, 301 00 Plzeň, Czechia
  • Quality and/or choice of drinks –10/10
  • Style and Decor – 7/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 7/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 6/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10

Drink unfiltered unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell delivered in barrels via horse and cart from Plzensky Prazdroj brewery up the road.

It doesn’t get much better than that for beer drinking, and despite the relative expense (cost being £1.70 rather than £1 which is the usual price for a beer in Czechia) it still represents extraordinary good value by nearly all other Western measures for supping what still is, pound for pound, the nicest beer going.

The horse and cart service also goes around a few other Pilsner Urquell pubs in Plzen on a largely ceremonial journey (though a good quantity of beer is delivered), such as U Senku and U Mansfelda,which are also worth checking out, but Na Parkanu is really the cultural epicentre, located in the bailey in the city walls and features an adjoining brewing museum which is brief, and poorly signposted but comes with a pint thrown in.

Na Parkanu itself is a shiny new pub, albeit in a traditional cookie-cutter Pivnice style, with some nice traditional features and a few little quirky concessions to the local hockey and football teams, along with reliable, absolutely conventional Czech food. You can sit down and just have a beer anywhere, much in the way you can at a chain pub in England, but there is a dedicated bar area too if you want to sit away from diners.

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In the main, Na Parkanu is a fairly by-the-by venue and in local terms a tad expensive by virtue of self-awareness of its own importance.

Why the fuss then?

The place serves a special beer that is very difficult to obtain in both unfiltered + unpasteurised form in Czechia let alone anywhere else, so there is always a tinge of excitement at the prospect of drinking at the ‘place to be’, which, outside of the Plzensky Prazdroj tap itself, this pub pretty much is, and everyone knows it, and is excited by the fact, which alone elevates the experience of drinking there.

The 12° Pilsner Urquell Nefiltrovany has that classically thicker texture and sharper flavour you get with a lager pre-filtration, but that makes it no more difficult to drink. The reviews speak for themselves. The beer slips down with alarming alacrity, while the keen-eyed servers have their eyes trained on any near-empty glass, and are only a quick nod of the head away from providing you with a replacement.

That’s enough in itself on this occasion. The venue is otherwise ‘steady’, it doesn’t really have any weak points (other than failing to fulfil my desire for it to be wonderfully old, preserved and traditional), which is hardly its fault. If they keep the layout for the next 80 years they may achieve that. It’s a solid pub you’ll find around in many a place, just one that’s blessed with something nearly every other pub doesn’t have.

If you’re feeling brave, try some of the intimidating looking ‘food to go with beer’ options on the menu, and wash it down with the gorgeous beer – you’ll soon be transported into a fatty, gristly, and delicious world of true Czech pub going – halitosis central but that’s just your body trying to communicate how satisfied you are!

A trip to Plzen that doesn’t include a pint of unfiltered PU at Na Parkanu would feel strangely hollow and lacking. This is something that I and the other Google reviewers seem to agree on. Join the throng and drink the tastiest damn beer you’re ever going to have, right from the source.

 

Sarajevska Pivara, Sarajevo

sarajevskapivara

Franjevačka 15, Sarajevo 71000

The best traditional brewery in the Balkans, a visit to Sarajevska Pivara for a beer and a nosy around is essential, almost regardless of the externalities.

Sarajevsko lager would be fairly anonymous were it sold in England or Germany but it just shows the paucity of real options in the former Yugoslav states that such a beer manages to stand out.

There’s no point being too sniffy about it though, they aren’t bad beers brewed here by any means, especially if you can drink the tank stuff which gets sent across the city, or if you visit the brewery itself, where the best tasting Sarajevsko can be found.

The brewery is located close to the centre, so can be joined on to any pub crawl near the old town fairly easily. The building sticks out like a sore thumb, as it was a concern of the Austro-Hungarian empire, constructed in 1864, so you won’t have any trouble finding it among the apartment blocks and ottoman buildings of the old town. Even if you have a poor sense of direction, don’t worry, the enormous backlit sign against the frontage will guide you there.

Although anything Austrian was a target of hatred for the Bosnians, over time the locals have grown an attachment to this place, having gradually appreciated it to be an asset and a source of jobs rather than grumbling about it being some imperial vestige. Astonishingly some people still hold a grudge despite the Empire ceasing to exist over a century ago.

Once you arrive, keep heading through the doors in order to find another shock, as the pivnica inside is a grand beer hall with a theatrical shape, a central area surrounded by balcony levels. This isn’t some modest or unconvincing imitation of another country’s style, it would be as impressive were it in Munich or Vienna. Opulent would be the word – it’s certainly there to make a statement. Take a seat and before long one of their ambling rotund servers will approach to take your order. Splutter ‘Pivo molim’ if you’re on your own, ‘piva molim’ if you’re in a group.

Gender politics are perhaps not quite as progressive in Bosnia as they are in the UK, and you can still expect the marketing of their beer to feature a sizeable bosom, often with a plate of meaty food. If you meet any Bosnians aged over 30, the strategy will hardly surprise you. See below:

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The beers are served in sturdy dimpled mugs and are fresh as you’re ever likely to get. The ‘tamno’ dark larger is much more generic, and probably best avoided out of winter unless you’re trying to increase your check-in count on Untappd. Sources reveal they have brought out an unfiltered lager since my visit, which will almost certainly be an improvement and is something I’d encourage anyone to try straight away.

It’s such a large venue, large groups are required to build the atmosphere inside. As it is rarely busier than ‘ticking over’, there is an unexploited potential here, however neither does it feel particularly abandoned. There’s a pleasant atmosphere as the disparate conversations bounce across the room. Take a minute or two to explore the bar area and the upstairs, as it really is a grand place.

A beer won’t set you back more a few Bosnian marks, so there’s no impediment to staying here for the duration and getting sloshed. Keep an eye out for the museum and lunch deal, if you’re coming during the day, which at 12 euros 50 represents pretty good value.

It’s always interesting seeing attempts to transplant one culture into another, and this pivnica/pivara allows you to experience this AND go to the pub. A slight improvement to the beer and the atmosphere aside, this place is fascinating, good fun and comes highly recommended.

  • Quality and/or choice of drinks – 7/10
  • Style and Decor – 9/10
  • Character, Atmosphere and/or Local Life – 8/10
  • Amenities, Events & Community – 7/10
  • Value for Money – 7/10
  • F: The Pub-Going Factor –  8/10