Franz Kafka, when talking about his home city, declared that ‘Prague never lets you go, this dear little mother has sharp claws’. She certainly does, and when she gets them into you on a nefarious night out it can be quite an experience.
The price of a pint may have gone up since Kafka’s drinking days, but it’s not all about the new wave of Irish bars and Latino lounges either. There are still plenty of proper beer halls and vibrant watering holes the locals would be seen dead in, if you know where to look…
1. Prague’s oldest bar
Columbus had just landed in the Americas when they started serving the frothy stuff at U Fleku in 1499. They brew their own beer too, a rich, dark ale with a little fizz that goes down all too well. If you ask nicely they may let you sneak a look at their bijou brewery. U Fleku is, of course, pretty touristy, but the beer is spot on and they do decent hearty Czech food too, such as beef and dumplings smothered in cream. We suggest leaving when the deafening oompah band kicks into life, or you could just retreat to their courtyard.
2. Clinton’s favourite boozer
Proper old skool beer halls in the centre of the old town are becoming something of a rarity as theme pubs catering for the stag party crowd take over. Somehow though U Zlateho Tygra soldiers on at the heart of it all. Not that you’d know it’s here. Yes, it has a sign, but this hideaway is both unassuming and positively unwelcoming with a curtain hiding you from the action. Ditch the guidebook and camera, put on your grumpiest expression and bash in. Grab a pew – often all spaces will say reserved but they’re just trying to scare away tourists – and wait. For seconds. Don’t try to order. A perfectly chilled flagon of Pilsner Urquell will soon arrive and they keep coming until you beg them to stop. We refuse to speculate on how many Bill Clinton had when he bundled in with Czech president Vaclav Havel.
3. Castle bolthole
The prime tourist district around Prague Castle has more than a few tourist shops, but is surprisingly free of decent boozers. U Cerneho Vola (the Black Bull) is a no frills bar that serves delicious beer. Rather unusually its Velkopopovicky Kozel, or Kozel for short, is brewed outside the city limits in Velke Popovice. We also recommend the Velkopopovicky Kozel Tmavy, the Kozel’s darker, even more flavoursome cousin. The food is basic to say the least, so best stick to the beer.
4. Tower tipple
You really cannot miss the Zizkov Tower, the futuristic rocket that towers over Prague at a height of 216 metres. Built to block transmissions from the decadent West it ironically wasn’t finished until after the Berlin Wall came down. The hip bar is all black-clad staff and cocktails, but the main highlight is the views of the city. There is a restaurant here too and if you’re feeling flash, a single suite that costs €1,000 a night!
5. Beer and bikes
This classic wee bolthole is all very Prague. Yes, Bajkazyl is a brilliant bar, but that’s only half the story, as in the other half of the building you can have your bike patched up. This brilliant concept allows you to tuck into a cold one as your puncture is mended and vintage vinyl plays in the background. The beer of choice here is Uneticke Pivo 12°. Note that the 12 degrees mercifully does not indicate the alcohol content, but the level of malted barley to water. Phew!
6. Food with your beer
The line between bars and restaurants in Prague is heavily muddied with the beer hall concept being a mixture of both. We’d heartily recommend U Basníka Panve in upcoming Vinohrady for both its food and its beer. Tuck into a cold one on their terrace on a warm day or get cosy in the lavish space inside. Line your stomach with a classic plate of traditional cream smothered pork and dumplings. They do them well here, with a dash of panache, the odd herb and even a nod to presentation. Not so much reinventing the wheel, as satisfyingly tweaking the Bohemian cliché.
7. Bohemian bar
If you fancy a slice of culture with your booze head to Palac Akropolis in the hip Zizkov district and a world away from tourist Prague. They stage avant-garde plays, indie gigs and a world music festival here. The Divadelní (theatre) Bar has nightly DJs and occasional MCs, while the Mala Scena boasts live jams and sofas. The former coffeehouse at street level is now a restaurant and pub. Palac Akropolis is also often one of the key venues during the much-lauded Prague Fringe Festival.
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