Monday, 8 October 2012

Prague 2012

Well it’s been just over a week now since my return from Prague. I’ve lots to report and I'm pleased to say that it's nearly all good as well. Whilst this was my third visit to the Czech capital, it was my son’s first trip there and I can safely say he enjoyed it every bit as much as I did. 

So where to start? Beer wise it was all good, with some excellent brews available at prices we can only dream of here in the UK. Even in the centre of Prague one was only paying the equivalent of £1.25 – £1.50 for a half litre, working out at £1.40 – £1.70 a pint. The beer was all good, but some obviously better than others, and what I especially liked was the thick creamy head it came with. Now that’s saying something for a southerner! Memorable examples were found in the beer hall at U Medvidku, right in the centre of town, where both the light and dark versions of Budvar were served in this fashion. The food was also extremely good, very reasonably priced and served in generous portions. To the left of the beer hall is a separate room where one can sit at the bar and enjoy specialities of the house, including an un-filtered 6.1% beer, called 1466, which was quite bitter in taste, and also  the 5.2% Oldgott Barrique, a dark amber lager produced in a small  brewery on the premises, alongside a strong 12.% bottled beer called X-Beer 33. U Medvidku certainly got our thumbs up, providing one timed ones visit to miss the parties of visiting Americans! 

We also liked Baranicka Rychta in Mala Strana, situated in a cul-de-sac just up from the American Embassy. On a warm September afternoon we sat out on the terrace outside amusing ourselves watching tourists walking up the hill, only to find their way barred by a metal gate! The pub served excellent Svijany beer  from the town of the same name in northern Bohemia, and we also enjoyed  the traditional Czech delicacy of deep-fried cheese with  bramboracky potato cake for our lunch. The interior was every bit as traditional as well, and despite its location  in the exclusive embassy district, was very reasonably priced and with friendly staff to boot.

We were pleased to find our hotel, whilst some distance outside the centre of Prague (well five stops on Metro Line C), was just three tram stops away from the Richter Brewery Pub. This pub was a proper Czech local, but despite speaking no Czech we were made very welcome, and as no English language menus were available were provided with one in German, which at least ensured we could order some food and know what we were getting! The house pilsner was very well hopped, and again served with that thick creamy head. There was also a stronger, 6.3% beer available The food too was tasty, filling and reasonably priced and we ended up making two visits in total on those nights we didn’t fancy venturing into the city centre.
As well as Evan Rail's excellent CAMRA Guide, now becoming slightly out of date, and pages printed off from Ron Pattison’s European Beer Guide, we used a really good contemporary site confusingly called  Prague Beer Garden, but whilst it does contain a section on the city's handful of beer gardens, is much more  a good pub guide to Prague. This directed us to several places which we would not have found otherwise, including the cosy Prazsky Most u Valsu restaurant and brew-pub, right in the centre of the Old Town. We dined here on our first night in the city, sampling both the light and the dark beers, brewed downstairs. Interestingly, the portion of the pub underground was much more extensive than that above, and seemed a popular hangout for students and young people.

No trip to Prague, of course is complete without a visit to U Fleku, the world's oldest surviving brew-pub. This legendary establishment needs no introduction to beer lovers the world over, but unfortunately has become a victim of its own success in recent times, and is now something of a tourist trap. That said, it still produces its world-classic, house-brewed dark lager, sweet and chocolaty in taste and decidedly moreish. I first visited U Fleku on a still, warm October evening, back in 1984, whilst on a CAMRA organised trip to what was then Czechoslovakia. Back then the clientele sitting out in the rear courtyard were mainly young people, with a large proportion of them probably students. Today, most  customers are tourists, but with the weather again being kind, we were able to escape the crowded bar immediately to the left of the entrance hall, and once again enjoy the relative tranquillity of the courtyard.

That was until the wretched accordion player turned up! Actually he wasn't as bad as the waiter who persistently tried to foist  Becherovka shots onto us. Matthew thought I was being rude by refusing, until I pointed out the price of these seemingly "free" liqueurs on the menu; 79 Kc, more than double the price of the beer! The pushy waiter and the erstwhile musician eventually took the hint and went off to pester some other group of tourists, leaving us alone to enjoy a couple of glasses of the excellent beer (only 0.4l glasses though!). 

I said at the beginning of this post that it was nearly all good, and indeed it was. Our one slightly sour note wasn't really even that sour thinking back, but was probably just an unfortunate mix-up. One night finding  U Medvidku packed with the aforementioned parties of tourists, we walked along to U Bubenicku, an old fashioned, but very atmospheric Czech beer hall, a short distance away in Myslikova, and listed on the Prague Beer Garden website.  They had Pilsner Urquell plus the dark Kozel Tmavy on tap, and after managing to secure a table we sat down to enjoy our beer and order some food. The pork Schnitzel with mashed potato I ordered was excellent and very filling, but it took quite a long time to arrive. I didn't mind as the dark Kozel in particular was especially good. It was also interesting just watching the comings and goings. The problem came when we asked for the bill and found we had been charged for four beers each, rather than three. We believe this came about because more than one waitress had been working the tables and, unlike all the other pubs we visited, the staff weren't following the Czech (and German) custom of recording the number of beers served by means of  ticks on a beer mat.

We sorted it out quite amicably in the end, but I couldn't help my suspicion that this was a deliberate ploy to get a bit extra out of the tourists. That said I would still go back there as the place had a terrific atmosphere and, like I said, the beer and food were both excellent.

To sum up, the beer scene in Prague has improved even more since my last visit in December 2009. With a bit of homework and some forward planning, it is possible to drink and dine very well, and at very reasonable prices, in a capital city that is a major tourist destination for over 12 million visitors a year! I've got a few more tales to tale and experiences to relate, so keep watching these pages.

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