Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Prague Beer Gardens

I wasn’t aware that Prague had any beer gardens; certainly not in the accepted view of such establishments. However, having made my previous visit during a particularly cold December, there was certainly no reason for me trying to track any down beer. My original visit to the Czech capital took place in 1984, and was arranged under the auspices of the then state-owned, Czechoslovak Travel Agency, Cedok.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were that strictly supervised, under the care of the latter organisation, but our itinerary allowed precious free time in which to go off exploring on one’s own. Furthermore, back then I had never been to a European beer garden, Cxezh, German or otherwise so wasn't really on the lookout for such places.
It therefore came as something of a surprise that whilst researching places to visit for the trip we have recently returned from, I came across a site giving details of around half a dozen beer gardens within the city. As it happened, we only managed to visit two of them and certainly when compared to our experiences of beer gardens in Munich, we were less than impressed.  I don't know what tradition of out door drinking, if any, exists in what is now modern day Bohemia, compared to neighbouring Bavaria, where the tradition of going to the beer garden dates back a couple of hundred years. Certainly the two gardens we visited in Prague were, apart from the benches and tables laid out beneath the chestnut trees, nothing like their counterparts in Munich and Bavaria.  For a start the serving area in each of them was nothing more than a small kiosk, compared to the elaborate Ausschänke typical of Bavarian beer gardens. For the record, though here’s what we found. 

Letna Beer Garden - Located inside Letna Park, a popular and attractive city park above the west bank oo the Vltava River, overlooking Stare Mesto. Letna Beer Garden is a large shady area with lots of picnic tables, directly across from Letensky Zamecek, (Letna Chateau), with arguably the best view of Prague. The beer is Gambrinus 10, served in a plastic glass from a kiosk. There is also a restaurant to the rear of the beer garden.

We visited his particular beer garden during our first afternoon in Prague. Hungry and thirsty, in equal measure, after an early morning flight, we headed for Letna after checking into our hotel, dumping of our baggage and then catching the tram back into the centre of Prague. It was a lovely, late-September day, (having left a wet and windy England far behind us), and we were determined to make the most of the good weather. The beer garden took a bit more tacking down than we’d anticipated, but whilst the Gambrinus beer was cool, refreshing and very welcome, (despite being served in a plastic glass), there appeared to be nothing available in the way of food.

Undeterred, we grabbed a seat at one of the many tables on the edge of the terrace, over-looking Prague, where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. Considering the warm sunny weather there weren’t that many people sitting out, but at least the place was mercifully free from tourists! After one beer though,our hunger was starting to get the better of us. We had eaten nothing since 5.30am, and only then had a quick sandwich prior to our flight. I had noticed quite a posh looking restaurant, with an outside terrace, towards the rear of the beer garden. We decided to investigate further, and found to our delight that the prices were quite reasonable. We grabbed a table, ordered a beer from the attractive Czech waitress - Pilsner Urquell, this time in a proper glass, and were soon tucking into a plate each of Czech-style sliced beef in goulash sauce, with bread dumplings as an accompaniment.

Lentni Zahradka Prazan - Situated close to the entrance to Stromovka Park. On tap are Unetice filtered 10 and unfiltered 12, traditional Pilsner-style beers from a well-regarded new brewery in Unetice, a small town just outside Prague. Plastic glasses again, unfortunately. Quite small and squeezed into a corner, opposite the exhibition centre.

At 6.30pm on a late September evening, we didn't really pick the ideal time to visit this one, but unfortunately our itinerary, plus the need for some last minute shopping,  precluded a daytime visit. Consequently it was starting to get dark. There were still quite a few people around, and the beer garden was situated quite close to the entrance to the park, so we weren't particularly worried about our safety. What was more off-putting was the sharp drop in temperature. We ordered ourselves a beer each from the small kiosk, but unfortunately, once again it was served in plastic glasses. The unfiltered Unetice 12 was certainly well-hopped, but the place had all the atmosphere as a seafront shelter on a wet Bank Holiday weekend, so after just the one beer we left for somewhere warmer and somewhere that served food.

Obviously our two brief visits only scratched the surface of Prague's beer garden scene, and given the time of year we didn't exactly see them in their best light. I'm sure that earlier in the year they are packed with people escaping the heat of the city, enjoying each others company, plus a beer or two. Not sure about the plastic glasses though!

I would, however be interested to learn of other people's experiences of beer gardens in the Czech Republic.

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