From neighbourhood boozers to backstreet breweries, Gavin Haines sidesteps the stag-dos to unearth the best bars in Prague.
The man in front of me is called Derek and this weekend it’s his stag do. I know this because it says so on his T-shirt, which clashes awfully with his lederhosen and pink frilly scarf.
Derek has come to the “stag capital of Europe” for one last hoorah with the fellas before settling into married life in Swindon. His what-goes-on-tour-stays-on-tour weekend will pass through a myriad of sports bars, massage parlours and strip clubs, which have turned Prague into a Disneyland for drunks.
Fun though they are for the likes of Derek, these racy joints have edged out more traditional boozers and made it difficult for visitors to have an authentic night out in the Czech capital.
“In every city you see junk, but here it’s right next to the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square,” sighs Miloš Curik, a local guide. “Instead of a nice local pub or restaurant you have a Thai massage parlour – it’s a shame.”
But fear not, thirsty pilgrims, for Prague’s traditional boozers are alive and well. “You just need to know where to look,” says Miloš, taking me on a tour of the city’s hidden watering holes.
U Zlateho Tygra (At the Golden Tiger)
First stop is U Zlateho Tygra, a workingman’s pub in the heart of the city with literary connections. “The famous Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal, used to drink here,” explains Miloš. “It was his second home.”
Looking around this smoky bar you get the impression it remains a second home for many of its punters.
“This is a proper local’s pub,” says Miloš. “It serves good Pilsner Urquell at reasonable prices and it’s packed all day.”
Patrons tend not to speak English, but they’re welcoming to tourists. The décor is defiantly old school with its stained glass windows, oak wall panelling and vaulted ceiling.
Husova 17, Prague (tel: +420 2222 21111)
“This was the first microbrewery in Prague,” says Miloš, showing me around U Fleku. “I used to come here when I was studying across the road.”
Founded in 1499, this microbrewery is housed in a characterful period property, where drinkers can quaff the house tipple in decorative beer cellars or outside in the cobbled courtyard.
Deciding what to order is easy because they only brew one beer: Fleku dark, which slips down like liquid velvet. “The recipe has never changed,” says Miloš, sipping his beer. “You can’t buy this stuff anywhere else in the world.”
Kremencova 11, Prague (tel: +420 2249 34019; www.ufleku.cz)
U Tri Ruzi (The Three Roses)
This backstreet boozer is another microbrewery offering craft beers on tap, which are brewed in giant copper kettles behind the bar.
The černý (dark ale) is particularly memorable, although all their beers are worth sampling. “I think big breweries in the Czech Republic should be worried because there are some very good microbreweries opening up,” says Miloš. “And this is one of the best.”
As well as fine ales, U Tri Ruzi serves generous portions of Czech staples such as smoked pork knuckle. Leaving here is a struggle.
Husova 10, Prague (tel: +420 6015 88281; www.u3r.cz)
This Czech chain has a winning formula; cheap beer, good food and generous portions – no wonder its restaurants are so popular with locals.
Scattered around the city, these canteen-style eateries have a great atmosphere and are perfect if you want to eat and drink with the natives.
They can be a tad noisy (and some are a bit smoky), but if you do get chance then while away an evening in your nearest Lokal. Or head to Lokal Dlouha, which is one of the best.
Dlouha 33, Prague (tel: +420 2223 16265; lokal-dlouha.ambi.cz)
Kulovy Blesk (Firebolt)
This local boozer might not look much from the outside (in fact, it looks rather austere), but any preconceptions evaporate the minute you step through the door.
Serving an ever changing roster of Czech beers, this cosy cellar bar is a favourite amongst locals and clued-up tourists alike. “It’s a great pub,” says Miloš. “Not just because of the beer, but because of the food.”
However, its stellar reputation and cramped confines means getting a table can be tricky, so book ahead.
Sokolska 13, Prague (tel: +420 7214 20859; www.restauracekulovyblesk.cz)
Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde both found inspiration in absinthe, so presumably they would have been big fans of this bar, which is dedicated exclusively to the potent liquor.
Granted, Absintherie is hardly off the tourist trail – it attracts many tourists as well as local students – but this eccentric little joint is well worth pulling into for a few glasses of the green stuff.
There are 60 varieties to choose from and the talented bartenders have come up with some great absinthe cocktails if you don’t fancy taking it neat.
Jilska 7, Prague (tel: +420 2242 51999; www.absintherie.cz)
You can have too much of a good thing and if you’re feeling a bit bloated by beer then head to this excellent wine bar for something lighter.
Located near the Charles Bridge, Vino Graf’s knowledgeable staff give uninitiated patrons a lesson in Czech wine, which is produced largely in the county of Moravia.
It’s not exactly cheap, but the quality of wine is outstanding. Make sure you arrive peckish so you can treat yourself to Vino Graf’s exquisite cheese platters, which are served with local hams and pickles.
Míšeňská 68/8, Prague (tel: +420 6047 05730; www.vinograf.cz)
Located in what Miloš describes as the “trendy part of town”, Kozicka is a magnet for Prague’s pretty young things, who come to this cosy cellar bar to sip drinks and dance the night away.
The vibe is lively and the drinks cheap, but the food tends to be hit and miss – although who wants to be quaffing a roast knuckle of pork when you could be dancing with young Czechs until the small hours? Drink and be merry, but don’t eat.
Kozi 1, Prague (tel: +420 2248 18308; www.kozicka.cz)