Czech Beer and Bars in Prague:
An Absolute Beginner’s Guide
As I imagine many of you are already aware, beer in the Czech Republic is kind of a big deal. They didn’t quite invent it (an honor ascribed to the Sumerians around 5,000 years ago), but they have done a lot to refine it into the delicious joy that it is today and to introduce the lovely little thing called a Pilsner into the world. Perhaps you’ve heard of the original?
Though Pilsner Urquell may no longer be the dominant beer on the Czech brewing scene, it was the first pale lager ever brewed. Staropramen, at least to my entirely unscientific understanding, seems to have eclipsed Pilsner Urquell on the international market (even if not domestically in the Czech Republic) but even if you don’t know the beer I’d bet that as a non-Czech reading this there is one other name that will stand out even more.
To be clear, no, this is not THAT Budweiser. Take a quick drink, and then read carefully here.
The Czech beer originally referred to as ‘Budweis Bier’ was founded by German brewers in 1785 (in a Czech city called Budějovice whose German name is the same as the beer: Budweis) and began exporting to the US in 1871, while the Anheuser-Busch beer of the same name hit the market in 1876. To further complicate things, a different Czech brewery was founded in the same town by Czech brewers who used the German description Budweiser in 1895. Complicated, right? Now get this: till 2012 both the American AND Czech beers were both distributed by InBev, which one would assume means they could find some way to get along! For the average traveling beer enthusiast, then, how to know which one you’re holding in your anticipatory little hand?
To put it most simply: if you have a Budweiser in North America or a ‘Bud’ anywhere else, you have a can of Anheuser-Busch flavored water. If you have a North American ‘Czechvar’ or ‘Budvar’ or a European ‘Budweiser’ you’ve got a historic Czech brew.
One other beer that I feel compelled to note is Kozel. Apparently you can head a short distance outside of Prague and visit the Kozel Brewery itself, and given that this is the beer I drink most often these days I was sorely tempted to do so. I mentioned that very fact to a Czech acquaintance, in fact, and how Kozel was one of the only two dark beers widely sold in stores where I live. I was immediately informed that dark beer is, at least to the traditional Czech mindset, a more effeminate drink than a proper pilsner. But you know what? No matter how hard you try you’re probably not going to impress your Czech friends with your beer drinking, so why even try? Drink what you prefer! Got it? Good, now, onto the bars!
Bars in Prague
In my brief visit, there were two kind of bars in Prague worth really checking out. The first were the kind that appealed to me as a traveler, local hole in the wall places (even if they were right in the heart of the Old Town tourist district) that feel like that nebulous descriptive authentic that many of us are always on about. The other kind were the bars that appealed to me as a beer drinker, with each one selling one or more microbrews that often were available only on tap and only at that particular spot. Very enticing, no? Add to that the price, just a dollar or two at most places (because you’re not drinking at tourist spots… amiright?), and there are lots of incentives to explore this very very traditional (I’m assured) side of Czech culture.
The only thing that I found really strange was that these two categories never really overlapped, but of course I only had time to visit a very small handful even of the limited number that were specifically recommended to me. Of particular note is that one of the more well known ‘traditional Czech pubs’ called “U Flecku” was recommended to me by a tour guide I didn’t much trust regarding beer and then scoffed at by a guy I did, and so in the end I avoided it. This is not so say you should or should not – that depends entirely on your travel proclivities.
Bars for Traditionalists
Right in the middle of everything, just off of Karlova street itself, is the Golden Tiger. This place just feels right, somehow. Walking in, you’ll likely have to stand for a moment so other patrons can be scooted around on the big communal tables to make room for your party. When you order, you’re likely to get “Beer or not beer?” as the only real question (if that). There are rumors of food, but I don’t recall having seen any. U Zlatého Tygra seems like a great place to hang out and pretend to be local. The beer itself, however? Fresh and tasty Pilsner Urquell, but in the end nothing you’ve never had before. Hours: 15:00 – 23:00. Location: Husova 228/17. Beer: 38 CZK.
A sort of similar experience but on the other side of the river, the Hippo was also lovely and atmospheric and felt totally full of local patrons and also had good but not special beer. Still worth a stop, especially because you’ll pass nearly beside the place at some point as you walk from the Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge. U Hrocha is somewhere else I would totally take friends (again) in Prague, just for the experience. Hours: 11:00 – 23:00. Location: Thunovská 20. Beer: 33 CZK.
The one bar I visited that I felt like I may not have done justice to was the Little Bear. I tried one beer I wasn’t crazy about (their own brew – Old Gott) and saw one little portion of the place and then decided it wasn’t the one. Walking out the other way, however, with plates full of delicious looking food and a couple other beers on offer made me wonder if perhaps I ought to reconsider. U Medvidku is also, as it turns out, one of the oldest microbreweries in Prague – in operation since 1466. (Or maybe the oldest? That Beer and Breweries Tour definitely mentioned it but I don’t recall for sure now.) Hours: 11:30 – 23:00. Location: Perštýně 7. Beer: 35-55 CZK.
A Bar for Beer Lovers
Though I won’t say the atmosphere at the Prague Bridge is any less beautiful than the others on this list, I wouldn’t describe it as quite so traditional. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the underground cellar and garden terrace of Pražský most u Valšů would fit in pretty well in Austin or Montrose or Seattle or any other hipster haven where having a decent restaurant menu and totally sweet design is just as important as the beer itself. That shouldn’t negatively reflect on the beer itself, of course, and this was some of the best I had at any of these spots. Just don’t expect to be crammed elbow-to-elbow with too many Czech grandpas. Hours: 11:00 – 23:00. Location: Betlemska 286/5. Beer: 45 CZK.
Not A Bar At All
Well… not A bar. Rather, a collection of bars. At least during summer weekends (though, uh, not so much on summer Wednesdays) the Naplavka Riverbank sells a lot of good beers to a lot of young Czechs who hang out by the boats/bars nearby or walk along the river to find a quiet place to chat. If you want to check it out, head to the Dancing House (its famous, google it) and walk south along the riverfront from there. Whether beer, spiders, music, or new friends… something will catch your interest.
I was in Prague mostly working as a photographer with GetYourGuide. A number of these places I visited as part of their Prague Beer and Breweries Tour, which included three bars/breweries/pubs and four different beers, but also quite a lot of information both on the process of making beer and on the particular history of beer in Prague. It was, to me, a pretty good starting point for getting a handle on the city’s beer culture and I would happily revisit two of these three bars in Prague were I to return.
Additionally, thanks are due to our AirBnB host Anton who (conveniently for us!) runs the Daily Beer website. If all of these places are as atmospheric as the recommendations Anton gave us, this website wont steer you wrong. If you’re not already on AirBnB, you can sign up here for $25 credit after your first stay. If you’re in Prague for more than just a few nights, Anton’s place was definitely worth looking at.
If you’re in on a short trip, the Prague Square Hostel is about as central as it gets. That ‘Beer and Breweries’ tour starts and ends a few minutes away, so finding your way home afterwards won’t be too much of a chore!