From traditional beer halls to chic new cocktail bars, Prague's not short of great places to stop off for a tipple or two
Its official: the Czechs are a nation of beer-lovers, drinking an incredible 157 litres of the amber nectar per person each year. This love of ale is at its most evident in the country’s capital city, Prague. Considering that the country’s citizens consume so much of it, it may come as no surprise that Czech beer is among the best in the world. Whether you plump for a Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Staropramen or Radegast, you won’t be disappointed, as many of these beers have few additives, giving a rich aroma and taste.
Many first-time visitors to Prague make a beeline for one of the city’s traditional beer halls. Whichever you choose, the set-up is roughly the same. Usually there is only one brand of beer served and simply sitting down at the communal benches tells the barman that you want 500ml of it. A glass is then unceremoniously thumped down in front of you. It is not uncommon for a refill to appear as you near the bottom of your drink, so if you don’t want another, put a beer mat on top of your glass.
A good pace to start is at U Fleku (Kremencova 11), an atmospheric microbrewery that has been making its own beer since 1499. The eponymous dark, creamy ale that arrives at your table is divine. Beware, though: U Fleku can be incredibly touristy, with big groups and oompah bands commonplace.
Another venue on the tourist drinking route, albeit this time unwillingly, is U Zlateho Tygra (Husova 17). Since it was visited by the former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, and then US Premier Bill Clinton in 1994, the Golden Tiger (which is what the name means in English) has found itself in myriad guidebooks. Today one of the few remaining traditional pubs in the heart of Prague’s old town very much wishes that tourists didn’t know it was there. Those who brave out the frosty reception are rewarded with a wonderfully cold and refreshing beer.
On the other side of the Vltava River, near Prague Castle, you will come across another old bar, U Cerneho Vola (Loretanske Namesti 1). This traditional beer hall is my favourite and serves rich and slightly bitter Kozel. Again, guidebook-toting tourists who invade the dark beer hall with loud chat and flashing cameras are not really welcome, but if you behave like a local and enjoy your drink quietly, no one will really mind you being there.
While the allure of Prague’s traditional bars is hard to resist, the city also has a sharply contrasting side. This glamorous European capital oozes stylish bars, chic restaurants and hip nightclubs. Drink with the in-crowd at Bugsy’s (Parizska 10), where the drinks menu boasts over 100 cocktails, or, if you like your alcohol to come with a view, make a beeline for Cloud 9 (Pobrezni 1), which occupies the ninth floor of the Hilton Hotel.
To find some of Prague’s trendiest hangouts, head to the suburb of Zizkov, where you will find a number of bars and clubs. I really like Hapu (Orlicka 8), a tiny bar renowned locally for its superb, lethal-strength cocktails. One of the city’s most popular nightclubs, XT3 (Rockycanova 29) also revels here in its new bigger venue. Back in the centre of town, Karlovy Lazne (Smetanovo nabrezi 198) is another of Prague’s leading nightlife venues. This super club comes complete with multiple dancefloors, chillout rooms and an Internet cafe.
Whether you want to unwind with a mellow beer in a traditional pub, or warm up for a night on the tiles over a cocktail in a trendy bar, Prague has something for you. The city’s nightlife is legendary and costs a fraction of a night out in the likes of London or Paris.
Where to stay
Hotel Savoy: a Prague institution in the stately Castle District, with complimentary mini-bars, a sauna and a Jacuzzi.
Where to eat
Kampa Park: on the banks of the Vltava, this is destination dining at its best.