by Jake Klein
“Pivo! Pivo!” Like a battle cry, the happy revelers crowding Prague’s endless pubs joyously shout the Czech word for “beer.” It’s no surprise that Prague is such a beer-friendly city. The Czech people drink more beer per capita than any other country in the world with an adult average of almost 87 gallons per adult, per year. That’s more than a full oil drum.Over the last 1,000 years, Prague’s place in beer history has been firmly established — it is, in fact, one of the favored destinations for beer lovers across the globe. And for good reason: The city is rife with friendly neighborhood pubs, huge seasonal outdoor beer gardens and more nightclubs, speakeasies and saloons than any one person could ever hope to traverse in just one visit.
Even the most casual of drinking halls offers at least 30 kinds of beer, many of them homegrown and impossible-to-find regional delicacies sure to delight the most sophisticated drinker. And like the concoctions of Prague’s neighbor, Germany, Czech beer is brewed without chemical additives.
Making the pilgrimage to Prague is something that everyone–beer drinker or not–must do at least once in a lifetime. It’s one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe and is the only fully preserved of the “old” European capitals. Unlike London or Paris, for example, Prague’s cobblestone streets and ornate gothic architecture are still intact and in full daily use in spite of occupation and rule by both Nazis and Communists.
The traveler lusting for new brews should visit during the warmer months (June through September), as this is when the streets come alive with what amounts to a months-long celebration of Czech beer culture. Giant outdoor beer gardens spring up around the city, along the riverbank and near the parks, offering hundreds of varieties of local brews until midnight and beyond. Some of the more popular venues include Leni Bar, which serves only Budvar and is a great stop on your way to the beach at one end of the island. Letenske Sady is a large park that offers some of the best views of nighttime Prague and hosts a popular summer festival. Also, swing by the Park Café, which is hugely popular and the top spot to mingle with the locals who gather by the hundreds to play tabletop football and watch sports on a giant screen stretched across the treetops.
One the most enjoyable things about this fairytale-like city is its nighttime pub life. No matter what your mood, weather or budget, Prague is always a treasure trove of endless (and endlessly changing) places to drink. Though the city is notoriously fickle, there are some great old establishments that remain staples. For your first stop, try U Vystreleneho oka with its great, loud beer garden and solid variety of brews. Watch out for the vinyl headrests above the urinals, something that actually came in handy on a particularly festive evening spent here. For a little culture clash, be certain to stop by O’Che’s Cuban-Irish Bar, one of the most unexpected and popular additions to Prague’s nightlife. The bar is exactly what it sounds like: an expat haven that pays homage to both Che Guevara and leprechauns. Don’t miss ex-President Vaclav Havel’s favorite pub, Hostinec u Kocoura, “Tomcat” in English. This local hotspot is crowded every night of the week and has some of the best beer prices in town. Last but not least, be certain to drink in one of Prague’s celebrated microbreweries, Pivovarsky Dum. Some of Prague’s tastiest dark lagers are actually brewed right on the premises, as well as some interesting wheat beer and a menu full of flavored brews like banana, cherry, apple and cheese. Best of all, you’ll know you’ve done a thorough job of your beer tour through Prague when you qualify for the world’s biggest beer belly contest held in the bar (of Pivovarsky Dum) every summer. •