Prague’s history is impossible to escape – the architecture alone pushes you back a hundred years or more. When it’s time for a break, day or night, there are a variety of establishments with a special history, a special beverage, or both. Here are five of our favorites.
Morning cup of joe with philosophers
You probably won’t hear anyone waxing poetic if you visit Café Louvre today, unless they are singing the praises of a slice of cake. As one of the most historic cafes in the city, the Louvre was known as a favorite haunt for a variety of creative sorts. Writer Franz Kafka was part of a group that met at the café to discuss the ideas of philosopher and psychologist Franz Brentano while literary and human rights were hashed over courtesy of the Czech branch of PEN (a global literary society), founded locally by Karel and Josef Capek. Art too brought people to the Louvre, thanks to the Sursum art association. The Louvre is located just down the street from the National Theater and the streets behind it offer antique shops, old bookstores and galleries – perfect places to while away an afternoon exploring.
Nowadays, you are more likely to find politicians, business people and others enjoying the elegant café, delicious desserts and very popular and affordable lunch menu. For its history, location and renown, the Louvre remains surprisingly local, and you seem to be infused with the energy of Prague today even while your surroundings say 1920s. The large, high ceiling rooms can be noisy, so it’s not the place to bring a book, but the people watching is great and servers smoothly glide around the many tables. It’s a proper dose of café culture.
Sanctuary of tea
What appears to be (and is) a book and music store with a busy tram stop in front is actually a tea oasis. Yes, it’s cliché, but the sensation of going from the noisy outdoors to the tranquil interior of U Džoudyho is quite moving. The main room is bright and modern with blonde wooden tables and chairs while upstairs a proper tea room has been arranged with low tables and cushions on the floor.
In nice weather snag a spot in the lovely outdoor courtyard. Tea lovers will appreciate the knowledgeable staff and imported tea selection – there’s always a “tea of the day” list and this is your best bet for trying something new and fresh. This isn’t boiling water and a bag; this is properly prepared and served tea, and the prices reflect it. The tea pot and mugs are brought to the table already warm; and the leaves will be floating in the suitably hot water. U Džoudyho is a place for connoisseurs, but it’s also welcoming for those who aren’t so knowledgeable about tea, but who still enjoy an as-it-should-be cuppa. Ask questions, get recommendations and most importantly have an amazing tea experience. Simply sitting in their welcoming space is respite itself.
Beer with the monks
If you’ve been brewing beer since the beginning of the 14th century, we will assume you’ve got things figured out by now. At Prague’s Strahov monastery, next to Prague Castle, what’s now the restaurant was built as a new and fully functionary brewery under the Abbot’s orders in 1628. Visiting today, you can choose to try one of the home-brewed St. Norbert’s beer in the brewery bar, restaurant or large outdoor courtyard. All are decorated in “Czech pub” style – a big open room, with long wooden communal tables and a mix of benches and chairs.
St. Norbert’s serves three types of beer – all unfiltered – year round, plus seasonal varieties. You can always find the very hoppy India Pale Ale; a medium-bodied amber, which is reminiscent of Bavarian beer and a dry, bitter and caramel-y dark beer. Seasonal specials include a summer wheat beer which is quite clove-y and with a low hops flavor. In autumn, they’ll offer a second dark beer and in November a brown ale; special beers come out for Christmas and Easter as well. The menu offers hearty Czech food that goes well with beer, and prices are surprisingly reasonable given the location and generous portion sizes. Try their svícková (beef in a cream sauce); smažený rízek (pork schnitzel) or roasted pork. St. Norbert’s is the perfect way to complete a visit to Prague Castle – be sure to walk down through Petrín Park afterwards to work off your meal.
Tiny bar, massive wines
“Give me some idea of what you prefer and then I’ll recommend wines for you,” said Markéta, the bartender at Vinograf near Charles Bridge. Her spot-on knowledge of wines and ability to discuss them makes an evening spent sipping here as enjoyable as the wines. Vinograf is tiny and service is friendly; there are only seven tables, and with just five bartenders on staff your wine of choice is most likely to be remembered. Decoration is mainly limited to wine bottles which almost completely cover the walls. Tables are often reserved, so it’s best to phone ahead, especially in the winter.
Markéta says they offer 250 different bottles of wine, mostly Czech, but also Champagnes, Italian reds, Austrian whites and other specialties. The Czech Republic’s beverage reputation is pretty much dominated by beer, but the country has a number of well-regarded wineries, and Vinograf is the perfect hideaway to taste the fruits of their vines. Vinograf is located in a wonderful part of Malá Strana – just below the Charles Bridge and a picturesque area with winding streets and original shops.
Catching the green fairy
Absinthe is that “naughty” drink – pretty much banned for most of the 20thcentury around the world, it’s always been readily available in bars and shops across Prague. First produced as a medicinal drink in Switzerland, by the end of the 19th century it had surpassed wine as the drink of choice in France. French winemakers were not pleased, and much of absinthe’s reputation is down to their smear campaign. Absinthe is reputed to have hallucinogenic effects, but modern day testing has proven it not to be true, so while you may not see pink elephants after having a go at the green fairy, the process of actually drinking absinthe is pretty neat.
In Prague, the Hemingway Bar boasts an enviable “real” absinthe list offering about 50 different types. Absinthe has gotten a bad reputation (again) this time for being cheap, mass-produced, green-dye hard alcohol masquerading as absinthe. At the Hemingway Bar, the varieties on offer are from the Czech Republic, France, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and Slovenia, and are all from proper producers, many who use original recipes and real herbs. The staff is happy to answer questions and then put on a mini-show as they prepare the absinthe for you. Your server will place a sugar lump on a special slotted spoon and slowly pour cold water over it so it dissolves into the absinthe glass. This dilutes and slightly sweetens the absinthe, making it a bit more palatable. The tiny, dark and cozy bar is a cocktail lovers’ dream thanks to their well-versed bartenders and extensive menu. Close to the National Theater, the streets around Hemingway Bar hold a variety of local restaurants and bars which makes it an interesting area to explore day or night.