Prague has been on the up for a long-time, but now its cocktail scene is finally catching up. Alongside some industry experts, MIXOLOGY author Andrew Wilkin took a look at the city internationally hitherto more known for beer and found a buzzing cocktail scene well-worth a visit.
Prague was once associated with the stag-do crowd, a city known more for affordable pilsner than an expertly-mixed Old Fashioned. That’s not quite the case nowadays. A thriving scene of cocktail bars have opened up in the beer-loving city, from speakeasies to hotel bars, serving up well-regarded cocktails to the denizens of the Golden City. There’s some tradition too – the likes of Alex Kratena, previously behind the stick at the Artesian and now in charge of P(our), hails from the city as do Zdenek Kastanek and Kamil Foltan, who work respectively at 28, Hong Kong Street and the Tippling Club in Singapore.
It’s time to ditch the cliché. Prague is good for much more than beer! Alongside some industry figures who visit the city regularly, we’ve listed the top 5 bars you should definitely visit on your next visit to the Golden City.
Hemingway Bar – more than a man
Ernest Hemingway didn’t just love putting pen to paper. He also – (in)famously – loved a tipple. But don’t be fooled into thinking the eponymous Hemingway Bar is all theme and no substance. Run by Ales Puta, the bar is one Soňa Hanušová, Editor in Chief of Barlife.cz, recommends for its “great hospitality.” A homage to classic Americana, it’s done up in dark wood with cozy leather chairs. The team of slick bartenders do their stuff expertly, all the whilst with hair slicked back and suspenders resting over their crisp white shirts. Photos of Mr Hemingway cover the walls and the soundtrack is blues.
But here, the man never eclipses the drinks. The eponymous Hemingway Daiquiri – Havana Club 3 Años rum, Maraschino, fresh lime, pink grapefruit juice, and a dash of sugar syrup – is a lip-smacking, more-than-its-title given. Then there’s the country’s biggest absinthe list – a list including many rare replicas – plenty of different cigars, and traditional Czech spirits galore, including the Becherovka herbal liqueur.
Hemingway’s crowning glory, however, is their over 200 varieties of rum. The bar is also the founder of the Czech Republic’s Rum Club. They host regular talks on the topic and guests also able to order a rum “tasting experience”, consisting of two-centilitre samples of rum served with chocolate, nuts and dried fruit. All of this – from the rum selection to the great hospitality – has seen it recently nominated for a MIXOLOGY BAR AWAD 2017 for Best European Bar. Fingers crossed!
Black Angel’s – a menu to gawp at
Most bars in Prague are either decked out in beer hall style or go for a distinctly classic American vibe. Black Angel’s instead does epic grandeur. Located on the 2nd floor of the Hotel U Prince in Prague’s Old Town Square, Black Angel’s boasts a room with a stone vaulted ceiling and crystal chandeliers, with an expert pianist playing in the background. “When I first walked into this bar, it took my breath away,” says Lubos Racz. He notes the epic setting – although it’s not just that. “The very attentive service of the barchef Frantisek Holecek also adds to the procession,” he adds.
It also boasts arguably the most exquisitely designed menu in the city, led by an overarching story about a bartender travelling back in time – with stories and drawings joining the recipes. The cocktails – which include classics, twists and even Tiki drinks – are world-class but there’s a local sensibility to it too, utilizing regionally-produced spirits in their drinks. “Black Angel’s, a bar that could as well be in London or Chicago, still puts a háček, the Czech accent, on the cocktail world,” says drinks journalist and MIXOLOGY regular Roland Graf, a seasoned visitor to the city. “Who ever liked to taste the Czech national spirit Becherovka in a cocktail, should have a Black Angel’s Medicine in honor of the bar’s co-founder Tomáš Mucha, who passed away last year,” he advises.
L’FLeur – pop the cork
L’FLeur brings Paris to Prague. But don’t fret – the crazy price-tags of the City of Love are left far behind. Decorated in Belle Epoque style and evocative of the 1920’s, the mantra of L’FLeur is mixology and champagne. Owner Miloš Danihelka – joined by co-owner Vítězslav Cirok – has a penchant for small champagne producers, reportedly going once every 3 months to champagne to buy bottles from the region’s wine growers. Alongside the normal, there’s some rare and collectible champagnes on the menu too.
Roland Graf recommends relaxing in the pub-like space with their goat cheese-Martini or enjoying “a rare vintner’s champagne World class-level at an incredible seven Euros per drink.” They experiment with barrel aged drinks, with eight on the menu, and the hosts, impeccably charming, are happy to explain the drinks to the guests.
The Paris connection is still there in abundance. “L’FLeur started a second menu recently, inspired by the Louvre. So there’s the whole world there, but it’s still connected with Paris,” says Sona Hanušová.
Parlour – the living room
The Parlour is one of Prague’s most intriguing spaces. Take Sona Hanušová’s view on it: “The guys who own this bar are not interested in guests. Well, they are, but according to their rules, you have to play their game,” she says, somewhat mystically.
Their bar is something like their living room – when you go to the Parlour you truly are going to their pad. There’s space for approximately 15 people, armchairs you can sink into, a chess board, and a bunch of Terry Pratchett books lying about. Its hidden location – near Wenceslas Square but just far enough away – means it avoids the mass crowds and retains some calm. And the cocktails – as befits the “cocktail artists”, as they call themselves – are top-notch. Based on your mood, they’ll mix you a personalized cocktail to your taste.
Bugsy’s Bar – twenty years on
Sometimes the key in problem-solving is to go back to the beginning. When deciding where to drink in Prague, at Bugsy’s Bar, you’re doing just that. “You can’t talk about great Prague bars and not mention Bugsy’s,” admits Lubos Racz, who finds time to also call it “a true legend”. Bugsy’s Bar, located just off the Golden City’s main shopping street, was the first bar in Prague after the end of the Soviet Union to serve cocktails. It opened in 1996 and has stayed en vogue with city’s barflies ever since.
Owner Vaclar Vojir is also a welcome mainstay. As you would anticipate from the bar’s name, referencing Bugsy Malone, it’s dandy, dapper and kicks back with a vibe of old-school glamour. The room is adorned with curved ceilings, glass counters and a dramatically back-lit bar packed with everything you would expect from a modern cocktail bar – and some surprises too. A large varied champagne list boosts the glam credentials and Bugsy’s boasts a strong sake selection too. And the cocktail menu has both classics and twists, all living up to it’s “Cocktailicious” menu title.
Bildquelle: Photo via Miroslav Petrasko/Flickr.