The Czech Republic is synonymous with superb beer however this is not a beer guide, that will follow.
It all started with a simple question: “Can you recommend a good absinthe bar?”
It was our first afternoon in Prague, and as we ransacked the city for our tour guide’s favourite bars and beer gardens on our Urban Adventures History of Beer tour, my travel partner-in-crime asked the near-fatal question that would send us on an unexpected exploration of Prague’s underrated cocktail scene.
Although our guide was purely a beer monger (he brewed his own), he answered unequivocally and without hesitation.
“Oh, that’s easy. Hemingway’s.”
Our three-hour beer tour turned into a six-hour good time and we headed back to our hotel for a change of clothes, with little doubt that we’d end up in Hemingway’s as fast as our still-thirsty feet could take us.
Hemingway’s (Nove Mesto)
At ten-thirty in the evening, on a quiet winding street in Prague’s ‘new city’, we found what we came for and were met inside by a statuesque hostess who suggested we come back in a bit as the bar was full. We lit a cigarette and waited, eventually finding our way in.
Seating only about a dozen people, the place was a dark and smoky masterpiece. Classically framed in dark old wood and nondescript otherwise, Hemingway’s caters mainly to locals and was easily likeable. Through catchy 50s tunes, we were greeted and handed their heavy cocktail menus.
In great English, our waiter caringly explained the page-long absinthe list and we opted for the distilled Czech gem, St. Antoine, to start. The apparatus brought before us stood on our table like a trophy, working diligently to drip ice-cold water into our wormwood drinks to dilute them. When the water half-filled our glasses, we shut off the spouts, clinked our glasses and dove in. Taking a solid pull from our drinks, we warmed up immediately.
We worked our way through the absinthe page of the menu, trying another Czech offering each, before moving on to the French selections, chatting with our friendly waiter who would later recommend another cocktail bar for next night’s shenanigans at a place he frequents after his shifts, Black Angel’s Bar.
Black Angel’s Bar (Stare Mesto)
Surprised to find the bar directly in the touristy Old Town Square, I had my doubts. At least it was in the basement, I remember thinking, as the last place we wanted was some tourist trap, but alas, there we were.
I almost didn’t want to like the place, but the fireplace, exposed brick, soft orange lighting and boxes of Cohibas locked behind glass on the wall gave the space enough warmth and character that we took a seat at the bar.
Pavel wore a classic white shirt, a vest and a bow-tie and was the head bartender on duty. He quickly served up a couple of drinks that weren’t on the menu and we got to chatting. Having learned the tricks of the trade as an apprentice, Pavel was an old-school mixologist, young and charismatic. It was a slower than usual night, so he began to practice his original elixirs on us for a mixology competition he had entered.
Feeling warm and fuzzy from potent Negroni, we struck up a conversation with a trio of patrons who we overheard raving about how inexpensive their drinks were compared to their hometown of London, England. At Black Angel’s Bar, a beautifully crafted 2-ounce drink would cost you 150CZK (approximately $9CAD or less than 5 Pound Sterling).
Serving up another round, our helpful bartender asked where else in the city we’d been before suggesting his own go-to spot, Bugsy’s. Armed with our new British friends and our boozy glow, we bid Pavel good-night and headed for his recommendation.
BUGSY’S (Stare Mesto)
Just a five-minute walk from Old Town Square, Bugsy’s is an institution. Upscale and inviting, it serves up both traditional and innovative cocktails, as well as single malt whiskeys, a plethora of good rums, and even some fine bottles of bubbly.
Bugsy’s is the most decorated bar in the Czech Republic, having won numerous mixology awards over the years, and their collection of bottles behind the bar seemed endless. The place was sparse and we all took a seat at the bar.
Jacob tended bar in a formal white shirt, suspenders and bow-tie, and was as professional as you’d want a barkeep to be. Having run out of cigarettes, I asked if the bar sold any, and before I knew it, Jacob had his hand out holding a freshly opened pack, three cigarettes protruding waiting on my selection, while his other hand was baited with fire to light my choice.
That’s when I fell for a drink I’d end up trying at almost every subsequent bar stop, the New Orleans staple, and now my beloved, the Whiskey Sazerac.
1 ½ ounces rye whiskey
½ ounce absinthe
1 sugar cube
3 dashes of bitters
Twist of lemon peel
At two or three in the morning (there is no city imposed ‘last call’ in Prague, each bar sets its own), we stumbled over to our last bar for the evening, bar James Dean, for a nightcap. With booming music and a busy dance floor hosting a private party of sorts, we looked at each other and simultaneously asked, “One for the road?”
Let’s be honest, with its jaw-dropping architecture, rich art and culture, not to mention arguably the world’s greatest beer, nobody comes to Prague for the cocktail scene.
But they probably should.
Flight Centre would like to remind everyone that if you are going to drink, know your limits and don’t drive. Please drink responsibly.
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