Being off season, the Zvikov brewpub is closed on Monday. We have to help ourselves to breakfast. No great chore. It's still much less work than at home.
The drive to Prague doesn't take that long. I'm starting to get really excited. Prague is not only beautiful, it's a great boozing town. I want to take advantage of every minute.
We're staying in a botel moored on the Malá Strana side of the Vltava. Just before we arrive, I notice the unmistakable sight of a brewery chimney. Staropramen is just 100 metres from our accommodation. I'll have to give that a look, though it isn't on the tour. Staring at brewery yards has become my new hobby. It's harmless enough.
Today is the only break Andy gets from us bunch of losers. The day is free until early evening. I announce that I have my own personal pub crawl planned out. Jim and Keith ask if they can tag along. "No problem." I say. "Another great chance to pretend I can still speak Czech" I think. Andy drops us at the bottom of the castle hill and speeds off. The hill is just as steep as I remember it.
Up in the castle grounds my breath is taken away. Only partly from the walk up that bloody hill. The jagged pattern of tile roofs, penetrated by towers and domes is as lovely as ever. God. I love Prague. Just being here puts me in a good mood. I haven't even had a beer and there's a smile on my face.
Our first stop is up in the castle grounds. I didn't walk all that way uphill just for the view. In the castle precinct, there are tourists at every turn. Why don't they just piss off and leave the place to us travelers? We walk away from the more crowded sections of the castle grounds. This is the right way, isn't it? It's a few years since I was last here. It turns out that our destination is simple to spot: the only building that hasn't been poshed up to within an inch of its life.
U Černého vola
Loretánské nám. 1,
Prague 6 - Hradčany.
Tel: 220 513 481
If you don't like the Black Ox, there's something seriously wrong with you. It hasn't changed in decades and isn't likely to. When it was threatened with renovation the locals clubbed together and bought it. That's why I ask anyone who goes there not to be loud and touristy-looking but discrete and respectful. That could be opne of the co-owners sitting next to you.
They sell 3 draught beers: Velkopopovický Kozel Premium, Velkopopovický 10° Tmavý and Pilsner Urquell. Now which will I choose? You've guessed it.
Velkopopovický 10° Tmavý: dark brown colour, sweet taste, sugar, toffee and liquorice flavaours. Pretty sweet, but pleasant enough. Like a southern Dark Mild. I give it 54 out of 100.
There's a proper waiter and barman pepperpot set, competing for who can acquire the largest beer gut. This palce really is a time capsule. I'm sure these are the same massive battered tables that were here in the 1980's. The leaded glass windows depicting coats or arms give it the feeling of a castle interior. Appropriately enogh. We are in the castle grounds, after all.
Jim takes a few photos of the back room. A couple of minutes later a bloke with his arm in plaster, who looks a bit agitated and asks: "Jste Cesi?" ("Are you Czechs?") I tell him in Czech that we're English. I can't quite remember the word for American. English is close enough. That seems to pacify him and he goes back to his seat.
We're in no rush. I've just ordered some snacks for us all. I'm pretty sure I know what they all are. The menu was only in Czech. I know for sure that Keith's was chips. Possibly with something else, but chips for sure. Time enough for me to try the pale Velkopopovický beer, too.
Velkopopovický 12° Světlé: pale yellow colour, sweetish/bitter taste with honey, citrus, resin and tobacco flavours. It's better than I expected - hoppy, but with a slight underlying sweetness.
Mr Broken Arm comes over to our table as he leaves. He apologises for the earlier incident. We're non the wiser as to ewhat all the fudss was about in the first place.
It's all going to be downhill from here. In a literal sense. We're at one of the highest points in central Prague.
Before we started our ascent, I noticed a sign outside U Kocoura: "Bernard Kvasnicové 30 Kr." So our next stop is:
This is an old favourite of mine from the 1980's. Unfortunately, it was one of the city centre pubs that went is search of the tourist dollar. Consequently I haven't visited for years. Nothing much has changed inside. A series of rooms ascends towards the rear. The first contains the bar counter. We sit in just in front of it. I don't like to be too far away from the beer action. There's assorted football memorabilia pinned up behind the bar. A Sparta Prague scarf - that's OK. But an Arsenal pennant? That's shameful.
There are 4 draught beers: Pilsner Urquell, Budvar 12º Světlé:, Budvar 12º Tmavé and Bernard Kvasnicové. All at a very reasonable 30 crowns. Using my best pretend Czech I order 3 Kvasnicové.
Bernard Kvasnicové: hazy pale amber colour, sweetish/bitter taste, yeast, honey, elderflower, pepper, tobacco, resin. Absolutely delicious! Packed with complex hop flavours with a touch of balancing malt sweetness. It's the best pale lager I've had in ages. I score in 84 out of 100.
If it weren't for the rather obtrusive TV, this would be perfect. It's a beautiful sunny day, I'm in Prague and I have a scrumptious beer in front of me. Well, not for long, because it's very soon time for a second. The Bernard is really hitting the spot. Several spots, in fact.
It's been a great start to the day it's still just 14:45. Will it now go metaphorically as well as literally downhill. Find out in the next thrilling installment, when I drop by my favourite Prague pub and reacquaint myself with a former favourite.
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