After arriving in Prague and having the rather dreadful experience of getting ripped off by a prick taxi driver and needing to be saved by the kindly porter at our elegant hotel, my husband and I were naturally wary of what Prague held in store for us. Also rather naturally, we were quite thirsty after the small misadventure and our train trip.
Though Prague can occasionally frustrate visitors looking for an experience that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re merely visiting a new section of Epcot’s international village or a run-down suburb of Milwaukee, pretty much anything in Prague involving good Czech beer never lets you down.
And the one place to go in Prague for good Czech beer is the Golden Tiger, or U ZLATEHO TYGRA. (I believe this is truly translated as “At the Golden Tiger” but that’s a bit unwieldy for a bar name, particularly after several steins.) In fact, I’d put my money on the Golden Tiger’s being one of the best beer bars in the world. In terms of the convivial beer hallish variety of beer bars, the Golden Tiger is, thus far, the best I have ever visited and is an epicenter of “Beer Culture.” (More on that later.)
When you go into the Golden Tiger, even if you’re there right when the place opens at 3 p.m., there will already be old guys well into their first stein, shooting the breeze at their regular table. Indeed, some of these old guys may be poets and philosophers, which means that, now, after the Czech Republic’s Velvet Revolution, they may also be politicians. (The extraordinary Vaclav Havel has been known to frequent the Golden Tiger, among other Czech notables.)
As you enter, don’t be alarmed by the very focused man behind the counter who is wielding a knife and smacking it on the tops of the steins. He’s merely knocking the extra head off the top of the beer for your sipping pleasure. Sadly, as an experienced American beer drinker, I’m more accustomed to the popping of can flip-tops than the cheerful slaps of a cool beer head knife.
Some seats will be reserved, and the time the seats are reserved for will be marked on the reserved sign. You can sit in the place if it’s reserved until the time shown. If you get there at 3 p.m., however, you should be able to score a free, unreserved seat. The tables are long and large and meant for all to share, which means that, after a few steins, when the place gets even busier, you’ll get to meet some really cool Czech people, like we did.
A man will come with steins of beer, marvelous beer. And he’ll keep coming until you loudly and forcefully indicate that he should stop bringing you beer. None of this whispered, “Ahem, excuse me…” business. If you act dainty in your request for no more beer, the beer man will just keep bringing you steins until you are happily boisterous enough to feign passing out while laughing very loudly. (I believe that the beer man does this ritual largely for his own amusement and I relished playing the role of very happy inebriated person so accurately.)
The more steins are consumed, the louder things get. This is, of course, because everyone starts talking and laughing with everyone else, which is the true meaning of “Beer Culture.” Beer Culture as a concept was explained to us by two really nice Czech chicks. (We were lucky enough to sit with them at a shared table.)
Here are a few of the Beer Culture commandments. (I think I learned many more, but there is an inverse relationship between quantity of beer consumed and quality of memories retained).
- Beer should have some head on it; beer without a head is unacceptable, flat piss. This is the reason for the knife-wielding barman: to get the head perfect.
- Beer should be drunk only from quality glass steins, never from plastic.
- Beer should be fairly cold so as to be refreshing, never warm, and definitely not near freezing.
- Beer should be enjoyed only with other people present, preferably in places with shared tables like the Golden Tiger.
- Drinking beer in public establishments means you will get beer on tap, the best way to enjoy beer (versus beer in cans or bottles which can never truly have a proper head, see rule #1).
- Beer should be brought to you continually until you cannot stop laughing. The beer should be brought by an expert beer server who can professionally assess your level of drunkenness.
- Beer is best consumed with a plate of cold or hot sausages.
This is where my recollection of the commandments drops off a bit. Around this point in the evening, I do recall that some very muscular Czech men who were sitting next to us generously shared slices of smoked meat from an enormous platter. From what I can remember, the meat and sausage platter was very tasty, and indeed, a fine accompaniment to our great Czech beer, per the rules of Beer Culture.
Though the meat and the beer were excellent, they didn’t hold a candle to the good people of Prague, who were so generous to share one of their local drinking institutions with us. Chalk one up for Beer Culture.
At the Golden Tiger/U ZLATEHO TYGRA is easy to find and is right in the town center. Just look for a line of old men gathering outside a pub-like shop front around 3 p.m. when the place opens.
110 00 Prague
1 STARE MISTO
Web: Though this site is in Czech, they have a nice map showing you where this temple to Beer Culture is located. http://www.uzlatehotygra.cz/uzlatehotygra.cz/Pivnice.html