Writing in Paris toward the end of the 19th century, the legendary poet Arthur Rimbaud suggested that “a long, immense and reasoned derangement of all the senses” was the necessary path for writers who wanted to become true seers. That’s the kind of evening that awaits in high style at L’Fleur Bar, a fin de siècle French-style cocktail bar just a cork’s throw from Old Town Square. It’s the latest spot on the must-sip list for all local cocktail cognoscenti.
Entering past the black velvet ropes, it’s clear that things are a little different here. There’s a classy retro vibe, a comfortable ambiance from the intimate lighting and high, soft-back booths that snake around the edge of the room, and just a touch of rustic chic from the exposed brick behind the bar. French lounge music, an art nouveau stained glass window, sparkling chandeliers, a tasteful statue of Dom Pérignon himself, and listlessly rotating ceiling fans complete the bon vivant atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you want to sink into, anonymously, with a gorgeous date.
The ascotted barmen really seem to care about the cocktail craft. They give off an air of understated perfection, their flair mixology training betrayed only by an occasionally raised pinky and a timely flick of the wrist. The servers are unusually attentive, refilling any glasses of complimentary water that look in the least pessimistic, as they know that well-hydrated drinkers are likely to last longer, and thus purchase more. This is not an impersonal place, but one where your thirst is catered to precisely and punctually, even if you’re in the mood for something that isn’t on the menu. It all adds up to a cocktail bar where you want to linger, sampling prodigiously from the curiously eclectic menu.
There are some truly remarkable cocktails here that you won’t find anywhere else, especially in Prague. The signature drink, Sante, Rudi!, mixes 12-year-old Chivas Regal, a combination of fruit liqueurs, port wine, house-made hazelnut bitters, and smoke from a port wine barrel. It’s a wallopingly complex medley of sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and fruit flavours that is bound to become a big hit.
The L’Fromage Martini is another curious concoction. A very French twist on the classic gin martini, it has Tanqueray No. Ten and vermouth infused with Provençal cheese. It is small but powerful, with the medicinal edge of the gin just smoothed by the vermouth, and a little cube of cheese in place of an olive or cocktail onion. The drink is actually indicative of the whole bar: taking a classic and adding an unexpected, characteristic twist.
Even the more mainstream drinks on the menu are just a little different, like the Jasmine and Apricot Daiquiri, with dry Flor de Caña, a Nicaraguan rum, jasmine syrup, apricot purée, and a slice of dried citrus. This frozen potable, beautifully served in a stemmed glass, is light and refreshing, but maintains more than enough character from the perfect blend of floral and fruit notes. It’s the kind of thing you could drink for breakfast.
As the French theme might suggest, there’s also a serious selection of champagne cocktails and champagnes on the menu, by the glass and by the bottle, from all the best-known French vintners. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could splurge on a bottle of Dom Pérignon from 1982, which will run you 31,982 CZK. And if you like your spirits straight, there’s also an impressive selection of just about every distillate imaginable, from Scottish single malts to French absinthes, cognacs, armagnacs, and even French whisky, which is a world unto itself.
In a city that has long since sold its soul to beer, it’s impossible to escape the fact that the average cocktail is about ten times the price of a mug of suds. Cocktail bars like L’Fleur Bar will certainly never replace the local pub. But it’s nice to have the possibility of mixing up the usual evening out with world-class drinks, atmosphere and service in the center of Old Town. A night here always feels like an occasion. It’s French class in a glass.
L’Fleur Bar, V Kolkovně 5 Prague 1
All photos courtesy of www.nepijubrecky.cz