Pilsner Urquell has been brewed for more than 170 years and is credited as the most produced style of beer in the world, lager or pilsner. To this day, hundreds of thousands of beer lovers travel to the Czech Republic to taste the original lager at it’s freshest. Many of the pubs that serve this iconic beer have themselves become iconic: some are good, some not so good, but all have a story to tell. Let’s take a look at just a few.
As the story goes, just one year after the 1842 birth of Pilsner Urquell, the brewery’s carriage driver Salzmann brought his tailor friend, Pinkas, two buckets of beer (about 100 liters), which was consumed quickly by Pinkas and other friends. Pinkas finally decided to hang-up his craft as a tailor and open a pub, where Pilsner Urquell is on tap to this day: U Pinkasů. At one time, this pub was a cultural and political center for revivalists, writers, actors and other celebrities. Today, the tank beer is the real star, though expensive at 45 CZK for a half liter of 12º.
The beer and the history make this pub worth a stop if you can handle the smoke. I sat downstairs in the exposed brick cellar and ordered the Pivovarnický Masový Závin (Brewers Meat Roll), in honor of its namesake, Josef Groll, creator and first brewer of pilsner beer at the Burgess Brewery in Plzeň. It was reminiscent of a flaky crusted microwaved beef burrito, and not worth the 199 CZK. The recipe for this spicy meat pie is claimed to come straight from the Pilsner Urquell brewery, and originated in the mid-19th century.
U Zlatého Tygra
Just a few blocks away is the world renowned U Zlatého Tygra (The Golden Tiger), which was established in the early 19th century; 100 years later they began to tap Pilsner Urquell and have done so continuously ever since. Today, this famous pub and its hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated clients have drank their way through at least five political regimes. Ninety percent of the visitors are regulars, and even the staff are long-timers: owner Karel Hulata has worked there since 1976, when he started at the tap. The interior of the pub rarely changes as well: the tables and paneling from the fifties are still listening and watching life unfold.
Local writer Bohumil Hrabal was a regular from the early fifties and continued until his death in 1997; in 1994 – under the antlers in the back room – Hrabal shard a beer with US president Bill Clinton and Czech president Václav Havel. For the uninitiated, it’s almost impossible to get a seat or even a beer for that matter. Opening hours are marked as 15:00 – 23:00, but by 15:00 the hum of background chatter and clanking glasses already fill the air, and it seems as though no one ever leaves, so get there early.
When you’ve reached your limit of waiting to be recognized by the barman, just out the door on the other side of Husova Street you will find U Tří Růží. Not a Pilsner Urquell pub, but one of Prague’s newer brewpubs that consistently brews high quality, interesting beer. The building itself is a historical as well. Beginning in 1405, a brewer named Beneš received the rights to brew beer at this location. Since that time the building has gone through several changes, including being the publishing house of Václav Matěj Kramerius, which operated until 1804. It finally become a brewery again as U Tří Růží re-opened its doors in 2012.
More in Prague
There are many more pubs in Prague that have survived the test of time and have their own stories to tell. For example, U Rudolfina and U Černého vola have been an important part of the community for many years, and serve great beer. U Dvou koček even serves their own brew alongside Pilsner Urquell, and is a great spot for a quick lunch. At times it feels as though pubs with such an long history and so many local regulars don’t feel the need give quality, or even reasonable service to foreigners and tourists. When I’m looking for the best kept Pilsner in Prague, I head into the more modern Lokál on Dlouhá Street.
Out of Prague
In Plzeň, the hometown of Pilsner Urquell, just a short walk from the main square is the pub U Salzmannů. The building on Pražská Street has deep roots as a taproom and malt house: this is where Martin Salzmann – the guy who brought buckets of lager to Prague’s tailor, Pinkas – opened his own pub in 1871 after a carriage ran over his leg and prevented him from continuing his job as a driver. Today, they tap some of the best kept unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell I have had; I wish this pub was in Prague. Service was quick and friendly, there was a great non-smoking section, the beer was perfect, and at 36 CZK I was happy to stay for another before I made my way to Na Parkánu for a rare unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Uquell.
Restaurant Na Hradě (The Castle) is probably the oldest surviving pub in Hradec Králové; the history of the building dates back to the 15th century. It is said to be the U Zlatého Tygra of Hradec Králové because of the presence of important figures in the local community. The building once housed a set of stone cellars and secret passages which were walled-off in the totalitarian era.
The Stopkova pub in Brno has been a part of the Moravian city’s social and cultural life since the mid-19th century. A man named Jaroslav Stopka took over in 1910 and put this pub on the map. He turned the pub into a restaurant serving Pilsner Urquell; townspeople, students and various important personalities could be found there. The Stopkova pub experienced its greatest fame during the twenties and thirties, despite coping with an economic crisis. Many guests are still drawn to their tank beer.
Here I have mentioned just a few of the historical locations that fly the Pilsner Urquell flag; there are more still that serve other labels and some even brew their own beer. What are some of your favorite historical pubs and sites to imbibe? Does history make your Pilsner taste better?