Prague hotels are reeling in the wake of a global pandemic which mandated their temporary closure and put travel restrictions on a large segment of their clientele.
So what does a newly reopened five-star hotel, catering largely to American guests, do in light of the current situation? Throw a garden party, of course.
Last Thursday, Augustine, a hotel encompassing seven historic Malá Strana buildings including a 13th-century Baroque church and an Augustinian monastery, launched a summer barbecue party in its sundial garden.
The weekly open-air event, featuring the talents of chef Martin Boháček behind a sleek circular fire pit and live music from the Czech Philharmonia, takes place amid the hedgerows and herb gardens of a heavenly courtyard oasis that begs to be explored.
“This event has been a tradition for us for a number of years,” says General Manager Mario Egger, who notes that prior to the pandemic the event had garnered a strong following among Prague regulars who relished the chance to visit one of the city’s most amazing spaces in one of its most spectacular districts.
Attendance to this season’s barbecue party matters now more than ever as Augustine, like many Prague hotels, has been forced to get creative in the face of economic downturn, and is looking to local clientele to help soften the blow.
“Prague has not historically been a city where locals go for cocktails in hotel lounges,” says Egger, who adds that the hotel’s scenic, though somewhat secluded, location doesn’t naturally invite walk-in business.
“But there is so much to discover from our cocktail bar in the monks’ former refectory to special events like the weekly grill party,” he adds. Dinner guests are even encouraged to request a tour of the hotel’s historic high points.
The picturesque Augustine restaurant and garden also make an ideal venue for private events, birthday celebrations, and weddings.
Like many of the Czech capital’s most prestigious hotels, Augustine is also adjusting its prices for local budgets.
The weekly barbecue party is aimed at resident Praguers who may not otherwise visit a venue that once sheltered the likes of Mick Jagger and Orlando Bloom.
For roughly 37 euros (kids under 12 are half off; kids under 6 eat free) visitors get unlimited consumption of grilled fare with an array of zesty and colorful condiments, a decadent spread of fresh summer salads and sides, bite-sized tastes of classic desserts, and beer and wine.
On a recent visit, we tried a number of culinary specialties which for the occasion of the BBQ merged nouveau Czech with outdoor chic — a veal hotdog on a blocky brioche bun, beef sliders, St. Thomas sausages, Humboldt squid tentacles, beef brisket, beer marinated suckling pig belly, and a Nigerian spiced lamb skewer.
For vegetarians, grilled portobellos with chili are sure to satisfy alongside grilled halloumi and generous cold veggie-based salads including a refreshing watermelon and feta salad with rhubarb and pea shoots.
Classic BBQ sides such as coleslaw dressed up with fennel and cranberry and grilled rosemary potatoes and corn on the cob were a welcome addition to pots of pomegranate and chicken liver pate and asparagus panna cotta.
Included in the price is a selection of wine and rotating beer taps, which during our visit included the hotel’s dark St. Thomas brew, first created by Augustinian monks who were granted brewing rights by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV himself in 1352.
Today the original recipe is brewed offsite for Augustine by Czech craft brewery Matuška. Prior to the brewery being taken over by the communist regime, the dark beer was enjoyed by Bohumil Hrabal and Jan Neruda.
For those who wish to sip a cocktail prior to the event, The Refectory Bar, with nineteenth-century baroque frescoes adorning its vaulted ceiling has a drinks list that will delight spirits enthusiasts, including signature Angel-themed cocktails, build-your-own gin and tonic menu and an Aperitivo menu from 5 pm until 8 pm with drink specials and light bites.
Aside from the restored Baroque courtyard’s quiet beauty (in case you doubt its authenticity, four Augustinian friars still reside on the premises), the labyrinthine complex of buildings also tells a unique story.
The St. Thomas church adjacent to the Augustinian monastery houses a number of important artworks including Baroque sculpture objects and early paintings by Karel Škréta. Together the buildings form a protected monument.
Before the Augustine buildings were completely renovated in 2009 the brewery housed a famous pub favored by 19th-century Czech intellectuals and locals. A small door in the basement of the hotel (currently closed) opens directly into the Wallenstein Gardens.
A pre-dinner stroll through the empty streets of one of the city’s typically tourist-choked areas, followed by dinner in an atmosphere charged with 700 years of history is the perfect way to mark a special occasion this summer or, if you’re lucky enough to call Prague home, just another Thursday.
Every Thursday from 6 pm (2 hours unlimited consumption)
Sundial Garden at Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague
Letenská 12/33, Praha 1, Mala Strana