Where should I take visitors to dinner in the center? It’s a question that has been asked among Prague locals since the dawn of time or at the very least since the beginning of expat social media groups. The Czech capital’s newest pub answers the question of where to go as well as what to see, with a history that architecture lovers will eat right up.
Open this month, Červený Jelen (The Red Stag) on Hybernská Street is helmed by former MasterChef Czech judge Marek Fichtner and represents the debut expansion of the Pilsen-based Hospodska Group in Prague.
Spanning 2,600 square meters and 700 seats over three floors it’s being billed as the largest pub in Prague to date. The floors are connected by a “Cubist passage” (more on that in a moment) but the real centerpiece here is the 30-meter-high tower of beer tanks circulating unpasteurized Pilsner, a kind of totem to the sacred symbol of the Czech lands.
The Red Stag’s historical associations are also sprawling. It occupies the former Baroque-era Špork Palace; in 1923–1925 a modern addition was designed by Josef Gočár, founder of the Czech Rondocubism movement, to house the Anglo-Czechoslovak bank. As an homage to Gočár, the décor incorporates Cubist elements as well as some features from the original bank — including a giant vault opposite the ladies’ room that houses seating and a bar.
The menu draws on just as many traditions, from the Serbian pljeskavica to the German “Senfeier” eggs in mustard velouté, and the Italian Porchetta roast, settling on Central European with the occasional east-Asian surprise (kimchi, anyone?).
But those craving the Czech classics will be satisfied with the roasted meats — wild boar, veal, steaks, and rotisserie chicken from the Grillworks station in the open kitchen — velvety soups, and stodgy dumplings of Bohemian tradition.
Not to mention the beer. We tried the řezané pivo (52 CZK), a style of pour that layers a Czech pilsner with a darker beer, creating a cool lava-lamp effect with a coffee kick as well as a hladinka-style Pilsner (52 CZK). Rounding out the beer menu, Kozel and Gambrinus, poured hladinka or šnyt. The wine list encompasses French, Italian, and Moravian labels — we chose a dry Cabernet Moravia from Sedlák vineyards (85 CZK).
The standout item on the Špork tasting board for two (280 CZK) was the tender beef brisket in barbecue sauce. A marinated spicy egg was hot not spicy and the sauce didn’t permeate the overcooked egg and its crumbly yolk. Similarly, the cucumbers in the kimchi didn’t quite take to the marinade. We agreed that fewer radishes and more slabs of chive-coated sourdough were in order.
For light eaters the experience could actually end there. Maybe the waitress who asked us if we were ready to order coffee and dessert after the appetizer was trying to tell us something? But we continued on with the pljeskavica (290 CZK) from the grill and beef shoulder in vegetable sauce (270 CZK).
The pljeskavica came with roasted eggplant and tiny potatoes. While the dish didn’t wow, the potatoes were cold, and we missed a jolt of flavor that comes from lamb and pepper sauce, the patty was well constructed and the portion large. The svíčková was flawless, Czech comfort food at its best and the addition of zingy elderberries was a nice touch.
For vegetarians there is purportedly a celeriac dish baked in a salt crust with sheep cheese and pumpkin puree, though on our visit we received just a page-long menu and were later told that during the October soft opening the restaurant will operate on a limited menu, opening only its upper floor.
But even if you only go for coffee and cake and to marvel at the massive skylight ceiling, you won’t be disappointed. The desserts really shine — German Black Forest cake in single-serving jars, pistachio Medovnik, and a malty chocolate beer cake beckon from a glass confectionery case in what was once the bank’s lobby. Warm desserts include the house speciality Kaiserschmarrn, a shredded Austrian pancake (150 CZK).
I was also told that if the restaurant isn’t too busy, it’s possible to request a tour of the premises from waitstaff who, despite a few missteps with ordering and billing, were exceptionally friendly and accommodating.
Decently priced, honest Czech cuisine served with a smile isn’t always a given in the tourist center of Prague. We hope the Stag continues to leap over these initial obstacles to deliver a dining experience worthy of such a monumental space.
Beer snacks: 14:30-17:00
Complete menu from 17:00