Showing posts with label zlata hvezda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zlata hvezda. Show all posts

Friday, October 12, 2018

Favourite Watering Holes

The inestimable pairing that is Boak and Bailey have a list of what look like wonderful pubs over on their blog today, and so in the spirit of shameless plagiarism I figured I would make a similar list. My list, by virtue of bouncing round the world for the last couple of decades needs to have the addition of dates for some places, as they have either closed down, or gone to shit from what friends have told me. In no particular order then, in we dive...

Pivovarsky klub, K?i?íkova 17, Prague

It really is inevitable that Pivovarsky klub is on this list, it was there that 13 years ago on Sunday I met Mrs V after all, and for the next four years before moving to the US it was our local. We lived about a 5 minute walk from the place, got to know the staff really well, had our wedding reception there, and still recommend friends that are visiting Prague to pop in. I remember how revolutionary the idea of 6 taps, 5 of which rotated, and at least 200 bottled beers seemed at the time, opening up a whole new world of Czech beer to me. Most of the time I drank in the cellar bar, sorry my American friends "basement" just doesn't cut it as a description for their subterranean space, sat at the bar, in the corner under the spiral staircase. From my perch I could happily engage in my favourite, well second favourite, pub pastime - people watching. I often tell this story, but one of the things we loved about PK was that we were such regulars that the staff knew exactly what Mrs V wanted to drink without having to ask (Primátor English Pale Ale), and usually had it ready as she sat down. In many ways the feel of the place was Craft™ before it became a thing, you know, stripped brick and shiny metal, with paler wooden furniture than many a traditional boozer.

Zlatá hvězda, Prague, 1999-2009

Comically poor beer, toilets that would disgrace a refugee camp, and an owner that was known to physically throw people out of his pub that were being arseholes shouldn't really make for a place that I loved and frequented regularly, but love Zlatá I did. It was the place that for all 10 years of my stay in Prague I watched football, mostly Liverpool obviously, but not exclusively. With a group of fellow Liverpool fans, as well as a revolving cast of English teachers, teachers at one of Prague's international schools, Finnish chefs on disability who supported Chelsea, this place could generate an atmosphere unlike any other sports bar I have known. Similar to PK, I lived just a 5 minute walk from the place for the last four years of my stay in Prague, and was known to pop in even when there was no football, the cavernous, cool, dark space being perfect for reading the international edition of the Guardian. Shame they never learnt to spell my name for my reservations, but I got used to being "All" instead of "Al".

The Bon Accord, 153 North Street, Glasgow

Only been here a couple of times, but both have been fantastic. A good range of well kept real ales, 25 year old Talisker just one of the superb whiskies available, and an all day breakfast that will keep you going for several days. Both of our visits have ended up with us sitting with owner getting bevvied, and remarkably he remembered us the second time we turned up, some 2 years after the first, so gets additional kudos points for that. During that second trip, on a Friday night, I mentioned to Mrs V that one of the things I miss about British life was Friday nights in the pub, without the need to worry about driving home, sadly in central Virginia regional public transport is non-existant and taxis cost several appendages.

Devils Backbone Basecamp, 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland, Virginia

Some places are worth the hour it takes to drive there, said places are often also a factor in deciding where to go hiking of a weekend, the original Devils Backbone brewpub is one such place. When we landed in Virginia back in 2009, Devils Backbone was just coming up to its first birthday, and our first visit was on a tour of local brewpubs with a friend from the Prague days who was now living in Pittsburgh. That first visit was a bit underwhelming, mainly because the server got our flight all mixed up and let's just say expectations went all awry until we worked out the correct order from the menu notes. In those early years we would pretty often jump in the car to spend Sunday afternoon sat at the bar, surrounded by the taxidermy, reclaimed wood, and superb lagers. It was that commitment to quality lager that pulled me into Devils Backbone's orbit, and I have been a happy lager drinker because of them ever since. Some might baulk at spending money at an AB-InBev owned brewery, but Devils Backbone really looks after their people well, many of the wait staff having been there for almost ten years, and the fact that the beer keep improving as they invest in new shiny toys means I will always be able to get my lager kick satisfied at what I still think of as Virginia's best craft brewery.

Kardinal Hall, 722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia

As close to a German style beer hall as we are likely to get in this part of Virginia, and a pretty damned good stab it is too. Any place where I can get a litre of Rothaus Pils on draft has got to be a good place, add to that the excellent food, and this is somewhere my friends and I pretty often end up after a morning of hiking in the mountains. Admittedly I have to get used to the fact that "bratwurst" in America means something different than in Nuremburg or Thuringia, and so I avoid them so as to not be disappointed, but their Belgian fries are phenomenal. One of the great things about Kardinal is they actually have a decent sized and pleasant outdoor space that when the trees grow to maturity is going to make a really nice beer garden.

The Castle Tavern, 1 View Place, Inverness

The first time Mrs V and I wandered into the Castle Tavern was in 2014 when I took her for her first trip to Scotland, and the first time I had been home in almost a decade. It was Sunday lunchtime and my parents were at church, being good heathen folks my wife and I had wandered along the River Ness and decided it was time for a pint. Said pint was Cromarty Brewing's majestic Atlantic Drift, and in that moment I had found two new loves, a brewery and a real ale pub. Whenever I am home, the Castle Tavern is an essential port of call, anywhere that gets Timothy Taylor Landlord on cask is going to be a place I want to be at. If Mrs V and I move to the Inverness area in the future, it will be a regular haunt.

Photo credits
  • Pivovarsky klub: Mark Stewart

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To The Dearly Departed

Pubs are about more than just beer, they are about people and memories. I am firmly convinced that a pub doesn't need to sell the trendiest beer, they can sell the most generic of generic pale lagers and still be a good pub. A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts about my favourite watering holes in Prague, among them was Zlatá Hvezda, the sports bar where my mates and I would watch the football.

The first time I darkened the door of Zlatá was the very first weekend I was in Prague, in September 1999, when Liverpool lost 3-2 to Manchester United, with a couple of gift goals from Jamie Carragher. The place was packed, the atmosphere raucous and the beer was Velkopopovicky Kozel. Kozel back then was a lovely, lovely beer, back before SABMiller took over and it became somewhat bland, though the Premium Kozel is still nice enough. A few weeks later, I watched Liverpool lose to Everton, with Stevie Gerrard sent off, and Sander Westerveld getting the red card for punching Franny Jeffers and Steve Staunton replacing him in goal and pulling off a couple of decent saves. Zlatá showed practically every Liverpool match, and I went to watch practically every match for the next 10 seasons.

Zlatá was my local, very much so for the last 3 years of my time in Prague as it was a 5 minute walk from my flat. For all it's failings, the grim toilets, the spectacularly variable food and by the end of my 10 years, the Gambrinus that I was never quite sure whether it had been watered down, or the water had been beered up, I loved Zlatá. I learnt this week that last Saturday Zlatá served its last customers and that my old local is to be turned into yet another "cabaret", which is basically Prague speak for a whorehouse.

I am sure there are many who won't lament its passing into history, but I am not one of them. Many of the best nights of my decade in the Czech Republic were spent in Zlatá: Gary McAllister's last minute winner against Everton, the 2001 UEFA Cup Final, the 2005 Champions League Final. All great games that led to great nights out on the lash, especially the Champions League final.

I am fairly sure that most people connected to Zlatá don't read this blog, but anyway, I want to thank Sasha and all the staff over the 10 years that I went there for making Zlatá what it was, a dive with sometimes dire beer but always a great atmosphere and, in my experience at least, excellent service, simply a great pub. Thanks guys, it was golden!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Saturdays are Zlatá - assuming Sky Sports so decrees.

Zlatá Hvězda is the most regular of my haunts, in particular between August and May each year. Admittedly during the summer months I am very rarely there, originally because I had gone home to Scotland in between teaching contracts, but generally it is because there is no football of interest to me during the summer. World Cups and European Championships only count on the years that Scotland somehow get to the finals. Australia playing Costa Rica in the group phases of the World Cup just doesn’t have much attraction for me, thinking about it neither does Brazil versus Argentina, I don’t follow international football at the best of times, international rugby is another question altogether.

Known to its regulars as plain Zlatá or even as “the sports bar”, despite there being at least 2 other sports bars on the same street, Zlatá is Prague’s original place for watching the Premiership on a Saturday afternoon, or whatever ridiculous time Sky Sports decide to shift games around to in order to maximize their viewing figures. Zlatá then is where I carry out my relationship with Liverpool FC, one that has seen me pours thousands of pounds into various pockets in the last decade alone, and what do I have? Hangovers from celebrating Champions League victories, FA Cup wins, a couple of Carling Cups, a UEFA Cup along the way, and many derby victories – which are always the sweetest of hangovers.

That’s the economic viewpoint. Zlatá is chock full of memories, great nights, hoarse throats and learning that lager was something that could be drinkable. The first couple of seasons, the beer of choice was Velkopopovicky Kozel, back in the pre SABMiller days, when this was a lovely crisp and mildly hoppy lager that I could drink by the gallon. God knows what they sell these days, and no that doesn’t mean Robbie Fowler has patronized Zlatá. Not because I can’t see the signs that say Gambrinus, or that I can’t read the menu that says simply says 10° lager without stating the brand, but because the beer has such an awful reputation, I would rather drink mineral water when I go there.

Even though I very, very rarely take a beer anymore in Zlatá it still qualifies as a good pub in my world – because I know that every Liverpool game will be shown, regardless of whether it is being shown in the UK. Somehow, the owner will find it, and usually we will be there. It also qualifies because the staff are good, I am sure it helps that they know who I am, but I have never had a problem in there. Sure it is rather rough around the edges and a bit tatty, but that doesn’t bother me. I am sure there are plusher environs to watch sport, with better furniture and superior beer, but nowhere with the atmosphere that Zlatá can generate. Watching football in any other pub would be like sitting in the Anfield Road End instead of on the Kop, just not the same.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In praise of staff

It may seen as though I am stating the obvious here, but a pub needs more than just good beer and good food - I have never quite understood the point of a "wet lead" pub to use the industry parlance for a pub with little or no food. Food is an eseential part of drinking, an Irish chef friend of mine once told me that in the first pub he worked in their top selling food was spicy potato wedges, which of course stoked the drinkers' thirst and so they drank more beer. Essential though for a pub in my opinion is good staff, but that in itself is difficult to define.

There are a few bars in Prague I go to regularly and each of them has decent staff for varying reasons. For example Zlata Hvezda, where Mrs Velkyal, myself and my mates watch Liverpool perform the footballing version of the cruciatus curse, has good efficient staff. Perhaps because Zlata has been our "home" pub for 9 years now, we always get good service. But despite this, I would be reticent to suggest that their bar staff can be classified as "good", not that they are bad, but they don't for me get beyond decent.

When I say good staff, I mean the kind of barman or barmanka (I love that word, better than barmaid) who understands the customer and builds a relationship with them. Of the pubs I frequent in Prague, the staff I like the best are at Pivovarsky Klub - honestly I am not on a stipend from these guys, I just happen to love the place. Some would say that it helps that I am there a couple of time most weeks, but that would be the same for Zlata - depending on how far in the Champions League Liverpool go.

Take last night. Most Thursdays the guys I work with go for a drinking session - and being the dictator I am it is usually to a place like PK, Pivovar U Bulovky or recently Pivovar Basta - last night we went to PK. One of the guys is leaving Prague to go back to the UK, so of course a leaving bash was required. I was particularly looking forward to going to PK because I knew Ambrose was working. Ambrose for me is the barman supreme, friendly, knowledgable about the beers and having built a friendship with him, he knows what kind of beers I will enjoy and what to avoid. Also in that league is Klara, possibly the only barmanka I know who when she come to the table and asks what I want I can say "I don't know, what do I want?" and she'll pick just the right beer for me. Last night I had polished off a Bakalar from Rakovnik, followed by a Herold Blonde Lager and just wasn't enjoying the beers as usual, so I asked Klara to just bring me something. The result was a Comenius 14 degree lager from the Janacek brewery in Uhersky Brod which hit the spot perfectly.

In many ways, Pivovarsky Klub is like my Cheers, because everybody knows my name and they always look glad I came, always a sign of a great pub in my book.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...