Despite being known as a bit of a tourist trap, the Malá Strana neighborhood in Prague, Czech Republic offers visitors eclectic experiences in food, beverage and more beverage. But you have to know where to look. Here’s five favorite stops.
1. U Maleho Glena
Need a cold Velvet beer to start your night? U Maleho Glena. Need the opportunity to dance off the fourth meal of meat and potatoes? U Maleho Glena. Need food at 10 minutes to midnight? U Maleho Glena. I can’t stress enough how much I love this bar. First off, it’s a dive thanks to the grungy pub vibe upstairs and hidden Eastern European music club, focusing on jazz and blues, down below.
There’s a balanced mix of locals and expats (my waitress was from Boulder, Colorado; my bar mate from Oz; my bartender 100% Czech), and the liquor list is long. Order a shot of Slivovitz plum brandy with your beer. Aged between five and 12 years in wood, the stuff’s popular in Prague. The upfront’s a bit of a rough sell but the back end mellows with a great dose of plum flavor. If you get too drunk, no worries. The refurbished Baroque building houses apartments for rent upstairs.
Your chair is high-backed and cloaked in fairly chintzy corduroy. The tablecloths are sewn from thick fabric, covered in a pattern of tiny faded hearts. A medley of oil paintings, depicting 1930s farm life, are scattered on the walls. And, bizarrely enough, there is a place setting for two—including chairs, a table, cutlery and plates—hung upside down on the center of the ceiling above, with a bordello-esque, inverted paper lampshade acting as a chandelier. Welcome to Gitane’s. It’s small inside. So small, in fact, the management might come over and take a seat to chat/flirt with you during your meal.
And no matter the season, the space has that cozy Christmas vibe. Well, maybe like a Christmas vibe created by Charles Dickens and Salvador Dalí in equal proportion. The menu borrows a dash of Serbian, a hint of Czech, a smattering of Hungarian and large allotments of Mediterranean.
So, yes, the menu reads as confusing as the décor. Yet it works in dishes like the Sac. It’s a combination of lamb and veal, cut into large cubes and cooked in a traditional Balkan method over an open fire. The side of your plate belongs to diced raw onion and thick-cut, oven roasted potatoes, which might not be write-home-worthy solo, but are fantastic when stirred in a hearty slathering of the hot au jus swimming on the bottom of the plate.
3. J.J. Murphy’s
Ignore the fact that the menu lists “Jack Daniels” as an “American Bourbon” and take your shot of Jameson and your pint of Guinness like an obedient child. J.J. Murphy’s is your choice for watching that soccer game you absolutely cannot miss while noshing mid-afternoon. The menu might oddly claim Tennessee whiskey is somehow bourbon, but the staff is Irish and the fish and chips are fried perfection on a plate. The venue offers three separate seating sections, with all chairs facing one of three TVs, which all feature different games. In other words, guaranteed good time.
4. The Terrace Restaurant at Hotel Aria
For those in the business of red clay tiles, somewhere around the 1700s (give or take 100 years), the gigs in Prague must have funded early retirement plans. Any high vantage point offers a sea of crimson hued roofs, pausing only to accommodate the occasional gothic church spire or silently stretching bridge.
The CODA Roof Garden Terrace Restaurant is a bucket-list dining spot atop the Aria Hotel. Executive Chef David Šašek provides some international, lightly Asian touches like tuna tartar and Thai basil salad under seared scallops, but focus your face on his three traditional Czech options.
The Vodňany duck is sourced from South Bohemia and cooked sous vide, alongside tart sauerkraut and purple cabbage with traditional Czech potato dumplings. The view is free and only available in the warm summer months, and a fine dining experience including a great glass of crisp, Czech Sauvignon Blanc will run you around $60. The best part? Diners at the hotel can have free access to stroll the adjoining exquisite city garden, Vrtbovska, till 10 p.m. free of charge.
5. The Brewery Bar at The Augustine
Like the Aria Hotel, the neighboring Augustine is absolutely worth visiting, even (or especially) if you are staying in some $20 a night dive under a Czech massage parlor. The structure was a monastery in the 13th century, and is now owned by the Rocco Forte Hotel Group; the repurposed hotel has won numerous awards, including The Monastery restaurant being called out as tops in the city.
Visit Brewery Bar. Located in the subterranean brewing cellar, previously employed by the ancient monastic order, the bartenders here now serve St. Thomas Beer—a modern version of the original formula. The hotel still has monks living on property, and while they will not join you in a beer, your night is well spent with an international crowd, sitting on modern furniture under 17th century stalactites and stalagmites. Frankly, where else on Earth are you going to be able to do that?