hemingway

Bartender Ondra – the king of cocktails

ondra3

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Ondra was recommended to me by a friend after I fell in love with the cocktail scene in Prague, it’s really something impressive and kind of measures the fast growth of Prague as a city for me. Every year there are new bars experimenting with new ambiance, drinks, and styles of service. We’ve already spoken to AnonymouS Bar as well as Hemingway, two of my favourites on the scene right now. But with Ondra being an award winning bartender, it was impossible to resist some tasty advice on where and what to drink in Prague. Ondra gives a special personal touch to all of the questions I threw at him. A very cool interview, check it out.

Where are you originally from?

I come from Prague, the wonderful city full of history.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Well, a garbageman at first as they have a huge car. Later it was a professional football player and a car mechanic. But in the end I have a job that fulfills me and I enjoy it. To communicate with people and come up with new creative cocktails? That’s definitely my cup of tea.

What was the first drink you ever had?

It’s been a very long ago but I remember it quite right, it was vodka and juice. And after that maybe a Cuba Libre…?

What was the last drink you had?

Hopefully I will have some more but the last so far was a Whiskey Sour. 🙂

What competitions have you competed in/won?

I’m not the kind of a bartender who would enter each and every competition up for grabs. The appeal of further possibilities and experience, that’s what draws me in. The first big competition for me was undoubtedly the ‘Jameson Bartenders Ball’. I managed to win the national finals twice. And then, at the world finals in Dublin, I came third. Some other wins include:

The Havana Club Grand Prix 2014 – Czech winner

The Ron de Jeremy Competition – winner (with Michal Durinik)

The Chivas Masters 2015 – Czech winner, 2nd at the world finals in New York

ondra2

That’s an impressive list of wins! How would you describe Prague’s bar and cocktail scene? Where should we go for a cocktail?

Prague is a historical city and always will be (hopefully). There are many wonderful places that make your heart beating faster and make you come back again. The bar scene has grown in the past few years, not only in Prague but in the whole of the Czech Republic; there are new businesses open with huge potential to become some of the TOP places in the world. There’s also a wide range of bars, old as well as total newbies; everyone can find something they like, there’s such a variety. When it comes to bars – you can do the best in one evening. Hemingway bar, Bugsy´s, Cash Only, Black Angel´s, L´fleur, AnonymouS and La Casa de la Havana Vieja are only a fragment of what the city of Prague has to offer.

But it’s not only Prague that offers great bars. If you happen to be in Brno, don’t forget to visit Bar, který neexistuje (the bar that does not exist, in English) a Super Panda Circus, it would be a shame to miss it!

Do you have any advice for young bartenders or bar owners?

To be diligent, responsible and enthusiastic, that’s how you can be successful in this job.

How would you describe Prague in only a few words?

Beautiful – historical – irresistible

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I would definitely like to be a bartender in a bar during the prohibition in the US. The atmosphere and the
adrenalin that any minute a cop could come in and we would all be in a big mess.. this attracts me. And if I had another chance to go back in time, I would love to visit the beginning of the 90s when electronic music started to get popular. I would like to experience the atmosphere in the clubs and big parties of that time.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Well, Tom Cruise tried in Cocktail and failed 😀 Matthew McConaughey would be the right one. He may be a bit older and not as handsome as me but he’s the best choice. And if he’s too busy, then Adam Sandler, Ben Affleck or Jon Snow could be good candidates.

What’s your favourite word in English?

Together, massive or huge?

What’s your favourite word in Czech?

Thank you (děkuji) – I use this word each and every day. And I am always happy when I find that other people can use it, too.

ondra1

Photos from Ondřej Hnilička.

Advertisements

Everything you need to know about Prague

Old Town Square at Xmas

I was recently asked to be a guess blogger on SuperBreak, a UK travel website and blog, and write about Prague. This is the end result. Hope you enjoy it and let me know your opinion…

Prague is both east and west. Slavik and romantic. If London and Moscow had a baby, it would surely be Prague. I feel as though I’m describing it the way Dickens’ would, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s said to be Venice of the east, if you consider it to be east. It’s also said to be the city of 100 spires. To me, it’s all of these things, and also home. No, I’m not Czech. I’m Australian, but have been living here for the past four years and I’m also writing a blog called ‘People in Prague’ that talks to locals, expats and just about any character that passes through the Czech capital. From their experience and my own, here is a list of ‘musts’ that one should do to enjoy the Bohemian city to its fullest. From cuisines to castles, parks to pubs, these are the essentials.

Tourist attractions:

Like any decent tourist, you should start with the main sites that Prague has to offer. This list can be endless, especially for someone who’s a history or architecture buff. After all, Prague was one of the only major cities that didn’t feel the full wrath of World War II. Around Europe there are a number of great replicas of buildings that actually still remain in Prague. It’s originality is well-preserved.
My advice would be to start from the castle and work your way down. Prague castle is easily accessible by tram from most inner city locations and if you start there, it also means that you avoid walking up the countless staircases. There are a number of decent tours available for this area. It’s definitely worth taking a walking tour to hear some of the history. Even if history isn’t your thing, the enchanting legends of the place and its great kings certainly will be. I personally love the legends of King Rudolf II and his obsession with animals and alchemy.

From the castle, you can descend into Malá Strana, the cute and quirky castle town below which leads into Charles’ Bridge, another major tourist attraction. If you want to avoid the crowds, check out the bridge early in the morning for a picturesque sunrise. From Charles Bridge you will journey into Staré Město, the old town. I’ve never been one for maps. I find them embarrassing and annoying to carry, but really, get a map for this labyrinth. A map or Google is the only way you’re going to find the old town square and the astronomical clock which despite being full of tourists, and the occasional pickpocket, is a fairy tale scene. There’s nothing quite like it.

Charles Bridge and the river Vltava

Charles Bridge and the river Vltava

A short walk from there will bring you into the heart of the city, and the Main Street, Václavské náměstí, or Wenceslas Square. The street should be seen to take in the magnificent National Museum at the top of the square, and to witness the main place of celebration and protest for Czech people. The Velvet Revolution took place here and marked the end of communism for Czechoslovakia, but these days it’s littered with casinos and dodgy food vendors. I’d avoid those at all costs, unless gambling and food poisoning is your thing.

Of course, these are only guidelines. As I said before, the sightseeing opportunities are endless here. Play it by ear as you go along.

Off-beat attractions:

In my opinion, this is where the true beauty lies. A short metro ride on the C or red line will take you to Vyšehrad park. This area overlooks the city and makes for a splendid view as well as giving you access to an awe-inspiring cathedral and cemetery. There are also some very famous Czech composers buried there. The whole area is virtually untouched by tourists and you can even enjoy a well-deserved Czech beer or ‘pivo’ overlooking the river Vltava and Prague castle.

The inner city districts of Vinohrady and Žižkov are perfect for anyone seeking a decent cafe culture, not to mention glorious food. This part of the city is home to beautiful architecture and a host of expats and young Czech families. The young and trendy vibe is felt best in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad on a Saturday morning with the farmers’ markets. Eat some fresh and delicious food and take in the atmosphere. There is usually some kind of festival happening in the square every second weekend. Like all great beer drinkers, the Czechs love a good party.

Žižkov tower

Žižkov tower

Art and culture:

Prague is a hub for classical music and always has been. From Bedřich Smetana to Antonín Dvořák, a lot of composers called this city home. Municipal House or Obecní Dům usually hosts well-known Czech orchestras which can be seen also every day. Towards the river is the National Theatre or Národní Divadlo, (talk about charity to rebuild it after the burning) even if opera isn’t your thing, the building’s interior is gold and a wonder to experience.

For some classic art, the National Gallery is worth a look. For those who like something a bit more modern or controversial, take a look at DOX, a modern art gallery in Holešovice. The Žižkov tower is a great example of modern Czech art. Controversial artist David Černý put faceless babies all over the large sputnik-like monolith to perhaps lighten up a once dreary reminder of the communist past. There have actually always been artists and writers a plenty in Prague. Many would recognise Alfons Mucha and his signature art nouveau style of painting and of course, writer Franz Kafka. Cafe Louvre on Národní street was an old hangout for Kafka and even Einstein – they also do a tasty breakfast.

Food and beer:

Speaking of fresh food. It’s worth ‘czeching’ (a cheesy pun still on every souvenir) out the local cuisine. Czech food is delicious, but heavy, very heavy. Like a lot of central and Eastern Europe, the cuisine is mainly meat and potatoes. In saying that though, they do meat pretty well. Try svíčková, the most typical dish consisting of beef marinated in a light brown sauce with some cream and cranberry jam on the side. Soak it all up with a few bread dumplings and enjoy that spongy goodness. There are countless Czech restaurants littered all around the city, but for a decent meal and beer in one, I would recommend any of the ‘Lokal’ restaurants which have a great selection of Czech beer, and a fresh rotating menu. My personal favorite restaurant is ‘U Houdku’ on Bořivojova street in the heart of the Žižkov pub scene. A lot of locals eat here because the portions are HUGE, tasty and medieval; the only thing missing is a hungry dog in the corner. They also offer a range of delicious vegetarian options. In summer, take a seat outside in the beer garden.

Czech Republic is also known for their huge Vietnamese community. Pho restaurants are now starting to spring up all over Prague and provide addictive soups, noodles and other rice dishes that will fill you up, and also cure any lingering beer hangovers. There is a particularly good one in Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad near the farmers’ markets.

Vinohrady district

Vinohrady

Shopping:

Prague has all the usual European shops that you can expect to find in any major city, rather than walking around Vaclavske namesti in the cold, take a short walk to Palladium shopping centre in Náměstí Republiky – everything under one roof. If you’re into handmade things, ‘DeafMessanger‘ provides handmade diaries, notebooks and postcards with unique stencil art and other clippings (pictured), all available in ‘Luxor’ bookstore.

For those looking for something authentically Czech, you might want to check out the range of handmade souvenirs and skin products in ‘Manufaktura’, everything here is made in the Czech Republic. If you visit the national theatre, be sure to pop round the corner to the giant ‘antikvariat’ shop. Get yourself lost in a maze of old communist trinkets, furniture, art, old records and books.

Where fashion is concerned, I’d recommend having a look at ‘Pietro Filipi’, a homegrown men’s and women’s fashion store with a unique style. For those who want something a little more custom, check out the custom denim and fashion design studio at ‘Chatty‘. The label has met with a lot of success and prides itself on original designs that are authentically Czech.

Drinks:

As mentioned before, the beer is an absolute must. Pilsner Urquel is considered to be the best, but there are a lot of smaller breweries that are better. I personally love Svijany and Bernard, both of these you can find in most bars and pubs around the centre of town.

If you’re keen on cocktails, there are two great bars in town that will no doubt tickle your tastebuds, and liver. ‘Anonymous bar‘ is a classy and fascinating place based around the hacker group and the book/film V for Vendetta. It sounds cheesy, but this bar is a work of art and is well worth a visit just to taste some of their old cocktail recipes. ‘Hemingway bar‘ is also a classy cocktail joint and recently made it into the top 50 bars in the world. Be sure to make a reservation at both.

For clubbing, Dlouha street is in the heart of town and provides you with a number of options. Both ‘Roxy’ and ‘Druhy Patro’ thrive on the electronic music culture in Prague, whereas Harley’s can be more of a rock’n’pop club. In the Žižkov and Vinohrady area there is also ‘Palac Akropolis’ where you can see some of the local DJ and music talent. Try to stay away from the typical tourist clubs like Karlové Lázně, unless you want to be ripped off.

Accommodation:

For backpackers, both the Czech Inn and Mosaic House hostels are reasonably inner city and host a number of fun events including parties, theatre and comedy. They also have reasonable prices and outstanding service.

However your budget, Prague has a great variety of hotels on offer. For those who want something a little more luxurious, typical hotels like the Hilton, the Intercontinental and more are all there. But for a real treat, take a look at the Emblem Hotel. It’s still quite new, but extremely modern and luxurious and boasts a number of great services, not to mention an excellent restaurant and bar too.

If you’re traveling in a group, it might be worth getting an apartment on air b’n’b. A lot of Czechs inherited apartments from their ancestors once communism came to an end, so there are a surprising amount of unbelievably beautiful flats available for a few nights in the heart of the city.

Transport:

From the airport, I would recommend ordering a taxi or getting the bus to Dejvická followed by the metro. Prague has a decent underground metro system which I still find to be a novelty because of how retro it looks. Trams go almost everywhere and also run all night, as do the buses. There are plenty of taxi companies, but I would always call before just getting in. Prague taxi drivers have a reputation for ripping tourists off.

Things to be careful of:

– Czech is an extremely difficult language to learn, but even if you just say Dobrý den (Good day) and Dík (thanks), it will make them happy that you’re trying. However, majority of Prague residents do speak English.

– High percentage absinthe is also legal in the Czech Republic and can be a very interesting experience, but try to go to a proper absinthe bar for the real thing. Souvenir shops sell terrible stuff.

– Although I’ve never been pickpocketed, I’d advise to watch your belongings, especially around old town square when waiting for the astronomical clock to ring.

– A lot of bars and restaurants don’t take card, so have plenty of cash handy.

– Remember that the Czech Republic is NOT on the euro. Check your exchange rates to see how many crowns you’ll need to get by.

All and all, Prague is one of the safest cities I have ever lived in. It’s also very tourist friendly, and has an addictive charm about it. Once you’ve been, you’ll more than likely return. For more information on the quirks and adventures of people in Prague, be sure to subscribe to my blog.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

National Museum at Wenceslas Square

The National Museum at Wenceslas Square

 

Bar owner Aleš talks Hemingway and cocktails

Hemingway_barmani159-3

Over the four years that I have lived here, considerably less than some expats, I feel as though I’ve seen a lot of great things in Prague, as well as a lot of great changes. As I have mentioned before, I do have a love for the booze, but these days booze is no longer just booze but an evolving artform. Aleš Půta is one of few bartenders who has brought this art to the Czech Republic. Having spent a large amount of time abroad and researching the best ingredients and recipes for outstanding cocktails, his story is definitely a memorable one. Aleš’ journey with the Hemingway bar in Prague could almost be compared to Ernest Hemingway himself. Like the great writer, the bar has seen its share of intense ups and downs, only to emerge triumphant.. and tasty. Aleš gives us an inside look into his journey as well as letting us in on the perfect ingredients for not only decent cocktails, but a decent bar. From creating cocktails named after Hemingway’s wives, carefully selecting and crafting the beautiful interior and creating a massive selection of rums and quality absinthe, it’s been one hell of a ride.

When did it all begin with this bar?

We have been open for more than 5 years and this year we’ve received a few awards, so we’ve had a lot of interviews and a lot of interest in the bar. We started in 2009 and I was really happy to open a real cocktail bar in Prague because we are focused on original recipes; we like the old fashioned style cocktails. We also twist classics but today people like more of a sweet taste so we had to take these classics and make them a little sweeter. It was very hard in the beginning because we had very few customers – we were waiting almost one year for nothing, but we stayed and tried to make the best of it. Then after about one and a half years, there came a magical day when everything changed.

So it changed quickly?

More and more people started to come. We started with just 3 bartenders, now altogether we have 17. We also now have two bars and we started with 30 seats and now we have over 70. We’re still searching for the best quality cocktails and testing new ingredients. We have a passion for the job. The bartenders even win competitions. We’ve also had a lot of friends from all around the world that have come to help us too. This year we were awarded the 24th best bar in the world.

Wow, congratulations!

It’s amazing for the Czech Republic. Czech people don’t know about this kind of cocktail culture.

Would you say that it’s changing now?

Yes, definitely. People are travelling and many tourists come to Prague and they’re always helpful with recommendations. If they ask for a cocktail that we don’t know, we will try to find it on the internet. It’s really different than before.

How did you become interested in mixology?

It started in my family. My father and grandfather worked in hospitality. Originally I wanted to be a professional horse rider, but my father told me that I would be in hospitality too. I was really happy because I was 16 years old and I had already done a bartendering course, it was something special for me. It changed my life.

So Hemingway, aside from being a famous writer, had quite a dramatic life. He was also involved in a lot of the great wars. If you could compare his life to the life of this bar, would you say that it’s similar?

Hemingway’s life was very interesting and honestly he drank a lot.. So yes, and we have a lot of his stories in our cocktails. For example, the ‘100 days cocktail’ which is named after the 100 day ultimatum that Hadley (his wife at the time) gave to Hemingway. If Hemingway could make it through 100 days without seeing Pauline Pfeiffer, then she would grant him a divorce. Hadley thought that Hemingway was just crazy-in-love with Pfeiffer, but after the 100 days he was still in love with her anyway, so she said yes and gave him freedom.

How did you first become interested in Hemingway?

It was in 2001, I was very young and had a lot of passion for this work, I still do. We had a short video on working flair with cocktails, juggling bottles etc. One Croatian guy and Canadian girl had a bar in Dubrovnik, and they wanted my help to open a colonial style Hemingway bar. So I spent 4 months there helping them with bartendering. It was from this that I got this dream. Then I thought “yes, I will have the best Hemingway bar in the world”.

And have you read his books? Do you have a favourite?

‘The Sun Also Rises’, but I actually like reading books about Hemingway, many of our bartenders like his story too.

If the real Hemingway was in your bar, what do you think he would say?

I think he was a little bit strange, especially before his death. He had paranoia about the FBI and other things… I think he would tell us to shut up (laughs), but he was the most famous barfly ever, so maybe he would like us.

If you could compare Prague to a cocktail, which would it be?

Well, we really love Becherovka. After the Velvet Revolution, a lot of alcohol came to the Czech Republic and everyone forgot about what was originally ours. Becherovka is unique, it’s very good quality and it’s really different. But, as for a cocktail hmmmm. It’s hard to say. I think our Becherovka cocktail ‘becher butter sour’, which is becherovka infused with ghee butter – this drink is beautiful.

How would you describe Prague?

Home, I think it’s also one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also the main point in Europe, it’s in the centre – a place you have to go to if you come to Europe. People love it… unless they have a bad experience with taxi drivers, but this isn’t only in Prague.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I couldn’t say an actor, but I love (director) Miloš Forman. I’ve heard a lot about his life and I really like how he has created films. He inspired me for a few drinks too.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I don’t like politics, nor do I like the wasting of materials and things like that, but I don’t think that one person can change something, but maybe I would.

So not only would you go back in time, but you would change something?

Yes, I have many ideas and many dreams so I would maybe change something about my parents, they are shy and don’t travel a lot. They have given me everything now but because of the communism in the past, they couldn’t do anything themselves. I would change this time, the time when the Russians came.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

As a bartender, I love the ‘negroni’. I think bartenders all over the world like this drink.

 

For a look at the bar, bartenders, stylish interior and mouth-watering drinks list (which you can download as a PDF) visit the website here.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.