Tuesday 8th May 2012
This, the most famous pub in Prague first opened in 1499. It has had an illustrious history since and of course, this date means that it has been brewing for over 500 years. Or has it?
Without wanting to churlish on this point, it did cease production several times during the destructive Thirty Years War but, as it was available to brew had the conditions been better during this awful period, I suppose that can be forgiven.
It is an amazing pub to visit and should you do so, try in your mind to remove the influences of the modern situation, and think about what it was like in its heyday before it relied on tourists as its staple income.
When was this heyday? It's difficult to know with certainty; possibly the latter years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Prague was the powerhouse of industry within Austria. Maybe, the inter-war years when Czechoslovakia was a democratic and independent country? Or during the communist era post-war when the pub was nationalised by the communist government that came to power in 1948?
I remember it during the latter period and even then it was frequented by many tourists. There was often a small group of German-speakers in one of the rooms or a party of Japanese in another, possibly some Russians, but the main language heard was Czech. It's not the case now, sadly.
Then the beer was served in cracked 0.5 litre jugs and I think it tasted better. It is known as Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13% and it is 5% abv. I know that there is always an element of "the good old days" syndrome when people compare what was with what is now, however I really do think the beer had greater bitterness in those days.
That's not to say it isn't all right now, but I definitely think it is less balanced and maltier than it once was, and it now comes in a 0.4l glass at one of the highest prices in the city.
It is possible to visit the brewery and the museum in the original malt house at extra cost. I'm not sure whether these tours represent good value or not as the last one I did was free, but we certainly don't want to go back to those days even though things were so much cheaper.
If you visit, try and walk into as many rooms as possible, several of them are stunning. There are eight plus an outside courtyard. They all have their own names and feature much wood-panelling and stained-glass windows, truly wonderful!
A couple of snippets of information: in one of the rooms there is a plaque above the table where the football club HNK Hajduk Split was formed in 1911. They have occasionally played in the Champions League. In those days both Prague and Split were in Austria. Split is nowadays in Croatia and is a popular holiday resort that is often frequented by my companion in Prague that evening, Russell.
The other fact is that the pub didn't get its name U Fleků (at the sign of Flek) until it was bought by Jakub Flekovský in 1762. I wonder what it was called before then? About 1802 the pub and brewery were rebuilt to form the basis of what we see today. Some of the rooms were built and decorated in the 20th Century.
It goes without saying that food is important in this pub and is solidly Czech in style. It is of course not cheap compared to other pubs. So busy is the pub at certain times, for instance lunch, that the only place to drink is in the courtyard. Should you end up here, take a walk around the rest of the pub, once you've secured a beer.
Tourism brings its own problems and the waiting staff aren't the most friendly in Prague and are continually after a tip. Please check your bill with your change and finally the best tip of all: When the waiter with the tray of Bekerovka (herb-based bitters spirit), arrives at your table, decline his offerings. So many people accept one and then are surprised at the size of their bill. If I'm not wrong, you can buy a bottle of it in a supermarket for the same price as a glass in U Flecků.
Despite the downside of this pub, it should be visited just for its wonderful architecture.
Pivovar a restaurace U Fleků, Křemencova 11, Praha 1, 11000.
Open: Daily 10.00-23.00
The pub is in the New Town yet just south of the Old Town and is near to other brewpubs.
Metro stations and many tram stops are within ten minutes walk.