Entertainment | Restaurants & Dining | January 2008
|A 2008 Beer Lover's Survival Guide to Our Planet|
Michael Werbowski - PVNN
"Que bonito es lo bonito, lastima que sea pecado" *
2008 is likely to be a great year full of upheaval, financial turmoil, mass uprisings and hotly contested presidential elections. In order to survive this tumult you might seek out a refuge or a sanctuary from the daily madness which surrounds us. So allow me to share some of my favorite watering holes; places where life slows down to a more livable pace and where being civil and sociable and at times downright silly are in style.
For starters, if you happen to be in Prague: the world's capital of great pubs or hospodas then here's a tip. One place which you might find me at a table reserved for the locals and engaged in heated multilingual (English, Czech ,German) discussion on various topics which range from the latest Sparta vs. Slavia match to Prague's dog dropping problem is the U Horcha pub. Located in the old town not far from the Czech parliament and just a stone's throw away from the British embassy it was established in 1994. I hazily recall being one of its first customers during the heady and more optimistic days following the Bohemian "velvet revolution". Since then many Czech brewery have been sold off to foreign competitors and others have simply disappeared.
"U Hrocha" at the Hippo is special, you shall see, in many ways but its most alluring attraction is the Pilsner Urquell served on tap. There is no more delightful smooth and sweet (but not too much) brew in the world. The way the pint of "pivo" is served there is an art form. The publican in this case is the masterful Vaclav, who pours the beer lovingly and you can taste the frothy head too. When I had my first pint it was only 12 Czech crowns today the price had more than doubled. But nevertheless, the quality of the Pilsner has not changed. It remains just as it was; a tad tart yet mostly sweet on the palette. To go along with the delicious brew a "beer cheese" or a "roll mops" or pickled herring as a cold appetizer is the perfect accompaniment.
After a concert performance or perhaps before a piano recital there is not a better place to rest, read a newspaper or chat about the evening's performance in discreet yet lively surroundings than the U Rudolphinum restaurant - cellar. This place which also serves an outstanding pint of Pilsner Urquell is just across the academy of art design and architecture in the city center. This great pub remains special despite the recent influx or marauding hordes of tourists which have been drawn to it. It still thankfully remains in the hands of the locals who meet there and sit sipping beer alongside rustic wooden tables.
In Brussels, on a rainy gloomy day there's no better place to be than at "a la Mort Subite" situated not far from the city's Bourse or stock market. This almost mythical cafe brasserie has a splendid original 1928 decor with Greek columns and large gilded mirrors to add its tasteful elegance. Brussels of course rivals Prague for great beers. A beer lover or patron of "a la Mort Subite" can indulge in one of life's most sublime sinful pleasures such as a pint served on tab of the great "Duval" beer made famous by Trappist monk of Belgium. Sipping a large glass of this dark brew is a heavenly experience, trust me on this. Often this majestic brew comes accompanied with local cheese for you to nibble on. The waiters (all men) are so skilled in the art of serving that a simple gracious nod of approval will be enough for another glass to magically appear on your table.
Now on to another French speaking city with great beers. In Montreal which has become a preeminent city of outstanding micro brasseries I suggest the casual elegance of the "l'Isle Noire" or the Black Island named after the famous Tintin story bearing the same title. Located in the city's Latin Quarter, this beer-pub is more famous for its selection of scotch whiskies but it also has great local Quebec and international beers on tap. Just some micro brasseries which must be sampled there are the St-Ambroise (a type of bitter) but my choice would be the locally brewed house red ale also called by the name of the pub. This locale has a relaxed atmosphere and a cosmopolitan flavor where both the language of Moliere and Shakespeare, despite the occasional political linguistic frictions melds or blends perfectly well. A place to discover and remember on your next visit to the island city in the middle of the St-Laurence River.
In Washington, the city were the denizens banned boredom long ago, if you're a busy lobbyist arms dealer, citizen journalist , bureaucrat, diplomat-spy then there's a lovely place to unwind, relax and have a great laugh or listen to the latest titillating inside political gossip. You'll find it near the embassy row and just off DuPont circle. It's called the "Childe Harold". There you'll sample a wonderful selection of American style brews also micro brewed ones. There also serve superb burgers and the occasional fish dish as well to go with your pint. Lively sometimes raucous conversation is free of charge and often lasts into evening until the dreaded last call.
When a tourist or business visitor to Mexico City or the "enchanted witch" as I call this great capital, then the place to go for a typical Mexican style home cooked dish, accompanied with one of the Mexican famous beers is the inimitable cantina "El Nivel". This pub- cantina is located just off the Zocalo where the presidential palace is. On a side street crowded with street merchants called "calle de la Moneda" you will find this hidden gem -- the oldest cantina in Mexico city. Within its walls, there is so much history. It dates back to 1855 and in this mythical location many Mexican presidents had a drink, including Cuba's Fidel Castro. I recommend you try the local homemade soup and savor a "Negra Modelo" dark brew with dash of lime and salt to your lips. Take in the visual feast as well. The walls of El Nivel are covered with art work donated by the students from the nearby art academy of San Carlos.
A word of warning or friendly advice for the ladies or wine lovers in general, in most of these places you are likely to meet men a bit like me; that is enamored with good beer and company who enjoy the occasional lewd but not too nasty joke.
* "What is fine is what is pretty, pity that it's a sin..." A saying written on the side of napkin dispenser at the "El Nivel" cantina in Mexico City.