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1992 Czech


Paul, Ray, Trev and Dave.


Brewery tours: Plzensky Prazdroj and Budejovicky Budvar.

For some time we had wanted to go to Bohemia, where the Pilsner style of beer originated and with the end of communist control in Czechoslovakia in the late 1980’s a trip there seemed more practicable. Indeed, with the opening up of Czechoslovakia to Western investment it was desirable to make the trip as soon as possible as Anheuser-Busch (the American chemical beer giant responsible for ‘Bud’) had designs on Budweiser Budvar and god knows what would happen to this classic beer if the Americans got their hands on it.


Plzensky Prazdroj, Budejovicky Budvar, Prague, Plzen , Ceske Budjovice, Gambrinus, U Fleku,  Pilsner Urquell, Discoland Silvie, CD Skoda, U svateho Tomase,  Branicke Pivo


Our requirements for a trip taking in Prague, Plzen and Ceske Budjovice were put to a local travel firm, Explore Worldwide, and they along with their Czech agents, CS Magic, came up with an itinerary which fitted our needs nicely.  Whilst communist rule had ended, some of their systems were still in place. All accommodation, brewery visits, beer tasting and, in one case, even breakfast had to be covered by vouchers, in triplicate, obtained before travel.


The flight from Heathrow to Ruzyne Airport Prague arrived just before 14.00 and after changing some money (Czech crowns were not available in the UK) we caught the bus into the city centre and then a taxi to our hotel. Prague city centre hotels are expensive. Our accommodation - Pension Janata (Hajkova 18) about 3km from the centre was a bit different- having been built in the back garden of an end of terrace 3-story town house.

After booking in and depositing our bags, we headed to the nearest bar- on the corner opposite. We were lucky, the bar (corner of Konevova and Hajkova) served draught Gambrinus (both 10 and 12%). God it was good. The bar was very popular with the locals, many of whom seemed to spend the whole afternoon eating as well as drinking. And fortunately, following the pension receptionist’s knowledge of the English, this was where the local CS Magic representative, clutching our rail tickets, caught up with us. The first class tickets for the railway journeys - Prague to Plzen, Plzen to Ceske and Ceske to Prague, a round trip of 40 km - cost £5.80.

Time to explore Prague. The taxi to the centre dropped us off at U Fleku: (Kremencova 11), a brewpub since 1499. Centred on a garden courtyard the many, lavishly decorated rooms, one with its own cabaret stage, were all reserved. The place was packed but we did manage to try the unique house beer, Flekovsky Dark 13 (5.5% ABV), with its slightly sweet roasty taste.

At last finding Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square) we tried the Hotel Europa, a wonderful Art Deco palace complete with its own palm court orchestra. It also had the most expensive beer we found in Czechoslovakia- 80p for a 330 ml can of Pilsner Urquell. The hotel bar/restaurant and upper gallery closed at 23.00, along, as far as we could see, with everything else in the centre of Prague.

As it was still early, we asked a taxi driver to recommend a late night establishment and we were suddenly off for, what seemed at the time, a long trip out to the suburbs and Discoland Silvie (Primatorska 3/172). This was like no other disco before or since. Crowded with, amongst others, some national ice hockey team, the dance floor was cleared at 12.00, 3.00 and 6.00 for a half hour performance by some strippers! Then it was back to the loud music. Leaving in the small hours we were relieved to find taxis waiting outside available to take us back to our pension.


After a slow start to the day we managed to get to at Prague’s central railway station around midday. Still plenty of time for Ray to have a disgusting looking soup before we caught the 13.04 to Plzen. Arriving mid afternoon, we took a taxi to our hotel, a few kilometers out of town.

The CD Skoda, in communist times, was used to accommodate overseas visitors to the Skoda heavy engineering plants which covered large areas of the town and one could not help wondering whether all the holes in the walls of the rooms had previously housed cameras and microphones. The hotel still retained some of its former glories and had the largest baths we have ever come across. Also the waitresses had the shortest skirts imaginable, which encouraged us to stay at the hotel for diner.

Plzen’s central square was dominated by sv. Bartolomej Church, which was bedecked with Czech and American flags in anticipation of the forthcoming visit of the veterans who liberated the town in 1945.

The bars we found were a little disappointing as they had no draught Pilsner Urquell but we made do with the bottled variety. As usual, most seemed to close around 23.00. Looking for some late night drinking establishments we came across the cellar bar of the Hotel Central. Not only did you have to pay an entrance fee of £1.00 but they also refused to let us drink beer, insisting we have the more expensive spirits. Still you did get quite a good live group and, at midnight (you guessed it), a very flexible stripper.


After breakfast, complete with delightful waitress service, it was time for the brewery tour. Plzensky Prazdroj: (U Prazdroje 7). This brewery was founded in 1842 by the townspeople who had brewing privileges and is the origin of pilsner beer. The German name for the beer - Pilsner Urquell – means beer from the source. The brewery produced not only, Pilsner Urquell, but also Gambrinus, Primus, Purkmistr, Prior and local brands.

As the guided tour was only in Czech, CS Magic had arranged for an interpreter to meet us at the brewery office at 10.00. At the same time a group of French schoolchildren were about to go on the brewery tour but without an interpreter. Luckily for them our interpreter also spoke French and, being English gents, we lent him to them. Thus we went round the brewery with the guide’s wisdom spoken in Czech, translated into French, and then the French translated into English. I think some of the nuances of Pilsner brewing were lost along the way. 

Still, the brewery itself was fascinating- from the enormous 1000 litre barrels, which the workers walk inside to clean, to the wooden fermenting vessels in the vaulted stone cellars.

The schoolchildren left us after the tour when we went into the tasting room. At last, draught Pilsner Urquell. Absolutely,gorgeous. Then onto the Prazdroj (Brewery) Restaurant for lunch after which we said goodbye to our interpreter.

An afternoon sightseeing and a few beers in the Hotel Slovan were a pleasant prelude to a return to the hotel in order to prepare for the evening’s continued investigation of Plzen’s nightlife. After the bars closed we again visited the Hotel Central cellar bar - same group, different stripper - and then went onto a disco. Leaving the disco, we came across a club that was still open. It turned out to be a sex club and we had arrived just as the last performers were leaving. Even so, the German owner, one of the first Western businessmen to set up in Plzen, was quite happy to serve us beer and show us around his club. Trev was particularly intrigued by the revolving bed in the peep show and provided an excellent demonstration of how it worked. After a few hours the owner got us a taxi (the driver turned out to be one of our new drinking companions) and it was back to the Hotel CD in the early morning light.


After a very slow start it was to the station for the 14.02 train from Plzen to Ceske Budejovice. A taxi from the station took us to our hotel, again located a few kilometers out of the centre.

You could not get a greater difference between the Hotel CD Skoda and our new lodgings at the Hotel Vltava (Jaromira Boreckeho 27), a typical communist style high - rise concrete block. With the ‘no prostitutes’ sign on the reception door and Mormons in the lift this was not luxurious accommodation. Nonetheless the downstairs cafeteria/bar did provide us with the cheapest beer of our trip; 10p a glass of draught Budweiser Budvar 12.

Ray set off early for the evening’s explorations, walking into the centre. Paul and Dave followed later in a taxi after Trev had decided to take the rest of the day off. Ray had already found a typical Czech restaurant for our evening meal before we met in the main square. The meal was typically Czech as well, meat and two types of dumpling. There were not many bars around the main square but we did manage to find a disco near the railway station.


With the hotel cafeteria not up to much, breakfast was at Restaurant Vltava(Frantiska Ondricka 46).  It was strange eating in a large restaurant empty but for the four of us, but what a breakfast. Taking into account our nationality they provided bacon and eggs (all cooked in one pan), albeit with a side salad!

A short walk to the brewery followed. Budejovicky Budvar: (Karoliny Svetle 4). We were meet at the main entrance by our guide and his book with the specialist beer terms translated. Unfortunately, he had believed the group would be German and he only had the German translations with him. This tour was thus conducted in Czech with some German words thrown in just to add to our confusion.

The brewery, owned by the state, was founded in 1895. Since then it has been regularly modernised and has little of historical interest. There was only one type of beer brewed - Budvar - but in two strengths

Still our guide had warmed to us since finding out we were not German and provided a comprehensive tour of the brewery and copious beer tasting, even if it was only from bottles. We did, however, try the draught variety in the brewery restaurant just outside the main gates.

Walking into town you pass innumerable modern high-rise housing developments that are in complete contrast to the old medieval centre set on a walled island. The main square, namestri Premysla Otakara II, was well preserved, as were most of the interesting architectural buildings surrounding it. A climb up the tower in the corner of the square was well rewarded with the views. Whilst sightseeing we came across the Budejovicky Budvar shop in Krainska, just off the main square and were able to buy some souvenirs of our brewery visit.

The rest of the day followed its normal course, duly arriving at the disco near the station. We then tried the taxi driver tack for a late night drink and were taken to a bar/disco in the basement of some flats in the Ctyri Dvory district of the town. This turned out to be more of a brothel than a disco and we did not linger long. Fortunately it was only a short walk back to the hotel.


After a disappointing breakfast (no bacon and eggs this time) we caught the 12.20 train to Prague. This time there was a buffet on the train - well a small hatch from which an old lady sold 500-ml bottles of Budvar , which made for a pleasant journey. Arriving in Prague it was back to the Pension Janata for our last two nights in Czechoslovakia.

The evening followed the usual tour of bars and our late night visit to Discoland Silvie.

At last, Dave’s ‘day of leisure in Prague’ had arrived and some light sightseeing was planned. A taxi across the river Vltava took us to the Hradcany on the hill overlooking the city. Walking through the palace area, full of many splendid buildings, you slowly descend towards the river eventually arriving at Mala Strana district. Here we found U svateho Tomase: (Levenska), a cellar tavern. The beer, brewed by the monks of the nearby St. Thomas’s church, was dark and sweet and went down surprisingly well with our lunchtime meal. Crossing the Charles Bridge we continued our sightseeing through to Wenceslas Square only being distracted once for a Branicke Pivo in a local café. 

A flyer given to us at Tomase, advertising a new club in the Nove Mesto district, proved misleading and we abandoned the place and headed back to the centre by Metro. As usual we ended up at Discoland Silvie. The last taxi journey back to the hotel was quicker and the fare much less than previously. An honest driver had eventually shown us the disco was only a short way from the hotel and there had never been any need to go via the city centre!


After breakfast we said goodbye to the Pension Janata and flew home.

Created on 01/22/2006 09:29 AM by drinking
Updated on 01/22/2006 09:38 AM by drinking
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