Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beer & Adventure at an Old Scool Prague Pub: U Zlatého Tygra (At the Golden Tiger)

The Real Deal:
There are countless reasons to visit U Zlatého Tygra (the Golden Tiger) in Prague's Old Town. For beer lovers, there's the unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell, which connoisseurs consider  to be among the best in the world. Literati love the fact that Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabel,  one of the great writers of the 20th century, was a regular here until his death in 1997. History buffs can imagine that they are sitting at the same table occupied by then-president Bill Clinton and former Czech leader Vaclav Havel when Havel brought Clinton here  to show him what life in Prague was all about.

And for those (like me) who eschew tour groups and live to explore and discover things on their own, it is nice to know that a few authentic, history-soaked Czech drinking establishments like this still exist, just off of one of the most touristy thoroughfares in Europe. This is not to say that tourists don't eat and drink at the Golden Tiger; they do, but no concessions are made for them. There is no gift shop. The experience is not pre-packaged.  The staff is not all smiles and condescension - in fact, they can be more than a bit cranky. Seating preference is in this order: regulars, Czechs, and everyone else. If you fall into the category of "everyone else" and you want to get a seat at night (rather than in the afternoon) you may wait for a very long time - if you even get to sit.

Here is an undercover shot Poppa took to give you an idea:
But of all the reasons to want to sit down and have a drink and a bite at the Golden Tiger - the history, the beer, the authenticity - truth be told it was the challenge of the thing that attracted us most. Cranky staff who doesn't care for tourists? Tough to get a seat? Oh yeah: We were all over it.

We arrived on a weeknight around 7 or 8,  and it was already packed, loud, and filled with smoke. As we entered, two seats seemed to open up, and we walked towards them. Faux pas number one! We were waved away by a disgusted waiter, who pointed at the very small, very crowded bar - which had no seats.  Two others - clearly regulars - were waved (with a smile) to the empty seats. A very large, very gruff bartender nodded at us, poured two beers, and pushed them at us. He mumbled something. We gave him some Czech korunas; he gave us change.

Game on.

To be honest, it was Poppa who originally had his heart set on scoring a seat here, but I was soon fully on board. I am not used to drinking large quantities of beer (liquor and wine is another story!) but as I stood at the cramped bar, looking out over all of the Czech regulars laughing, eating, and drinking, I resolved to get a seat by any means necessary.

Our first breakthrough came, I believe, when I asked the cranky waiter for the bathroom - in Czech. This elicited a small smile. Score! Once back, we finished our beers and were given two more - this time they didn't ask us to pay. Hmm, were they starting a tab for us? Did they expect us to be here awhile? Things were looking up.

We stood for, I believe, an hour. Many were seated during this time, and many came in, gaped open-mouthed at the crowded space, and left. This is not a game for the weak. But finally our breakthrough moment came. A small group got up to leave - leaving one of their friends behind. He looked up, and ... Is he? Is he really? ... Yes! He is motioning for us to join him. Success!

And so we were finally able to sit at the Golden Tiger - and better yet, we made a friend to boot. Meet Radek, a Czech who was vacationing in Prague:

Hooray for Radek!
Radek apologized numerous times for his English, but I thought it was excellent. If only my sad Czech could compare!

But now that we were all cozy, what to eat? Radek suggested the steak tartare - he said it was an excellent traditional Czech dish - and who am I to argue?
Radek showed me how to mix everything together:
I had never had this dish before, and I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't like raw meat (though I was prepared to be a good guest and pretend to like it no matter what) - but Radek demonstrated how to rub raw garlic on toast before smearing it with the tartar, and I surprised myself and devoured the stuff with gusto. I loved it, in fact. The spiciest meal I had in Prague was not a cooked dish, but rather raw meat.  Of course we also had some sausage:
I am absolutely addicted to that fresh horseradish cream.

Sadly, by the time we got this dish, the kitchen was closed. Oh but the beer ... the beer just kept on coming. As soon as you finished one, another appeared - and Radek insisted we finish them all! And we are nothing if not obliging. Here I am, contemplating  my fourth ... or fifth? Oh forget it - who's counting?

We ended up closing the place down. I suppose the only reason I didn't have a hangover in the morning is that pure, unpasteurized beer. That, or the fact that Poppa and I went to Wenceslas Square afterwards and devoured a couple more sausages. Who can say? 

All I know is, all of my goals for the night were achieved. Poppa was happy:
Actually, this photo is from a subsequent night when we went back much earlier and so had a much easier time getting a seat.  I stupidly didn't get a shot of Poppa the first night. I didn't love it as much the second time around, thanks in no small part to that turtle necked sprocket man from Switzerland to the left of Poppa. This guy thought he was too cool for school. Let's just say he was no Radek!


We got to enjoy the old school ambiance and atmosphere from a seated, rather than standing, position:
Look at the cool old cash register! And the guy with the tiger T-shirt is the bartender/beer slinger.


Amazing painting on the wall
And I won over the server who originally wanted nothing to do with  us:
The lesson here? Never give up! And always give credit where credit is due. Thanks Radek!
Radek, with some unidentified (and from the looks of it, surprised) guy





19 comments:

  1. Sprocket Man!!!! (burning out his fuse up here alone...) But I digress! I love those gutsy moments where you insist on breaking through a local eatery! Good for you! All this and sausages too? Well, as I always say, who wouldn't have time for another sausage? (I really do always say that.) Its funny, I really only drink beer when I travel. For some reason it tastes better when I'm not at home.

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  2. I'm not into tartare but the sausages look amazing. Looks like you had a ton of fun. Good for you!

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  3. Trix... you are a trouper... from vegetarian to steak tartare... lots of life long carnivores aren't that brave. All the spices are meant to make it go down easier... did you like it with all the spices or because of the spices??? LOve the rubbed garlic toast idea too. Looks like a fine time at the beer house... boy would I love that tiger statue... would look great...somewhere>!>

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  4. Wow you are brave... there is no way I would eat that meat! I love it burnt period... so you are a true sport here! Looks like you had quite a time! I like the beer though!

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  5. Haha I love the last photo! Thanks for sharing this - my boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Prague next year so we'll have to try and score a seat at this place!

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  6. I love your tenacity! And your bravery for eating raw meat. Great travel post.

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  7. Yay for Radek, such an awesome story and so happy you got the table. Wow cool way to serve and mix your own tartar.

    I was in Prague in96 and we stayed in someone's apt so we were not in the tourist area. Although not gourmet we went all 3 nights at the same local restaurant...we ate like crazy, including caviar, and tons of beer...for like 7$. I guess the prices have gone up since then.

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  8. Prague is on my wish list of places to visit...and I enjoyed your adventures...the people, places and food :) How FUN!

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  9. My hubby has a friend in Prague one day we will visit may be I am dreaming. Looks like you had wonderful time there. You are a trooper.

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  10. Hi Trix, I'm just going to say it, how could you not break through that grumpy group when you are so cute???!!!
    I enjoyed your travel story with all it's wonderful images, looks like you had a great experience and inspires me to make this trip someday. I've missed your FFWD posts;-( I have some news for you, I met Penny (Jeroxie) in SF for lunch, that was so fun. I think she's headed to your neck of the woods;-)

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  11. Trix, I love love love your photos! And you my friend are one gorgeous lady!
    I wish I could have had a stab at that sausage plate...yummmm!

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  12. Trix

    You are a born traveler! Would love to see you visit our neck of the woods someday!

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  13. You have a great attitude toward travelling - it's always those locals first spots that bring the best memories. My partner would drool over that plate of steak tartare!

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  14. What an adventure! Love how you made a new friend. I'd give that steak tartare a go, too. Sigh... travelling is so much fun!

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  15. Super fun!!! I want some horseradish creme in my life! (And I love the name, "Golden Tiger!" :D).

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  16. just too fun, but that is what vacations are about right, and you & Poppa know how to have a good time for sure... always love reading of your adventures and the foods, now ya just gonna have to make your own horseradish cream...

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  17. Yum! This post makes me miss all the fabulous food and pils that I had in prague for a week last august when we were in europe. Lovely post and blog!

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  18. What a fabulous experience! The fresh horseradish cream sounds so good, with everything I'm sure. I would totally try this steak tartare although I would probably be the only one in my family to do that :)

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  19. aah, you're a traveler after my own heart -- always looking for good food, and willing to stick out a "sticky" situation to get it! We've run into few of the more "dour" Scots on our latest tour, but I find that if my English hubby keeps his mouth shut, and lets me all the talking (and a lot of smiling), we usually get what we want in the end! The haggis croquettes from last night were particularly good! Theresa

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