Nobody drinks more beer than the citizens of the Czech Republic, a fact that tends to create much pride among its citizens. According to a 2014 study conducted by Kirin Holdings, Czech citizens drink 142 liters of beer annually per capita. Consider that the U.S. lags behind with a meek 75.8 liters.
In this beer-mad country, how do craft cocktail bars find their footing? They amp up their creativity with wildly inventive concepts, intricately designed spaces and drink menus that command attention. Welcome to the crazy world of the Czech Republic's top cocktail bars.
"It’s true that we, as a country, lead the world in beer consumption," says Filip Stránský, the head of the growing collection of AnonymouS concept bars in Prague. "But times are changing!"
His spaces are among those spearheading the Czech cocktail movement. Stránský and his peers are well-studied in classic cocktails and the finer points of the technique and craft of bartending. But sometimes it takes a little magic to pry the masses away from Prague's countless beer halls and into a cocktail den for a change.
"Each year, the bar standards here are higher and higher," says Stránský. "There’s a constant influx of new bars, restaurants and hotels that are putting more and more effort, time and money to educate their staff in cocktails and mixology."
Stránský is one of the young contingent in Prague spurring along the cocktail scene and doing so with an endless assortment of tricks to keep his guests intrigued, entertained and coming back for more. So put down that pilsner and check out these top cocktail spots in the Czech Republic.
The city of Brno is a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from Prague and a convenient waypoint for rail travelers who may be headed to Vienna or Bratislava. It’s also home to cocktail wonderland Super Panda Circus. Do you really need to know anything else?
Envision elevated stadium-style seating with the gazes of everyone fixed on the the bar, where a team of bartenders speed around churning out the latest offerings, grabbing bottles stored between stuffed animals and rubber duckies. Think it's a gimmick? You won't when you peruse the incredibly deep list of rare Japanese whisky on offer or speak with a knowledgeable bartender for a recommendation on a cocktail or spirit.
During a recent visit, the menu showcased a child's puzzle board, with different toys atop the wooden sticks used to move the puzzle pieces around. Pick the toy that you think will get you the best drink, with each selection offering a choice of two drinks—one classic and one revamped. The Barnum & Bailey vibes are being phased out by a casino theme, though the name Super Panda Circus will remain.
It might take you a minute to find AnonymouS Bar, as the space sticks to the anonymous theme with an unlit exterior found down a winding alley. Once inside, Stránský may be serving up a Negroni through a customized IV-drip rig, though you might not know it's him given the Guy Fawkes mask (think: “V for Vendetta”) he's donning. Or maybe you'll receive a toy pistol next to a glass wearing a red bandana and be forced to choose wisely with whatever you do next.
Every November 5, on Guy Fawkes Night, AnonymouS Bar unveils its latest concept. Last year, Stránský introduced the “Virus Collection" menu inspired by legendarily destructive computer viruses. "The guest gets a floppy disk with an email address to which he or she will send an email—at his or her own risk—and will receive an instant reply with our cocktail menu," says Stránský. You can also opt for one of the house classics such as the Remember, an Old Fashioned riff with Bulleit bourbon, Frangelico, cold-brew coffee syrup, walnut bitters and an orange peel garnish.
The Bar Which Doesn't Exist does indeed exist, and you'll find it in Brno. Despite the name, the bar is more classic than campy. The two-story spot from the team behind Super Panda Circus serves food in addition to a collection of spot-on cocktail classics alongside new creations on a magazine-style photo menu. The bar team is also happy to create a drink based on your specifications. So if you can't get that marshmallow-infused Last Word from Super Panda Circus out of your head from the night before, see what the crew can work up for you instead.
At AnonymouS Shrink's Office, Stránský veers more traditional with a smaller, quieter basement space. "Here, we are more or less back to the roots that translate into a more minimalistic service and presentation," says Stránský. Even so, the menu is based on Rorschach inkblots. Don't worry about the minutiae of the house-made ingredients in the drink. Just see how you feel.
"Currently, our patients get our own custommade Rorschach tests that evoke in the customer different flavors and tones of each cocktail," says Stránský. Flip through the cards to pick the drink that fits your mood. "The success rate of the customer getting the right drink based on those tests is around a staggering 90 percent.”
Sign up for a prescription next time you're in Prague. You'll be picking based on your response to the different colors and designs on the inkblots. If you're a whiskey drinker, you may find your way to the Number 2, with a house-made blend of Speyside whiskeys boosted with a star anise and lemon simple syrup, and herbal bitters, while gin and Chartreuse drinkers may stumble upon the Number 4, featuring a blend of London dry gins with chamomile-infused dry vermouth and Green Chartreuse.