Panenka Scarves XII : Golden Tiger

Panenka scarves is one Canadian’s attempt to document his appreciation of the obvious and not-so-obvious experiences of a life in the Czech Republic. For previous Panenkas, click here.

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Last Sunday I got to do something that even local Praguers have difficulty pulling off: I got a table at the Golden Tiger.

The Golden Tiger Pub, or U Zlatého Tygra, is one of the most famous pubs in the city. For a nation that consumes more beer than anywhere else on the planet, that’s a pretty distinguished title.

The pub is legendary for several reasons. First, it’s been around for a few hundred years – plenty of time to build a reputation. Second, it’s been a popular hangout for Czech artists, authors, economists, and philosophers throughout the centuries (a lot like Café Slavia, actually). The most notable of which is probably the writer Bohumil Hrabal, who hung out, drank, and wrote at the Golden Tiger for decades – so much so that the first thing you’ll likely notice when you step inside is a large bust of the author hanging on the wall. Having your local put up a statue of your visage on the walls after you die? You’ll have to go through a lifetime of pints for that honour, sir.

(L-R): Hrabel, Havel, and Clinton

In fact, it was Hrabal that welcomed Czech President Václav Havel, Bill Clinton, and Madeleine Albright to the pub for a couple of rounds in 1994. Pictures from that evening are iconic and  proudly adorn the walls as well.

So why is it so hard to get a table?

Well, while it is common that most pubs have a few spots reserved for the štamgast, or regulars, the Golden Tiger has the majority of their tables reserved for these frequenters. This is an exclusive club that takes decades of “earning it”, and requires consistency. Basically, you need to show up at the pub every day at the same time for years. A tall order, even for the most hardcore beer lovers.

This is why the pub, which opens at 3 pm every day, will have lineups form outside the door around 2:30. If you wait any longer, you’ll be forced to drink your pint standing at the entranceway. The regulars will stroll in when they like, probably after dinnertime, and they’ll never have to worry about finding a table – it’ll always be there.

Because of this setup, our journey into pub went something like this:

2:59 pm – Stand in line on Husova Street with a lot of Germans, Russians, and a handful of Czechs.

3:01 pm – Still standing outside, because god forbid anything in this country ever opens on time.

3:05 pm – The doors open.

3:06 pm – Every non-reserved table in the pub is full. Even some of the reserved spots are temporarily allowed to be used, provided the patrons promise to piss off without complaint once the regulars arrive.

3:08 pm – Everyone in the bar has an ice cold Pilsner in front of them. No one asked for one, but if you sit down at a table, you’ll be promptly served a pint. You’re here, so here’s a beer!

That last part is my favourite. The service style at the Golden Tiger is as old school as it gets. The beer will keep coming, unsolicited, until you say stop.

The establishment is often listed in tourist guides of the city and many of the English-language online reviews (presumably written by tourists) are critical the staff’s prickly attitude. This is not without base – the bartenders will certainly act a bit surly if you stroll in speaking English and stand around aimlessly, unprepared to follow the unwritten rules of place. The whole thing is a little Soup Nazi-esque, so any attempt to speak Czech will go a long way.

Once inside, your options are to find a seat, cram in next to someone else at their table, stand politely and drink your beer, or get the hell out of the way. The tap is constantly open, so any obstruction of the barman’s routes will certainly ensure that you aren’t served anytime soon. You’re also likely to have a couple of choice Czech cusses thrown your way for good measure. In short: Sit, drink, or get out of the way!

Anyhow, because we were so early we managed to find a seat. As I said, the beer was on my coaster mere moments after I’d arrived. When my glass was empty, a full one replaced it immediately. In moments like this the Canadian in me comes out a little bit. After years of waiting ages for a pint in bars across the country, from Moncton to Victoria, a pub like this is Valhalla to me; Beer drinker’s heaven.

Over the course of the handful of rounds we had, the small pub filled up with noise, laughter, smoke, conversation and clinking glass.

Antonin Panenka Golden Tiger Zlateho Tigra Prague

The moustache even looks good through the filter of an old iPhone

On my way back from the restroom, I even stumbled upon an autographed Antonin Panenka photo on the wall – the  namesake of these pieces. I’m sure he’s thrown a couple back at the Golden Tiger in his day.

I’m not sure if I will ever return to U Zlatého Tygra. It requires a lot of planning and afternoon drinking if you wish to do it comfortably. Plan B would be to court one of the daughters of a regular, though I wouldn’t even know where to start with that, plus the age of daughters is likely to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50-60…

Still, I’m glad I got to do it at least once while I was here. Sunday afternoon beers in Prague never let you down.

As we finished off our third pint of the still-young afternoon, my girlfriend summed it up quite well, “You know something? I think it’s really cool that we get to have a beer in the same place Bill Clinton did.”

And how.

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