What I’ve seen from a bar stoop on Stepanska

Musings of a traveler.
Musings of a traveler.

Bar Nota serves only drinks, and that’s OK with me. There is no Czech food (Czechs aren’t known for their cuisine, unless you consider dry dumplings and fried cheese a staple diet). There also are few tourists here, which is a pleasant surprise since Prague in summertime is flooded with them.

Nope. Just Bernard beer, Jamiroquai and jazz music and St. Stephen’s Church across the street at which to stare.

It caught my attention because of the black musical note hanging from its door. Outdoor seating sealed the deal, so I took to a table and chair. I don’t speak Czech, but raising my hand flat from table to ceiling, saying “Bernard,” the bartender and I soon spoke the same language.

A moment must be taken to explain the Czech Republic’s fascination with beer. Unlike in the States and Canada, drinking beer is second to breathing air in Czech land, and done for fellowship.

It began a thousand years ago or more in this area then called Bohemia. Later, in 1838 in Plzen, Czech Republic, brewmasters mixed just the right amount of mineral water (the best in Europe, arguably), barley and wheat to a fermented state. Pilsner Urquell was born. I see Czechs—men and women—drinking a beer for breakfast. It is a social function, something that brings Czechs together, and happily so. It’s comparably in the States to Friday night dinner with the neighbor couple and a rousing game of Scrabble.

In fact, King Charles IV of Bohemia built an entire castle outside of Prague in the early 1400s to go drinking and hunting with his buddies (and, as he said, “a place to rest my crown jewels,” which I think was euphemistic, considering he married four times).

I sit often at Bar Nota on Stepanska Street in Prague watching the people: A young Czech couple arguing, the well-built man carrying a dog the size of a small cantaloupe, and being rejected from his girlfriend; prayer service (poorly attended) getting out from church across the street; Vietnamese operating a sushi restaurant also across the street, catering to well-fed Czech men and tourists; old Czech women, in their red and orange dyed hair, pulling their bag on wheels full of groceries from Tesco market around the corner; and on Fridays all of Prague 2 (my neighborhood) flooding streets at 4 p.m. to home and small underground pubs that dot every street, the almost government-mandated end-of-work-week release time.

And then Bar Nota gets really full. And I leave because I’m hungry. After people-watching and a Bernard beer, any dry Czech dumpling and fried cheese sounds palatable.

Tony Amante Schepers

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