As we approached hour three of dinner, we flagged our waiter down to order yet another shot of absinthe. By this point in the evening, we were each about three or four litres of fresh Czech pilsner deep and the conversation had drifted to some obscure debate relating to the common semantics of Dutchmen. Hard to say with any certainty why we had arrived at that topic or who exactly had sparked the deeply divisive dispute, though I can say with absolute certainty that we were heavily intoxicated.
In Prague, where beer is cheaper than water, we seemed to have found the ideal watering hole. Located on the edge of one Prague’s poshest neighbourhoods is an unassuming beer hall that would become perhaps my single favourite restaurant in the world. I was not expecting Lokál Dlouhááá to receive such a prestigious and coveted honour, though two meals later, I have no doubt in my mind that this restaurant is alone worth the trip to the Czech Republic.
The interior is nothing special, which is to be expected from a humble beer hall. I was told at the time that the dining room —really more of a long corridor than anything properly resembling a typical restaurant venue — is meant to take the shape of a beer barrel’s interior. However, the simplistic drawings and signatures etched into the warm wood walls by customers past serve as comforting reminders that a restaurant need not be fancily decorated to dish out deliciously memorable experiences.
Our table faced a cafeteria-style food counter where servers adorned in old school black waist-coats, trousers, and aprons spooned slowly stewed mystery meat over heaping piles of freshly steamed bread dumplings. In most cases, I would avoid ever dining at a place where the food is kept warm by a steam table and stewarded over by staff in hairnets. There was something endearing about the place though.
The first server who approached us swiftly asked for our beer orders and marked four x’s down on a small card paper with about 100 empty squares on it. This is the beer ordering system at Lokál; a simple way of settling your tab whereby each square marked with an x represented another half litre ordered. There would be 30 x’s on that card by the end of the evening.
As noted, beer in the Czech Republic is cheap by global standards but let me assure you, we were not drinking swill. Lokál is noted for its unique Czech approach to almost exclusively serving ‘Tank’ beer — unpasteurised beer piped directly from brewery trucks into special steel vessels at the bar.
Lucky for Lokál, their food menu accompanies beer, and evidently shots of nearly unpalatable Czech absinthe, perfectly. When our waiter returned after the third or so round of beers, we ordered a few classic Czech staples: a selection of house smoked and boiled sausages served over pickled cabbage, one of the most decadent black puddings I have ever had, not irony tasting, but more a rich haemoglobin-spiked pâté, and something roughly translated along the lines of neck-pork smothered in a mahogany-brown gravy alongside, big surprise, bread dumplings. I would recommend skipping the beer cheese, it smells and looks something like coagulated radioactive spill, so putrid and rank that various environmental advocacy groups have likely filed complaints against it.
One dish however, is the only dish you need try if you make the pilgrimage: the steak tartar. The secret-menu item was at least when we were there, by request only. An unassuming pile of chopped raw steak next to four or five slices of deep fried rye bread and a couple cloves of garlic. After rubbing the garlic directly into the rye with mustard, you spoon a generous helping of lean meat onto the toast and enjoy. Amazing how the simplest morsels of food oft times are the tastiest.
My memory of that first night at Lokál fades with the number of beers and shots we shared, though I somehow recall how one of our companions—suffering from an apparent case of drunken buffoonery—lit his absinthe on fire before proceeding to shoot it without extinguishing the flame. This was much to the amusement of the French graduate students at the next table over, but our waiter trying to shoo us out by this point seemed far less amused…
Lokál Dlouhááá is an institution not just for the beer, not just for the food; Lokál Dlouhááá is an institution because it is a restaurant where socialising is valued above all else; where good food and good beer are meant to be shared with friends. That night, after all those litres of beer, all those shots of absinthe and local plum wine, and all those bites of gut-bustlingly delectable food, I knew I had found the ideal restaurant.