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How to buy a beer in Prague

The fine art of picking and purchasing the right brewskie.
Image: Beer
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/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Many travelers (and virtually all Czechs) declare that Czech beer is the best in the world. But pub etiquette here is unique, closely followed, and not exactly intuitive.

Pick wisely: Look past the faux Irish pubs and casino bars for anything marked with the Czech word for pub: hospoda or pivnice. A good sign is a chalkboard listing half liters for 30 crowns or less (about $1.20); a better one is a steady stream of Czech customers.

Learn some lingo: Politeness and a little phrase-book Czech go a long way. Four to start with: dobry den (DOH-bree den, meaning “good day”), prosim (PRO-seem, “please”), dekuji (DJE-koo-yi, “thank you”), and zaplatit (ZAH-plah-teet, “to pay”).

Be patient, and be ready: When the waiter comes—it may take a while—he’ll assume you want a beer. Order with your fingers, using the thumb for one, add the index finger for two, and so on. Unless you say otherwise, expect half liters of the house pilsner. When your glass is empty, most waiters will ask, “Jeste jedno?” (ESHT-yay yedno, literally “still one”—a.k.a. “Another round?”), but some will simply plop down a fresh mug. To stanch the flow, say, “Zaplatit, prosim,” and the waiter will total up your bill. (A 10 percent tip is common.)

Decision time: Some pubs have just one pilsner on tap; others offer beer in two strengths: Ask for the lighter desitku (DEH-seet-koo, or “10 degree,” about 4 percent alcohol—the same as most American beers but without the fizzy chemical aftertaste), or the stronger dvanactku (DVA-natz-koo, “12 degree,” about 6 percent alcohol). When you see workmen drinking beer at 9 a.m., it’s desitka. If they’re staggering home at midnight, they’ve probably moved on to dvanactka.

Keep the staff on your side: Notoriously gruff waiters mark your tab on a slip of paper called a listek (LEES-tek), which stays on your table. Under no circumstances should you doodle on it, tear pieces off of it, or (God forbid) lose it before you pay. Also, although it’s common to ask people at a half-occupied table if you can join them (“Je tu volno?”—“yay too VOL-no,” meaning “Is it free?”), it’s considered the height of rudeness to push tables and chairs around without inquiring first.