The Hidden Prague Neighborhood of Brevnov Is All About the Beer
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Most people come for the castle. But this nearby hamlet is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
By Fiona Gaze
While there are pubs aplenty in Prague’s fairy-tale Old Town dating as far back as the 1400s, those aren’t the city’s oldest beer records by almost half a millennium. The monks at the monastery in Břevnov, a neighborhood just behind Prague Castle, began making beer almost 500 years earlier, in 993 — the earliest-recorded brewing in all of the Czech Republic
Břevnov is one of the oldest hamlets to be incorporated into the city of Prague, which happened in 1922. And yet its cobbled lanes and stately parks remain untrampled by the tourist hordes — the neighborhood is located just past the tram stop for the castle and is only steps from the tourist zones of Hradčany and Petřín Hill. The mostly residential area has a laid-back yet lively neighborhood vibe to it, with hip new eateries and gallery spaces opening up in art nouveau buildings alongside classic, no-frills Czech pubs and art venues. This gentrification, however, comes at a price.
The Břevnov Monastery is the heart of the neighborhood, with rambling gardens that play host to festivals, a medieval restaurant, the baroque Basilica of St. Marketa, the modern art Entrance Gallery and the brewery. Locals gather at the Klášterní Sýpka taproom to sip its variety of beers — brewed on-site in the former stables — in the picturesque shady courtyard. Ales Potesil, brewmaster at the Břevnov Monastery Brewery of St. Albert, says Břevnov represents the best of both worlds. “It’s on the outskirts of Prague and yet really close to the city center,” he says. “We can live here like a village.”
Part of Břevnov includes remnants of a village hidden among the hilly streets of 1930s apartment blocks and villas. Called Tejnka, it’s a block of narrow, cobbled lanes (Za Strahovem and Nad Tejnkou streets) of close-knit, chocolate-box houses, some of which date back centuries and have been lovingly restored. It’s typically empty, save for an occasional dog walker or resident — not exactly Golden Lane, but rather a glimpse into local life, past and present.
At the moment, though, the soul of Old Brevnov is still alive and kicking.
But it’s practically a “miracle” that such an old settlement like Tejnka has been so perfectly preserved in what now represents such coveted real estate, writes Petr Ryska on his company’s website, Prague Unknown (Praha neznama), which leads tours of the city’s best-kept secrets in Czech and in English. A civic initiative spearheaded by its fiercely protective residents helped gain monument-zone status for the area in 2003. But development continues, with cookie-cutter apartment blocks and mansions muscling in, including one currently under construction by controversial far-right politician Tomio Okamura.
Břevnov local Marketa Hulpachova says the area remained blissfully overlooked even by people from other parts of town — until recently. With the construction of the Blanka tunnel complex that completes the Prague ring road, suddenly Břevnov has become “a haven for yuppies who ‘aim high’’’ — the actual slogan, she says, of a new apartment complex near her home.
At the moment, though, the soul of Old Břevnov is still alive and kicking. Tucked among the villas nearby, the petite timber-framed pub U Prezidentů (“At the Presidents”) is a quirky time capsule of Czech bric-a-brac, complete with cheap pints and wry political commentary — the website warns that any communists may pay an additional 10 percent for past damages. From here it’s a few steps to the sprawling green of Ladronka Park and its in-line skating tracks. You can rent out blades and longboards at Usedlost Ladronka, a former farmstead that also has a restaurant, bowling alley and microbrewery.
The high street of Bělohorská, lined with trees and Secessionist architecture — and from which you can spy the spires of Strahov Monastery in the busy tourist district — is both gritty and charming, packed with workaday places like Vietnamese grocers, wine shops and Indian takeaways tucked into the faded art nouveau facades. It starts around the tram stop Malovanka on the 22 and 25 lines, one past the castle’s Pohořelec stop. The hulking Hotel Pyramida dominates the landscape here, a prime example of 1960s Brutalist architecture often celebrated as one of Prague’s ugliest buildings. Farther up Bělohorská are old favorites like the cultural center Kastan, a former coaching inn that now hosts eclectic world concerts and events as part of Unijazz and is much loved for its shady beer garden. The quirky onsite PopMuseum celebrates the history of Czech and Slovak popular music with an extensive database and an exhibit of Czech-made instruments.
Newcomers like Amuni, a slow-food approach to pizza and other Italian fare, add a sleeker touch to the neighborhood, as do a branch of the local cult-favorite gelateria Angelato and the hipster Hotel Valcha. And Galerie Kuzebauch, which opened on Říčanova Street in 2012, features rotating exhibits of contemporary Czech painters, sculptors and glassblowers.
As both Praguers and visitors discover the area, Břevnov will have to weigh its values as a historical entity — a past stretching back more than a millennium — against the pull of gentrification. At least for now, the balance of old and new provides plenty to explore.
- Fiona Gaze, OZY AuthorContact Fiona Gaze