Observations on Prague – a city of choices

Few people enjoy having restrictions forced upon them and being dictated to about what they can and can’t buy. With the advent of the internet there has arguably never been a better time for consumer choice.

Pint of Kipling or something unpronounceable sir?

While  the retail industry largely delivers on the consumer choice quota there are unfortunately still many instances where choice is limited – notably in the pub sector. The UK’s tied-pub system and the emergence of the large pub companies in the 1990s has for far too long limited the options of drinkers.

Choice has largely become dictated by the best (i.e. cheapest) deals that these big operators have been able to strike and their volume-based deals ensured all their outlets stocked the same ubiquitious brands. Times are changing and consumers are demanding more choice at a time when the model of the large pub companies is failing (under a mountain of debt).

This is leading to a gradual relaxation of the tie by the pub companies and more freehouses becoming available, which has helped contribute to a renaissance in small brewers.

Which brings me seamlessly onto a recent trip Retailinsider.com made to Prague in the Czech Republic, where a similar scenario is being played out.

Gateway to the magical Pilsner Urquell brewery cellars.

There is an uprising of new breweries who are finding a place for their wares in the city’s pubs and restaurants that have for many years had ‘exclusive’ contracts with the country’s larger brewers. These produce key long-established brands such as Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser Budvar and Staropramen.

Among the small-scale brewers who have cropped up are Pivovarsky Dum, Klasterni Pivovar Strahov (housed in a former monastery), and U Medvidku that each produce distinctive beers and are attracting an appreciative audience. Also catering for this trend are an emerging class of specialist bars led by the likes of Zubaty Pes.

It was a dog to find, but worth it.

Such has been the desire for new beers that both Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are each now being distributed in unfiltered/unpasteurised versions that retain much more of the characteristics of these beers than do the regular versions. Such is the quality of these brews that they are deemed appealing to the growing number of beer drinkers searching out new ales. It is a sign that the big operators are sensibly responding to customer demands.

But it is not only beer where there is choice in the Czech Republic’s bars. Unlike most of the rest of Europe, smokers still have the option of lighting up in pubs. What was surprising, however, was how few people (in Prague at least) seemed to be taking up the option during Retailinsider.com’s visit.

Not your typical Prague ash tray.

It seems that having inflicted a draconian all-encompassing ban in the UK it might have been the case that for health reasons smoking would by now be losing its appeal anyway and less people would be smoking in pubs today. So it is therefore questionable whether we needed to have imposed a rigid ban in the first place. Choice might have been the best long-term option.

But what completely goes against the grain of choice being the best option is U Fleku. It is the only surviving original independent brewpub in Prague and it only stocks one beer. It’s dark lager is the only drink you will see being downed by the thousands of people who flock to this temple of beer. But such is the quality of its famous jet-black lager that there is no obvious reason why it needs to offer alternatives.

The dark lager is a standout, unlike the tables.

It is the ultimate specialist bar and goes to prove that choice is all well and good but you can still get away with offering no alternatives whatsover as long as the one option you do provide is world-beating in quality terms.


  1. redpola on October 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Note- in U Fleku, you will be offered “traditional” spirit shots after your beer. You are well within your rights to turn these down. They are not complimentary, as you are made to feel, and are in fact quite expensive!

  2. Glynn Davis on October 31, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Yes, you are right. They do offer you some dodgy spirits. And you don’t have to take them. Have another beer instead…