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U Pinkasů is the longest continually-serving Pilsner Urquell pub in Prague.
Ota Haurythun is the head Tapster at U Pinkasů and he’s obsessed with quality. He’s worked at the pub since 2003 – the year after the beer tanks were installed. The pub is spread over three floors, including the cellar that used to be used as a crypt for the next door church. When Ota started, he was put in charge of this underground bar, working 4pm to 4am. There are no windows down here, and it’s considerably colder. In fact, it used to be where they stored thick ice blocks cut from the River Vltava, which would keep the beer at the right temperature, even through the summer. It was an ice house right up until 1954, when the river stopped freezing over.
Ota’s obsession with the best beer saw him win the hard-fought Pilsner Urquell Master Bartender competition in 2012. Now he splits his time between U Pinkasů and travelling around the Czech Republic to teach others about pouring perfect Pilsners.
“It’s my mission to make beer the same everywhere as it is in U Pinkasů,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who is the guest, it has to be perfect. There should be no compromise ever.” He adds: “I want to make the position of Tapster respected again. During communism, the Tapster was deemed a role that wasn’t as important as other jobs. But it’s now a job that’s more important than ever.”
“It was always that people came for the Tapster and the beer:” the two are inseparable, just like how the chef and the food need each other to create something delicious.
“It’s difficult to drink beer anywhere else because here it is perfect – the best!” he says. And it’s Ota’s job to ensure that it stays the best. “It doesn’t matter who the guest is, every beer is perfect from my hands. No compromise.” And this is one of the reasons that U Pinkasů is so highly regarded among beer lovers.
“It’s my job, my hobby, and I get to serve the best beer,” he says. If you drink in U Pinkasů and Ota serves you then you can expect some of the best Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic. And look out to see whether he’s left his signature in your beer’s foam. A sign that this beer is perfect.
The History of U Pinkasů
The story begins in early 1843, just a few months after the first brew of Pilsner Urquell. Jakub Pinkas, a Prague tailor specialising in making robes for the local Franciscan monastery, heard about a revolutionary new beer being brewed in nearby Plzeň. His friend Martin Salzmann was a horse and carriage delivery driver for the Plzeň brewery and Pinkas requested two casks of the beer, which made the three day, 92km journey, to arrive in April 1843. Pinkas shared the beer with friends and they loved it, astonished by its colour and character; a golden lager with a pure clean taste unlike anything they’d drunk before. Pinkas gave up his job as a tailor and became a landlord (Salzmann would also become a landlord in his hometown – U Salzmannů is still a must-visit Plzeň pub).
It was a smart move from Pinkas and word spread quickly about the quality of the beer, helping U Pinkasů become a destination for beer lovers of all classes and religious and political beliefs. His pub was so popular, in fact, that Pinkas quickly outgrew his original premises and had to buy his neighbour’s property, No.756, an older house with vast Gothic cellars that reached into the former crypt of the Church of Our Lady of the Snow.
These two premises form the heart of U Pinkasů today, although they’ve since extended out into the narrow gardens behind, which backs onto the very walls of the church and Franciscan monastery that Pinkas would have tailored for.
This church, which is still active, was founded by Charles IV, and is the highest in Prague. In fact, if you’re drinking unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell in the garden don’t be surprised to hear chanting or singing from next door – or even see Franciscan monks in the beer garden. It’s no wonder it’s often called ‘the most popular church in Prague’!
U Pinkasů Nightmare Run
In 1843, Mr Jakub Pinkas kept all his beer in the cellars of U Pinkasů, where it was coolest. The tap, which is still there today, was at the bottom of a flight of steep steps. Like Tapster Ota today, Pinkas was obsessed with quality and didn’t want to give his customers a beer which wasn’t perfect. This meant serving as quickly as possible. To ensure the best condition, with lots of foam, Pinkas insisted his waiters ran up the 45 steps holding 10 full glasses of beer. It was an exhausting job and a nightmare for his staff.
Today this fun tradition is celebrated every October in the ‘Pinkas Nightmare Run,’ where challengers have to pour their beers in the cellar then race upstairs. They are judged on their time, quality of pours and who spills the least beer. The winner receives a framed moth, a creature of the night, to symbolise their victory.
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