Category Archives: drinking

All that Jazz ..Czech style

praguejazz.jpgBack in the early 70s the Czech label Supraphon released on LP Six Uncles in Reduta, thought to be the first live recording of Prague jazz. Now a new series is being released on CD in co-production with a British-based label. The playing is on a very high level and the sonics excellent, being two-channel direct to DAT without multitracking. The recordings are made in one of the studios of Prague Radio. Prague has become a rather hot jazz environment, with talented musicians, some who have played there since the 60s, as well as a new wave of players from the West. Many young people flock to the jazz clubs around the historical Czech city; it has been compared to Paris in the 30s. These two CDs display just two distinctive approaches to jazz in Prague. (John Henry)

Paris in the 1930s!

Open air jazz playing is also a feature of the Golden City, the Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) and Charles Bridge being the main venues. Czech beer is the finest in the world; try unpasteurised real Pilsner Urquell from a tankovna — available at U Pinkasu in Prague — or visit the brewery in Plzen.

Summer is here! – what are you waiting for? Prague and Czech absinth are waiting for you 🙂 How about this:

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Modern, contemporary and latin jazz with progressive Czech jazzmen at Michalská 9, Prague 1 (U Stare Pani). Great atmosphere, great staff and absinthe! The staff speak excellent English – like most in Prague – but in case you have any problems here’s Part 1 of Essential Czech:

Dám si jedno absinth prosím. means: I’ll have an absinth please.

Czech Absinth – Cafe Slavia

 

Absinth Slavia

 

 

Hillary Clinton at Cafe Slavia 1998

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Czech artist Viktor Oliva’s “The Absinthe Drinker” (Buveur d’absinthe) which hangs in Prague’s famous Cafe Slavia on Narodni Street.

Accompanied by Czech President Vaclav Havel and his wife, Dagmar, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped briefly Tuesday in the Slavia Kavarna, Havel’s favorite hangout in his dissident years, for a glass of absinthe. Young people watching the presidential motorcade in the street were largely indifferent to Clinton’s visit, but others inside the cafe were appreciative. “She is a very intelligent lady and she has a lot to say to the world.’
–Published on October 14, 1998, Page 4A, St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

Bill Clinton also visited the U zlatého tygra (At the Golden Tiger), a typical Bohemian pub, and played the saxophone at the wonderfully atmospheric Reduta Jazz Club.

A short distance from the Reduta is an important place in Czech and world history but sadly many tourists seem to walk by without noticing. This is the spot where riot police attacked a peaceful student demonstration on Narodni trida in 1989; the brutal police attack was the event that started the Velvet Revolution. Here is the moving memorial to the bravery shown during the end of those dark days:

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Absinthe Time – Czech Absinthe Bar

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Absinthe Time
Kremencova 5, Prague 1
Phone: +420 222 516 300

Every thursday from 20:00 they have live jazz…and here is their absinthe menu:

 

Absinthe STAROPLZENECKY (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l.)

Absinthe RED L’Or (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthium 1792 GREEN (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthium 1792 RED (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe Bitter Bairnsfather, SEBOR (55% alc., Thujon 32 mg/l)

Absinthe Bitter Extra Anise, SEBOR (55% alc., Thujon 32 mg/l)

Absinthe HILLS (70% alc., Thujon 4 mg/l)

Absinthe Le Fee Hypno (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe REALITY, SEBOR (60% alc., Thujon 26 mg/l)

Absinthe FRUKO (60% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe FRUKO (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe STAROREZNA DEVIL(red) (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe STAROREZNA (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe ZELENA MUZA (72% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe ZELENA MUZA ART (72% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe 35 (70% alc., Thujon 35 mg/l)

Absinthe KING OF SPIRITS (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe La Boheme Original (70% alc., Thujon 10 mg/l)

Absinthe La Boheme Bitter Spirit (60% alc., Thujon 35 mg/l)

One Night in Praha?

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Absinthe on Fire?

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The Loiterers, 1887
Oil on canvas
18 X 24 inches

Source: http://www.godelfineart.com/artists/wiles_absinthe.htm

This particular work dates from 1887 and it has been suggested that the subjects are the artist himself and his wife May. The couple, who were married in 1887, is shown drinking absinthe, an activity best known from the images of the French artists Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The liqueur, which is extremely bitter and exceptionally potent, is traditionally poured through a lump of sugar on a specially slotted spoon and mixed with water. This creates what is called the louche, a milky white effect that occurs when compounds in the liqueur precipitate out of the absinthe-water solution. While probably painted in New York City, Wiles’ Absinthe Drinkers reveals a direct link between the French and American Impressionists.

Czech Mardi Gras!

masopust2.jpgMasopust is the February festival in the Czech Republic that most resembles Mardi Gras. This is a time of drinking: loads of roast pork (cooked on open spits), washed down with cold beer (“pivo”) and plenty of other drinks like absinthe.

This party — which literally means something like “going without meat” — is marked by the use of masks and outlandish fancy dress. It is a time of indulgence and excess prior to the 40-day fast; it is believed it is pre-christian in origin. The mask-wearing likely represents the spirits of the dead (who apparently walk about at this time of year); there is a suggestion of sun worship, too. Devils, chimney sweeps and a host of animal figures make up the parade including a horse that collects doughnuts and an array of mad creatures from your worst nightmares.

This is one time of the year when you don’t need to drink absinthe to see the green fairy in the Czech Republic.

Czech Phrase: Kdo sa nenají ve fašank, bude hladovět po celý rok” means “If you don’t eat during Masopust you’ll be hungry for the rest of the year”

Absinthium 1792: Just add water!

 

Czech Absinth

Absinthium 1792 is a good Czech absinthe that louches! Now, what does that mean? The louche or la louche is the term for the milky opal colouration that occurs in absinthe when water is added. This is one of the ways by which absintheurs – the “experts” – judge the drink by the standards of the 19th century. It should be noted that not all Czech absinthe will louche, but this particular colourful electric-green drink does just that. According to one reviewer: “The louche is very nice. It builds up from the bottom, slightly turbulent and it gets nice and thick” (i) Also, Absinthium 1792 has a excellent anise flavour, which, again, is not a noted quality of most Bohemian absinthes.

Absinthe SpoonAbsinthium means “without sweetness” and you should add sugar via a slotted absinthe spoon to taste. Unlike Paul Veraline, the 19th century French poet, I take mine without. The distiller of Absinthium 1792 is Trul s.r.o based in Mikulovice, Moravia. Mikulovice is a settlement dating back to 1263; it lies right on the Czech-Polish border and was raised to the status of a town as late as 1990. Trul is also renowned for another herbal drink: the Jeseníky Priessnitz liquor. This is the drink of the of the “water doctor”, the famous Czech folk doctor Vincenz Priessnitz who championed the use of the hydrotherapy and the spa.

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Water is an important constituent of traditional absinthe drinking and the Czech Republic is blessed with an abundant supply of great mineral waters. No visit to the Czech Republic would be complete without trying an absinthe and a visit to Karlovy Vary, the stunning spa town renowned for its mineral springs and a home to yet another Czech herbal liquer, Becherovka. In fact, the Czech republic is bursting with undiscovered drinks if you know where to look; many of them date back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and beyond.

Absinthium 1792, named after the year absinthe was born, is recommended.

Czech Word or Phrase of the day: “Bez peněz do hospody nelez” is a piece of helpful advice! It means do not go to the pub without any money!

(i) http://www.feeverte.net/

Cask of Absinthe


 

 

Decadent Czechs

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Absinthe has long been associated with the so-called decadent movement. English decadents like Ernest Dowson (who once remarked “Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder“) are part and parcel of the green drink’s unique history. At the time when Dowson and Wilde were downing absinthe in London and Paris, something all together strange was sprouting in Prague: a Czech version of decadence with a shocking difference.

In Morbid Colours: Art and the Idea of Decadence in the Czech Lands, 1880 to 1914” is an important exhibition at Prague’s Obecni Dum (Municipal House). It ends on the 18th February so there is still time if you have the chance to visit Prague (the current snowfall makes the trip even more worthwhile, if you would like to see the city dressed in white).

The exhibition is divided into four sections, dealing with self image, relationships and… errr… satanic hallucinations and death. Welcome to Prague!

Visitors should be aware that many of the images are explicit in their depiction of “relationships” and some are a little disturbing. I smelt the influence of the decadent absinthe drinker Verlaine like a breath of alcohol throughout the exhibition – but I was wrong! It wasn’t about France, I realised, this was the Bohemian way. Czech decadence, rather like Czech absinthe, had a uniquely modern twist.

“The discussion on decadence that occurred in our country in the 1890’s, particularly in the literary field, led to an important stratification of the Czech cultural intelligence, to the founding of certain fundamental attitudes, the definition of which decided the basic composition of modern Czech culture.” (i)

This was “not from French decadence authorities such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine” (i), this was definitely a Czech matter.

At the time, the Czech Republic was a hot bed of self confidence and razor-like examination of the artistic status quo. The true spirit of Rimbaud flowered here; there was no significant threat from the bourgeoisie establishment to ring-fence the debate and so it reached quite dizzy heights. Were the intellectuals downing absinthe in the same fashion as their watery French brothers? Probably not.

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If you are in Prague, you should not miss this great exhibition. Afterwards, if you are in need of a drink, there’s a cool bar downstairs called The American Bar (ii). Maybe a cool absinthe is in order? Maybe you’ll need it! The Municipal House itself is a work of art; as John Russell aptly points out in The New York Times, it is all about “the colors that came with Czech Art Nouveau — moody mauves, for instance, and evanescent greens and grays that flirt with one another”. Be sure to bring a camera and join the throng admiring this wonderful building.

Ref:

(i) http://www.saicprague.com/page17/page2/page2.html

(ii) American Bar, Municipal House (Obecni dum) 5 Republic Square (Namesti republiky 5), Prague 1

Czech Word or Phrase of the day: Zelena muza means the green muse.

Absinthe Poetry:

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Absinthia Taetra by Ernest Dowson

Green changed to white, emerald to opal; nothing was changed.
The man let the water trickle gently into his glass, and as the green clouded, a mist fell from his mind.
Then he drank opaline.

Memories and terrors beset him. The past tore after him like a panther and through the blackness of the present he saw the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be.
But he drank opaline.

And that obscure night of the soul, and the valley of humiliation, through which he stumbled, were forgotten. He saw blue vistas of undiscovered countries, high prospects and a quiet, caressing sea. The past shed its perfume over him, to-day held his hand as if it were a little child, and to-morrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed.
He drank opaline.

The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten.
Green changed to white, emerald to opal; nothing was changed.

 

Welcome to Czech Absinthe – or is that Absinth?

Strong Absinthe

Absinthe from the Czech Republic is locally termed absinth and is renowned by party goers for that extra-powerful thujone kick.

What is thujone? Actually, thujone is a constituent of the herb wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) which – along with other herbs – causes the green colour of this famous drink. Czech thujone-rich absinth has developed a cult following all of its own and even a unique method of drinking. The so-called “Czech method” involves the following steps:

1. Place absinthe spoon over a glass containing water

2. Place sugar cube on spoon

3. Pour absinthe

4. Set fire to the absinthe-soaked cube and let the caramelised sugar drip into glass

This method was first observed by Western visitors to Prague in the early 1990s; the method has an uncertain provenance. (More on the Czech method and its origins will appear in a later post.) It may have been an eccentric Icelandic pop star who started this in the 90s, or it may date to another period altogether.

However, it would be fair to mention that this method has caused some upset amongst the self-proclaimed “online absinthe community” which decries the practice as “non-authentic”. The only real way to drink absinthe is the 19th century way, by adding chilled water, according to them. Isn’t this the 21st century? The Czechs are an independent lot these days and they’ll do as they please. It has actually been suggested that the Czech method was devised by the laissez faire, post-Communist Czechs as a means of intensifying the effect of the wormwood thujone by burning off some of the alcohol. Czech absinthe is already the market leader as far as thujone is concerned, so this theory may be true.

Controversy aside, the world of Czech absinthe is a fascinating one. Wander through the streets of the beautiful capital Prague and you will find absinth, and even absinthe, in many shop windows. Shops also sell absinthe paraphernalia like spoons, glasses and absinthe fountains. It is easy to buy absinthe in Prague! A recent newcomer to the scene is Toulouse Lautrec Absinthe, a brand made by the Czech distiller Cami and named after the famous belle epoque artist. Tolouse Lautrec is similar in style to the absinthes enjoyed at the turn of the 19th century. So for those that like to live in the past, the Czechs have that too. The feisty thujone-rich brews of modern Bohemia are my favourite and so I’ll be pouring a glass to celebrate the end of another week.

Czech word or phrase of the day: Na zdravi means cheers!

Absinthe quote :“Absinthe has a wonderful color, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” Oscar Wilde