Ernest Hemingway: prolific modern American writer, bull fighter, deep sea angler, big game hunter and a two time world war survivor.
This is the profile that Mr. Hemingway- the literary genius that came to be known (and introduce himself as) Papa- built for himself throughout his life. His outrageous hobbies and larger than life personality seemed to create an aura of respect and awe about himself when, by all other accounts, was disastrously moody and self serving. Perhaps the lore of Hemingway has just as much to do with his continued revere in schools of modern American literature as does his precise and poignant writing style. Whether it is that his stories are still considered “essential” reading or because of his aggressively compelling life, Hemingway still lingers today as one of history’s most engrossing characters.
One thing about Hemingway seems irrefutable: the man loved to drink.
In the 1920s, he and his gang of the “Lost Generation” guzzled their way through prohibition in bohemian Paris, making a name for themselves as intellectuals, partiers and the embodiment of the flapper era (and all that jazz…).
I am not sure at what point Papa found himself in the town of Prague; perhaps it was while he was covering WWII, liberating hotels and bars of their occupiers as well as their liquor stores, but perhaps he never made it there at all. However, Prague can count itself among many other cities across the globe that has a watering hole named for the famous writer.
One of our friends recommended this spot to us for our visit knowing that we enjoy great cocktails. Hemingway Bar specializes in creative and beautiful cocktails, featuring champagne, rum and absinthe, as well as a long list of other fine spirits. We initially ignored the suggestion of a reservation (“For a bar??”) and walked by on our first night in town, only to find a host adding names to an already long waiting list. Instead, we opted for a reservation the following night.
When we showed up, we were seated and given a menu and a brief explanation by one of the bar tenders/chief mixologists. The bar only allows in as many people as it can seat, hence the wait the previous night. The cocktail list includes a list of “Bar Rules” which asked guests not to speak too loudly, not to switch seats, and -most interestingly- to ask the bartender first if you would like to buy a drink for a different patron, so that the bartender can ask if the drink is accepted and which drink they would prefer.
Needless to say, this was not your average bar. It seemed that it was not a place to pick up a date or make friends, but rather a place to drink really serious cocktails.
Our experience, however, proved that this place was anything but stuffy. We were seated by a British couple of about the same age and we quickly struck up a conversation that lasted a good part of the evening; and it was hilariously fun! The gal and I felt like long lost friends and basically had a date with just the two of us for a round or two of drinks.
Our bartender was not only extremely informative but also very funny. By the end, I wanted to ask him to join us for a round!
We started with a round of cocktails from the menu that sounded appealing: Jimmy had the Easter special that was served in a little wooden crate with confetti with a marzipan bunny on top and I had a take on a gimlet with a blue candy lego man at the bottom. Next, Jimmy tried the “Hemingway gasoline” which came served in a miniature gas can and a large ice cube with the bar logo frozen right in.
I asked our bartender for his suggestion for an Old Fashion-type cocktail. He suggested the “Hemingway Old Fashioned” which was, oddly enough, rum based and one of his favorites. I said “Sure why not!” However, he returned with a glass and a massive ice cube and told me that the cocktail would take some time to prepare. To bide my time, he handed me one of Hemingway’s novels (in Czech) to read. I opened it to find a flask concealed within its pages! The bar tender smiled and looked very pleased with himself as I laughed at the beautifully elaborate presentation. It turned out t be an incredible cocktail.
For our final round, I had a desert style drink that included whiskey, macadamia nut syrup, and a few other divine ingredients. I also managed to convince Jimmy to try absinthe for his final drink. Prague is well known for making and serving this elusive spirit that is only available in the US in modified (less potent) forms. Known for its potentially hallucinogenic effects, it has a bit of a cult following. I had tried the liquor years ago and simply found that it was a ridiculously potent choice and should be generally avoided. Jimmy, however, needed to give it a go, and this seemed like just the place.
Our fantastic bar man brought out the full set up of liquor, sugar cube and water and give us the full run down about the liquor and how to serve it. It really is bright green, but tastes strongly of black licorice. There were no green fairies in Jimmy’s dreams that night but he has decided that he will most likely avoid it in the future; it hits the head like a truck. Jimmy was pretty entertaining on the walk home. However, it was a beautiful presentation, informative discussion and excellent place to try such a unique drink. Again, I highly recommend.
Hemingway Bar turned out to be one of our favorite stops on our journey. It was not only a much needed break from beer after beer, but it also turned out to be a very fun -and delicious!- evening. The term “bar” seems sadly inadequate for such a personal and well crafted experience. I am sure the joint would do its name sake proud! I already have suggested it to travelers in the area, and certainly do to any one making a stop through Prague.
Naturally, in a bar named for Ernest Hemingway, my new friend and I found ourselves discussing his life. As it turned out, we both had an interest in the lives of his wives, having each read a different novel on the subject. We suggested our books to each other as great summer reads. I just finished her suggestion today and I can now pass it along to you, dear readers. The Paris Wife by Paula McClain is a meticulously well researched mostly fictional account of the life of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. I read it a few years ago and absolutely loved how McClain brought a historical character to life through research and beautiful story telling. Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood is a similarly well researched mostly fictional novel about all of the Hemingway wives- and how their tenures with the title of Mrs. Hemingway overlapped. If you have an interest in the subject- the man, the women or the time period, give them a shot.