1. Where to Stay
No fool he, the Dalai Lama booked the serenely spacious Lazar Suite in the Mandarin Oriental (from $284) back in October. The hotel, housed in a fourteenth-century monastery in the sleepy Malastrana neighborhood, has a stellar house wine list—perfect for a jet-lagged crash course in Czech winemaking. Its Barego Bar is stocked with impressive labels like an Eastern European sparkling wine (called Sekt) from producer Tanzberg.
If you’re counting Koruna, settle for teenier quarters in the Hotel Josef (from $190)—the hippest boutique hotel in town. Book rooms 704 or 801 for impressive views of Prague Castle and the spires of Old Town Square.
Hotel Cloister Inn (from $134), close to the National Theater, is a modest but friendly place near the city’s best antique stores. Though the mattresses are thin, the staff is accommodating and the breakfast buffet is filled with fresh, local fare.
2. Where to Eat
If you’ve got a yen for fried cheese three-ways or pork knee cooked in beer (and who doesn’t sometimes?), head to Pivnice U Sadu in the working-class hood of Zizkov. Definitely more of a beer than a wine place, the restaurant’s ceiling is hung with everything from milk cans to typewriters
The décor at Perpetuum may be a bit Ikea-heavy, but the wine list is well chosen, the crowd blessedly tourist-free, and the honey-drizzled sliced duck with bacon soufflé phenomenal.
For less grease, head back to the civilized Malastrana and Scandinavian-styled Cukrkávalimonáda for imaginative savory pancakes. Try the caprese version, topped with tomato, fresh basil, olives, and olive oil.
Le Terroir, a cozy Francophile restaurant smack in the Old Town, has a fantastic wine list, the only drawback being the temptation to drink the fabulous Sauvignon from France’s Jura region instead of a local Moravian Riesling.
3. What to Do
Prague is wine-crazy—and for good reason. Within a few years, the Czech Republic should be turning out bottles that rival Austria’s best. Sit for an impromptu tasting of the country’s best mineral-laden whites and lush reds at candle-lit Veronsky Dum (Misenska 8 Mala Strana), hidden under the Charles Bridge on the Malastrana side of the Vltava River. Or, on the same side of the river, check out Café Savoy (Vítězná 1, 257-311-562), a gorgeous spot in the shadow of the Museum Kampa. The restaurant’s wine list is shockingly good, stocked with hard-to-find local and French wines. Across the river, close to the National Theater is the rustic Bokovka (which, tellingly, means “sideways” in Czech). Started by a group of wine-happy filmmakers, the restaurant is attracting serious oenophiles who aren’t scared away by the charmless décor. It’s the kind of place a concierge would never send you but no wine lover should miss.
4. Insider’s Tip
Though local winemaking continues to improve, there’s still a lot of plonk in Prague, much of it found in Vinny Skelps (cellars filled with cheap, and deplorable, wines). As for the good stuff, make sure to seek out Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Muller-Thurgau, Sauvignon, and (new to even the biggest wine geek) the muscaty Irsay Oliver—all from the premier winemaking region of Moravia. There are also some credible local Merlots to be had, but give more time to Pinot Noir, Blue Portuguese, and Lemberger, grapes that get too little respect in the States. As for producers, clip these names for easy reference: Madl, Reisten, Dobra Vinice, Vin Select, Biza, Kovacs, Spielberg, Springer, and Tanzberg.
5. An Oddball Day
Visits to either the Prague Castle or the Lobkowicz Palace (which has a respectable wine bar) are de rigueur for first-time visitors, but for the road less touristed, head across the Charles Bridge to the Municipal House in back of the Old Square. Reserve a tour to view rooms like the one designed and painted by Art Nouveau hero Alfonse Mucha. Refuel with a pint of “flekovska trinactka,” a dark lager with 5 percent alcohol, at the city’s oldest brewery, the fifteenth-century U Fleku Pub. A walk across the Most Legli bridge brings you back to the Malastrana side where the Museum Kampa on Kampa Island has a smart collection of local artists as well as a number of Franz Kupka’s colorful canvases.
6. Related Links
The expat-written blog Arellanes primarily focuses on music but often touches on food and nightlife.
The blogger Scottymac has recently moved to Dubai, but his Prague archives are a great window into city life.
Czech wine expert Helena Baker offers tips on local wine events.