Sunday, January 07, 2007
Part Two: Once upon a time, the "best beer" in Prague.
Here is the second, and final, installment of the story commenced yesterday: Part One: Once upon a time, the "best beer" in Prague.
Armed only with an inadequate tourist map, Barrie and I crossed the Vltava River on the famed Charles Bridge, ascended Castle Hill, wandered down the other side, crossed the river again at a second bridge, and finally were devoured by the twisting alleyways that we knew eventually led back to Wenceslas Square. At length, having paused briefly two hours before for a sausage dispensed from a tiny streetside window, we glimpsed the familiar green script of Pilsner Urquell adorning the façade of a faded, orange-painted building.
The final steps were the hardest. We passed through the stout wooden doors of U Dvou Kocek, where Pilsner Urquell indeed was the house beer, the daily beer, and in fact the sole beer available. Blissfully unaware of protocol, we slumped heavily into wooden benches in an interior hallway. Unconsciously drooling, our beleaguered sense slowly were revived by the cozy, smoky, conspiratorial warmth of the main room, where clusters of Czech workers, students, soldiers and officials sat conversing.
Huge platters of pork and dumplings sat before many of the customers, but to man, each and every patron cradled an indescribably lovely mug of beer – and make no mistake, they were glass mugs, not the more stylish half-liter glasses that supplanted them not long afterward. It seemed too good to be true … and almost was. Alarmingly, the waiters completely ignored us.
We opted for direct action. I limped to the long, imposing counter where a brawny, mustachioed man stood next to a pair of matching taps, both pouring the exact same nectar, and with a wheeled cart filled with clean mugs. Mustering my courage, I flashed four fingers and muttered, “Pivo, prosim,” having miraculously recalled the proper words without stealing a glance at the guidebook buried somewhere in my day pack.
He looked at me quite seriously, then smiled and complied, relieving me of roughly $2.00 while pushing four half-liter drafts across the slick countertop.
The brilliant golden liquid was cool, not ice-cold; frozen beer only numbs the palate, and though appropriate for Falls City, it certainly isn’t necessary for something as grand as Urquell. The hop aroma was evident and enticing, fighting through the billowing white head to reach my nose even at arm’s length. Everything about the beer itself and the venue in which it was about to be consumed spoke of quality, respect, tradition, and the sheer, unbridled joy that one feels to be an adult and to think, feel and understand what is good about life.
When Barrie saw me approach, he bolted from the wooden bench and fell to his knees in a spontaneous demonstration of faith and appreciation that I’ve seldom witnessed in any church – such was the genuine, heartfelt intensity prefacing his gesture of supplication. Seconds later I spotted his eyes, wet with unrestrained tears, his cheeks flecked with beer foam, all visible through the thick base of an empty upturned mug.
Needless to say, my reaction was comparable. I’ll never forget this moment of triumph and revelation, of this sense of beer ecstasy that will never be understood or truly appreciated by anyone who defines beer by the number of calories it contains or the volume of advertising revenue it commands.