It’s a few minutes before three in the afternoon and there are small groups of two and three, mostly men, gathered outside the wooden door leading to The Golden Tiger in Prague, Czech Republic. Across the street a couple pretends not to be sizing up the growing competition for the limited available seats inside the bar. The door opens and people are gently swept forward in past the small corner bar toward the row of tables and chairs that line the far wall in front of wood panelling. There are more tables just beyond the bar against the opposite wall and a small room at the back beyond a room divider. Most tables have tent cards with reservation times marked on them for say 15:00, that’s 3 p.m. and beyond, so its crucial to land at one with a time beyond your intended departure, which is difficult to predict before the session even begins.
This is an unpretentious place that serves a single beer, very fresh Pilsner Urquell in 500 ml smooth sided, barrel-shaped glasses. Two jars are ordered and delivered alongside a paper chit. on which the waiter makes two pencil markings for the just purchased beer. The place is full less than five minutes after opening and the beer is flowing mightily. I marvel at all the glasses of impeccably fresh Pilsner Urquell covering the tables, some already half empty as the first one slides down so easily.
A group of five men are seated at the table next. A large order of steak tartare has arrived at the table and one of the men has drawn the plate to his side of the table. He begins an elaborate mixing of the glistening red meat with the various additions, starting with the raw eggs in the middle, and then following in turn with salt, paprika, pepper, mustard, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Ten minutes later the man is still working the mixture, while his fellow beer drinkers have knocked off another beer and have reordered. At last he presents his masterpiece and the patient men dig in, taking a piece of hard toast and rubbing it with fresh garlic and them mounding the meat mixture on top. Even now some of them are finding the raw red meat not quite the flavour they had expected and are adding salt or pepper, or dashes of Worcestershire sauce. There appears to be a friendly debate as to how the man who mixed the steak tartare with the various ingredients has actually done, while at the same time rapidly consuming the mounded meat mixture and drinking yet another round of golden pilsner.
A few other tourists, most carrying digital cameras, are sprinkled among the regulars, who by now are in heated debates on many topics, none of which do I understand, though I do meet a father and son, the former from America, the later from Canada, who speak both Czech and English. We share a few words and laughter. I order another round of beer and also steak tartare. When freshly ground steak arrives at table, I do not pretend to be a master mixer of the red meat and swirl the many ingredients all together rather quickly so that I can begin eating. I order more Pilsner and consume the meat in turn with the beer. Amid the flash of cameras capturing smiling tourists, I happily savour the well hopped and bitter lager. I know I may regret this later but I do not take images and intrude on the locals enjoyment of a most wonderful place. I return for three more days on the trot and am not disappointed in the Golden Tiger, the Pilsner Urquell, or the fact that I could not bring myself to take a picture within its hallowed halls.