Bar Notes: Hemingway Bar (Prague)

Cocktail Wonk Rating: 9.5/10
Of all the bars I was looking forward to in Prague, Hemingway Bar was the most eagerly anticipated. It hits a trifecta of attributes I enjoy in bar: innovative cocktails, great ambience, and a focus on rums. It’s no surprise that it comes in at Number 24 on the 2014 “World’s 50 Best Bars” list.
We were the first through the door when it opened and secured a prime seat at the L-shaped bar just inside the door. Our early arrival was fortunate as we didn’t have reservations, and within a few minutes the rest of the space had filled up with couples and groups with reservations. It’s a relatively large establishment, but since it spans multiple levels broken up into low-ceilinged rooms, it maintains a cozy feeling.  The space is dimly lit with candles scattered about.

The overall vibe is from the 1930s. Lots of wood everywhere (including a gorgeous bar counter), leather sofas and chairs, vintage bar tools, and, of course, framed photos of Ernest Hemingway. The bartenders, nattily dressed in dress shirts and vests, were knowledgeable and confident as they worked, no doubt in part because the bar’s business includes bartender training and consultancy. Our bartender Tomáš was very friendly and suggested a few other bars for us to visit while in town.

The originality found within their spiral-bound cocktail menu is superb, exactly what I was looking for. I started with a Hemingway’s Paparazzi (Havana Club 7 rum, Becherovka, apricot brandy, simple syrup, apricot and chocolate tea, lime, and mint). While it tasted great, what put it over the top was the serving vessel: An insulated cup constructed to look like a camera lens (see the photos below). Round two was the Smoked Passion (mezcal, lemon, simple syrup, passion fruit puree, egg white, garnished with a speared spicy Dorito chip). The Dorito chip was a bit odd but whimsical, and the drink was quite enjoyable.
The only slight misfire of the night was the m&m’s cocktail (butter-infused Becherovka, peanut butter syrup, lemon, pear juice, egg white, topped with crushed m&m’s and cacao powder).  If nothing more than for curiosity’s sake, ordering this drink was a requirement.  While not offensive in any way, the crazy combination of ingredients didn’t create something better than their component parts, unfortunately.
It’s well-known that Hemingway favored rum, and the Hemingway Bar’s requisite list is stellar. I capped off my evening with a pour of Ron Santiago de Cuba Extra Anejo, a 20-year aged Cuban rum. It was everything I hoped it would be and a bargain at $17. As I sipped it I snapped photos of the rum list to tease my rummy friends back home. So many bottles that aren’t available in the US!  (Yet.)
 The menu offers a variety of appetizers, always a good idea when you’re working your way through a cocktail menu like we were. A large plate of prosciutto and almonds was bargain priced and kept us going.
Like most bars in Prague, Hemingway Bar allows smoking, and at times the cloud was a bit much for me. However, there is a non-smoking bar area upstairs, a fact we didn’t realize until it was too late.
Hemingway Bar is a must-visit when you find yourself in Prague. Clear out time in your calendar, make a reservation, and prepare to go back in time to a much more elegant era while enjoying the benefits of imaginative, expertly executed, modern craft cocktails.

Cuban rums
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3 thoughts on “Bar Notes: Hemingway Bar (Prague)”

  1. We love Hemingway's! Classy and cozy at the same time. And just steps away from the Hotel Leonardo, where we stayed in June 2013. We wanted to check out Duende, too, but couldn't because of the flood. Maybe next time!

  2. We came here in July 2017 with really, really high expectations, and were pretty disappointed to be honest, especially after tasting the cocktails at Parlour a week earlier. My fear is the experience was let down by a bad or inexperienced bartender, but that’s no excuse really, especially since the prices are now 100 Krn more than when you visited, averaging at 250 (Parlour is still around 150-170 for quite outstanding drinks). On this night Hemingways just felt a little like a tourist destination, with a generic response. The first couple of drinks were pretty good, a great mezcal cocktail with celery and pineapple foam and a slice of bacon, and a champagne cocktail with a blackcurrent sorbet (the latter a little too gimmicky with a dominant caramel candy prop that added nothing to the drink). Then it kind of went downhill. I’d expressed a great love for mezcal and also my interest in rye and bourbon, yet the bartender recommended the signature rum punch cocktail, I was in two minds, but he and his colleague were so insistent that I went with it, and really regretted it as soon as it arrived, it was sweet and bland and really nothing special. My husband had a sake cocktail that was ok, but not great. We also ordered a bar snack with the drinks… the snack never turned up. I admit it’s my fault for being swayed by their enthusiasm with the punch, but I’m left with the feeling the bartender had no intuition or understanding of what I liked before – strong smoky flavours – and guided me away from a cocktail that was in this style for the one I didn’t really like. Anyway, we drank these second cocktails, while the snack didn’t arrive, while now being ignored by the bartender (the place was busy, but it would have been really easy to look up and ask us if we needed anything, we were sitting right at the bar – and the snack still never came) then waited 30 minutes until we asked for the bill (and cancelled the snack order to be sure). I suspect it might have been a junior bartender this evening, but the price is still the same, and after having been to Parlour and getting such an incredible experience, I wonder if Hemingways is slipping, or is just a tourist joint now? Actually, we also visited their sister branch, Cash Only Bar, and had far better drinks – a Vieux Carre and a sake with jasmine green tea – and a much nicer experience. I wouldn’t go back after this. Incidentally, when I walked in and booked the stools a few nights before, the staff was entirely different, and seemed much more professional. Maybe it was a bad Tuesday night, but it’s one that took my money and pleasure away.

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