Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Café Bar Wigwam

For years now, I had been meeting my friends at the same table at the same pub every week on Vítězná in Malá strana. The food was nothing special, but the Pilsner Urquell came faster than fast and it was under 30 CZK. The pub, Přemysl Otakar II, wasn’t pretty, but it was home.

And now it’s gone.

Without warning, Otakar’s doors were locked, its interior was torn out, and it reopened a couple of months later under new management. It is now a pizza place called Libertas. We tried it, but it just felt wrong. And they close early.

The king was dead.

We began a search for a new home in the area, but let’s just say my friends are not easy to please. The new place would have to have:

  1. Good beer prices and not Staropramen
  2. Edible food at decent prices
  3. A pleasant atmosphere
  4. Friendly staff willing to reserve a table for at least eight people
  5. Hours past 11 pm
The impossible dream, it would seem.

We tried Stara Praha, next door to Otakar (R.I.P.) on Vítězná. Everyone gave a thumbs up to the food. A Serb friend rated their ćevapčići at 75% of Belgrade's ćevapčići quality. That, he says, is a very high rating for Prague ćevapčići. The problem – Staropramen on tap. That’s a deal breaker for several friends. It is non-negotiable.

We tried the Švejk pub on Újezd, but it is too touristy, occasionally packed, with below average Czech cooking, and has an accordion player that tested nerves.

We tried Popocafepetl Music Club across the street on Újezd. It is a nice basement space that has live music. The problem is, the food is limited to things like chips and pickled sausage (utopenci) and cakes. No go.

We tried La Bastille on Újezd. Not bad, but not really a good pub drinking atmosphere. We were running out of ideas.

Olympia has Pilsner Urquell, but they didn't meet the friendly staff requirement and the prices are on the high side.

Our little group began to despair that we would find a widely acceptable place to drink, eat, and argue into the night in the Újezd area.

Last week, I think we found it: Café Bar Wigwam.

One small note here: Wigwams are dwellings mainly used by Native Americans in North America. However, the interior theme is native Central and/or South American.
Whether it is Aztec, Mayan, or Incan, I don’t know, and no one really cares. We're not going to sweat small details here. It looks nice enough. Passed that test.

Are those African carvings?

The Wigwam people recognize an important element in creating an interesting atmosphere in a restaurant: Good lighting. Lights are focused on the carved wooden statues, and other Indian design elements on the walls. The purple lights in the bar didn't quite work for me though.

We are a fairly large group, but it is not, generally, a place for groups. There were several couples there for a drink and conversation. On the website it is also called “Wigwam Café Bar Restaurant.” They do try to be all things to all people.

The beer is Budvar – Czech Budweiser, which we all know is completely different and vastly better than the American kind. I like it. Not everyone does. Whatever. It works for the anything-but-Staro crowd. The 12-degree half-liter is 29 CZK and the weaker 10 degree is 25 CZK.

Check and check.

The menu is wildly eclectic. It jumps from tortillas to Thai to Greek to French to salads to steaks. Given the relatively low prices, we wondered how it could be any good.

I started with the Greek Tzatziki (65 CZK). It is a generous bowl filled with cucumber, a lot of garlic, and fairly thin yogurt. There are sliced black olives on top, which I could have done without. It comes with four slices of toasted pita bread. An OK snack.
After that, I had the Classic Burger (95 CZK) with fries. My friend A liked his. I still might order it again, but I didn’t love it. I thought the bun was dried out and the meat was overcooked. It’s a very dense burger. It seemed to be a beef/pork mixture. It did have a nice smoky flavor. The menu said it came with bacon. I didn’t see any. A’s theory was that it is mixed in with the beef, which I think was very possible. It was too dark to see it clearly.
The burger was also drowning in mayo. Here’s a shot with the lid off.
Ketchup has to be ordered extra on the side. I thought my fries were a bit soggy, but A said his were fresh, hot, and crispy. I think mine had been sitting for a while because we put in a big order at the same time. Still, this is pub food. I’d get it again.

B got the flour tortilla filled with chicken (115 CZK). He was quite pleased. It was a good portion. I took a bite of a piece of chicken that fell out the back of the tortilla. It was nicely grilled, but I thought a little dry. I didn’t sample it with the red beans, onions, and red pepper inside. It came with salsa and sour cream on the side.
Someone got the pork ribs and threw me a bone. They were cooked with a sweet, spicy barbecue sauce, close to spicy ketchup. The ribs were very fatty. Not bad, not great. But for 115 CZK, they won't break your heart.
I didn’t taste the Chicken Drumsticks in honey chili sauce (120 CZK) that sat to my right. My friend didn’t finish them. I didn’t ask why.
And I didn’t taste the chicken fried in cornflakes (115 CZK). Both chicken dishes looked pretty greasy, but that’s about all I can say. Just based on how they looked, they are probably not dishes I’ll order next time. You can judge for yourself.
There are a number of items on the menu that I am still very curious about, even though I know they probably won’t be close to what I expect they should be. I want to try all the Thai dishes – “Mat Saman” curry (135 CZK), Phad Thai Kai (120 CZK), and Satay (120 CZK).

They also have a number of “large” salads for around 100 CZK. This is the small Greek salad for 40 CZK.
No one was looking for gourmet here. The food just needed to be reasonably edible. It seems to have passed this test. Our evenings are more about the drinking and the talking. Café Bar Wigwam is good for that. It is open until 1 am.

The final check on the list.

I’m not saying this place is for everyone. I don’t know what kind of checklist you carry around with you. All I can say is, it works for us.

Finally, we have a new home. It’s the Wigwam.
Café bar WIGWAM
Zborovská 54
Prague 1, Malá strana
Tel. (+420) 257 311 707


Anonymous said...

Wig wam seems nice, Brewsta!

My check list while in Prague:

- Mainly Czech customers which means not to expensive beer
- Not to smoky, hard issue btw :)
- good quality on the beer, preferably pilsner
- Prague 1 district
- no music
- Good service: the barman brings me beer without me asking.

Which pub?

My Czech brother in law introduced me to U Hrocha, Thunovska Mala Strana, ten years ago. I fall in love with this place and visit it every time I'm in Prague. The Hermelin cheese is lovely with the cold beer.

Brewsta said...

It takes us weeks to solve this last dilemma and now you give me a new list of requirements to deal with? Everyone is so high-maintenance.

But seriously, I can't think of any place that fills the bill.

Anyone? Anyone?

Brewsta said...

In the area of U Hrocha, we sometimes stop in a tiny little place, U Tri Cernich Ruzi (At the Three Black Roses -- I can't get my Czech characters to work). It is on a side street to the right as you face Malastranske Namesti. Think they have Pilsner. But can't be sure it doesn't fail some conditions. There are only a few tables.

Anonymous said...

What about that goose place near the Hotel Continetal? Serves Staro though :-(

Pivní Filosof said...

I know quite a few places in the cnetre that meet Pingrid's check list, and maybe yours too, brewsta.
U Rudolfina (though it might be hard to make a reservation for too many people, though), the Pilsner is second best to Tygra, food is good, prices really good too, for the area, it is a classic. U Vejvodu (I think its called) in Vejvodova, ona of those small alleys between Old Town Sq. and Nar. Trida. It's got a massive beer hall downstairs, you can reserve for a rather big group, good tankova Plzen and quite ok food. U Sumave, in Stepanska almost Jecna. Maybe the best Budvar in town, down at heel place with good service, good food and good prices. My favorite in the centre, though, is Ferdinanda, in Opletalova. They serve the underrated Ferdinand beer, from Benesov, the special Sedm Kuli is something that every beer lover should try. They have some of the friendliest service I have seen here and the food is not bad at all.
And now that someone has mentioned that Pilsen Urquell as preferable. It is a personal taste, but I have got a bit tired of it, and i think that it is not as good as it used to be, unless it's tankova. I have started to favour the stuff from small and independent breweries, the likes of the above mentioned Ferdinand, Svijany or Klaster, just to mention three. At the right place, they are, in my opinion, far more interesting than the usual ones.
PS: If we are speaking about places in Mala Strana U Tri Cernich Ruzi is great. Now if you want to go a bit up the hill, to Loretanske Namesty, you must really go to U Cerneho Vola. Amazing Kozel 12 for 25.50 a pint and really good snacks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the recommendations Max and Brewsta! I'm off to prague at Friday. Too bad it's just for the weekend,luckily I'm going back in June.

Anonymous said...

my checklist for czech hospodas
is even longer than yours. Smoke and noice bug me most.
if you would drop the Mala Strana location requirement I would suggest Pricni rez on Pricni ulice close to Karlovo namesti.
Good food at fair prices, service OK, you can book like 20 seats or so...

Zenny K. Sadlon said...

RE: "... Švejk pub" named after the eponymous character of the most famous Czech book. Make sure you get the new English translation of The Good Soldier Svejk available at http://zenny.com.

More information about the Svejk phenomenon at http://SvejkCentral.

Also, Svejk is on FaceBook now: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Good-Soldier-Svejk/133349009873?ref=nf