This weekend, on the first day of spring, something remarkable happened at one of Prague’s favorite destinations for beer lovers: the staff at Pivovarský klub put away the ashtrays for the last time.
So why is a nonsmoking pub in Prague such a big deal?
In part because it seems to mark a tipping point in the pub culture here. Over 26% of Czechs smoke, and cigarettes have long been ubiquitous in bars here. Last year, an attempt to ban smoking in public areas was rejected by parliament. As Radio Prague reported at the time, “Critics of the smoking ban claim that it would hurt restaurants and bar owners.”
But some customers — and pub owners — have started to prefer nonsmoking establishments. Just as I was finishing Good Beer Guide Prague & the Czech Republic in early 2007, I was surprised by the newly opened Moritz in Olomouc, both because of their great beers and because they were the first nonsmoking brewpub I’d found in the entire country. And yet instead of starving for business, as the opponents of the smoking ban would have argued, Moritz was so busy when I visited it was forced to turn away customers. The more recent Bar Chýše, which serves craft beers from Klášterní pivovar Strahov, takes great pride in noting that it is the first nonsmoking bar in Prague’s Čimice neighborhood.
As such, Pivovarský klub won’t be the first to go nonsmoking. But it is certainly one of the highest-profile destinations to do so, especially for beer lovers, and it is conceivable that this could inspire other pub owners to do the same. The owners of one well-loved Prague brewpub told me they weren’t against the Czech parliament’s smoking ban — they certainly didn’t think it would harm their business — but they probably wouldn’t go nonsmoking themselves without such a law.
That was a couple of years ago; Pivovarský klub’s decision to cut the smoke might have changed things. Many bar owners here look to Pivovarský klub for inspiration, and due to its tastings, beer menus and other special events, the pub remains the focal point for beer culture in Prague. Now it’s not just that some Czech beer bars are nonsmoking, but rather that one of the biggest and the best is.
Smoking may have long been a part of Czech beer culture, but it wasn’t always that way: Prague’s U Fleků pub predates the arrival of tobacco in Europe by at least 60 years, while U Medvídků was a nonsmoking establishment for a century or more. So you could call a smoke-free pub in Prague an unusual and exciting new development. Or you could think of it as a return to the way things used to be.