Peeling plaster, the guts of the walls visible as if wounded in a titanic struggle; metallic ducts range freely alongside one wall just beneath the ceiling; a concrete floor, implacable in the face it offers to the world, the scrape of the metal legs of a bench on which you sit; a bar built from reclaimed wood, faded like an old pair of jeans, topped with stainless steel, and hanging above the digital signage of a beer menu that draws the eyes as soon as you enter.
Oh, and at the other end of the room, there is a gathering of gleaming stainless steel tanks of different sizes, marooned in the corner, a clear sign that beer is brewed here. A youngish crowd, men and women, in their 30s, gathers, gusts of laughter sweeping backwards and forwards, creating the sense that beer is a communal joy, beer is what brings people together.
I could be in London, somewhere in the east, Hackney Wick perhaps, or maybe I am back in Portland, or, at the elemental space of the Commons Brewery (sadly now closed), but I am in Prague in the up-and-coming district of Karlim, at DVA Kohouti. I first visited it a year ago and it quickly became one of my favourite new tap-rooms in the city, a modern, slightly austere space that is a collaboration between Adam Matuška, of the eponymous brewery, and master bar-tender Lukáš Svoboda, who is the man you go to if you want a pour of the perfect pint of Pilsner Urquell.
“The main idea for here is to connect brewing and the craft of pouring under one roof and to have perfectly brewed and perfectly poured beer,” I was told by brewer Lukas Tomsa when I visited last autumn. “Also, it should be a place where you can have fun (DJs and events), but the main focus should always be for the best possible pint for the customer.”
He’s certainly got that right. Mistni Pivo, a 12˚ pale lager, is the main beer brewed here, a creamy and smooth creation that seems to drink itself (or that is what it seemed like when I spent a recent Sunday lunchtime there). It’s topped with a fine head of foam, which seems to call for a Franz Josef moustache, which you dip into your glass as if wanting to act out life in Jaroslav Hašek’s classic comedy novel The Good Soldier Švejk. The rest of the beers come from Pivovar Matuška and during my most recent visit I also drank deeply of the fruity, dry and bittersweet pale ale Apollo Galaxy, the IPA Zlatá Raketa with its muscat-like fruity sweetness and Hellcat DIPA, bittersweet, herbal, softly bitter and dry in its finish.
It has been written about elsewhere, and I have discussed it with fellow beer-writers, about how the lingua Franca of craft beer throughout the world is a desire for stripped down aesthetics, stainless steel that brightens the soul with its effortless smile and a beer menu that is either a chalkboard of many colours or a flickering digital display reminiscent of the cockpit of that Airbus that takes you on your holidays.
I have seen it in Peru, high in the Andes, in Budapest, deep in a cellar bar, and even in the Open Gate Brewery at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. And you know what? It doesn’t bother me, it’s almost a comfort in the same way the dark and austere settings of a traditional Prague pub such as Hostomická nalévárna or the old school cosiness of Pike Brewery’s pub in the middle of Seattle Pike Place Fish Market enchant. It’s another space where I feel at home and we all need to feel at home when we confront and cuddle up to the joy that drinking beer brings.