I’M SITTING IN THE BASEMENT of a random potraviny (the Czech version of a bodega). Petr, the boy who works in the cafe next to my flat, slides me a shot glass filled with liquid gold.
“In Czech Republic,” he begins, “you always look the person directly in the eye when you cheers. Do not cross arms with other people at the table. Then you say, ‘na zdravi!’”
To your health.
“To my impeding alcoholism” is what it should mean. The velvety liquid burns harshly as it slides down my throat. Wincing, I stare at the empty glass. And then, the (extremely common) first reaction:
“It tastes like Christmas!”
The drink is Becherovka, a Czech spirit. Its Christmas-y flavor comes from a secret combination of anise, cinnamon, and a veritable pastiche of herbs, distinguishing it from other bitters. Becherovka is best sampled at local dives (especially the basement of a potraviny), but my favorite drinking venue really depends on my mood.
Taking Becherovka straight, without a mixer, is a commitment. First timers, I recommend you head to Popo Cafe Petl to break your Bechj seal (pronounced beh-kee). This underground music bar is a good place to order a beton, a Czech cocktail of Becherovka mixed with tonic water.
Sip your spicy drink while requesting ’90s hits of the iPod DJ. Czechs at Popo Cafe Petl seem to really love them some Chumbawumba and Aqua — lip-syncing along with other Popo patrons is a good idea.
Once Becherovka’s 38% alcohol by volume starts doing its thing on you, stop by Chapeau Rouge in Old Town. You might be able to handle the bizarre, Tim Burton-esque decor sober, but it’s probably easier with a shot of Bechj in your system.
Lose yourself in the three-story myriad of secret passageways, spiral staircases, and hidden caves hosting dub step / house music / disco fever talent. Becherovka tastes better when consumed while head banging with dreadlocked tourists and crowd surfing above Czechs in flashy outfits.
At the end of the evening, you may never want to see a bottle of Becherovka again.
This sentiment will wear off when you take a final swig on Střelecký Island. A quiet slice of land in the middle of the Vltava River, Střelecký is a mellow spot to end your evening with Bechj.
Prague doesn’t have an “open container” policy, so cuddle up with your friends in front of views of the sparkling Charles Bridge and the swans that swim close to shore.
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