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Review: Plzeňská pub: Overt theme detracts from finer points

Plzeňská tries hard to be a laid-back cellar pub, but the hallmarks of corporate planning are obvious. Like at Smíchovská Perla, another Czech establishment in Bratislava, eating at Plzeňská is a little like entering a commercial for a famous Czech beer company.
I won't mention that company here, but you'll see it enough if you go to Plzeňská - on the way in, on the walls, on the coasters, on your tablecloth - imprinted on the insides of your eyelids if you're not careful. Put another way, Plzeňská reminded me of the ethnic pubs at American amusement parks that claim to represent entire nations, but which undermine that notion by their very existence.

Plzeňská

English menu: no
Where: Rajská 5
Open: Mon - Fri 9 - 2, Sat 10 - 4, Sun 10 - 12
Rating: 6 out of 10

Plzeňská tries hard to be a laid-back cellar pub, but the hallmarks of corporate planning are obvious. Like at Smíchovská Perla, another Czech establishment in Bratislava, eating at Plzeňská is a little like entering a commercial for a famous Czech beer company.

I won't mention that company here, but you'll see it enough if you go to Plzeňská - on the way in, on the walls, on the coasters, on your tablecloth - imprinted on the insides of your eyelids if you're not careful. Put another way, Plzeňská reminded me of the ethnic pubs at American amusement parks that claim to represent entire nations, but which undermine that notion by their very existence. These corporate pubs go one step further. Not only do they want your money in the short term, they want your consumer loyalty.

Just what are they selling? Czech beer and the illusion of small-time proprietorship. At the end of the 20th century, with so few diversions free from the taint of advertisement, it probably shouldn't matter any more. But it does, because the pub's design is clever enough that for a few moments, descending the steps, one imagines that around the corner awaits a finely-aged, finely beer-stained cellar with a warm fire, talkative owner, two or three dogs, and a local crowd with a tradition of singing folk songs no one knows the words to, but with melodies anyone a few drinks thrown down can follow.

Instead, Plzeňská is a generic imitation of that kind of pub with some attractive features - no fireplace, but plenty of stylish advertisements. Most of the furniture is made out of wood, which was a good idea except that under closer inspection the design lacks style and the wood seems more like a compromise between cheap and durable rather than good-looking and durable.

The irony is that great pains (and expenses) appear to have been taken by the owners in hopes of making the place look like it had been built by a local craftsman, when all they had to do was just hire a local craftsman.

At this point in the review, it seems I should say that the food was mediocre, the service abrupt, and the prices out of proportion. But none of the above was the case. The food was surprisingly tasty, the service professional, and the prices average for the Old Town.

Since the restaurant is Czech, the menu offers welcome variations on standard Slovak cuisine. Cabbage and meat are still staples, but knedĺa appears more often on the menu. Of the 20 or so main courses (from 100 to 200 Slovak crowns), an excellent stuffed turkey breast comes with not only ham and cheese, but also chopped plums. The chicken breast in blue cheese sauce is a tangy treat. For vegetarians, mushrooms stuffed with cheese hit the spot.

Plzeňská also offers many smaller dishes that work as appetisers or snacks. For soups, try the creamy garlic soup with small pieces of floating cheese toast. A pretzels pole that comes with five pretzels can be good for groups on a bender. Beer is of course the drink of choice, with three excellent Czech brands and a Slovak variety served in large, frosty mugs.

Pubs and restaurants are usually rated according to service, atmosphere, and product (food and beverages). In a different foreign capital, recommending Plzeňská would be a stretch. But in Bratislava, not only is two out of three not bad, it's actually quite good. Toss in clean bathrooms and a movie theatre (Charlie's) 20 feet away and you've got yourself a place to eat. In the land of the blind, one-eyed men will have to do until something better comes along.

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