Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Would You Mind Not Eating? I'm Smoking Here!

If you happen to swagger into a Czech restaurant in Prague you could be in for a surprise: all of your clothing, your hair, your food and your drink will smell like cigarettes. If you are a smoker, you probably won't even notice. Or maybe you would; even the last bastions of the Global Smokers Republic which haven't been closed down by uppity pink lungers—have ventilation. There is no word in Czech for ventilation. If there is, it is merely academic and probably archaic. If you happen to wade through the blue-gray pub/restaurant smoke cloud and happen to see something resembling a small fan in the wall or the window, you won't see the fucking thing spinning. It may be due to a number of reasons, the least of which include:

A)  Communism. Commies love black lung disease. They find it quite yummy.

B)  Legal loopholes. I was told of a 'law' which declared that all pubs and restaurants must have ventilation. I was then told that you could find nowhere in that same 'law' which said that the ventilation must be functional.

C)  Cheapness. Why fix something if it will cost twenty bucks?

I'm gonna hafta go with A) Communism and yummy black lung disease.

Exhibit A: a ventilation fan at the pub across the street had its poor little metal slats kicked in overnight (no doubt by roving hordes of commie black lungers) and I was looking at a gaping hole in the wall with shreds of tin. Over the course of the day after, the pub owners had various people scratch their heads, pace around like they were looking for loopholes, fix the damaged vent, then flip it on to test it. For about 5 minutes, the newly-repaired horizontal tin slats flapped up and down while smoke belched out. Then they turned it off and went back inside. No use losing all the precious pub smoke. 'But Big Sir, WTF are you doing eating in a pub?' Glad you asked. In the Czech Republic, they have the pivnice (beer hall), hospoda (pub) and restaurace (restaurant). All of them do beer and food (to some degree) and they are all united with one purpose: to choke you with cigarette smoke.

A Little Leary

I'm trying to view things from the smoker's point of view. But I can't. Even though my favorite rant god Denis Leary told me smoking was the bee's knees, I couldn't quite hack it. I tried smoking for about five minutes in the 90s and I discovered it was disgusting and expensive. How people decide to devote their lives and wallets to this useless fucking habit is beyond me.

I do booze. Booze gives me a nice little head buzz and relaxes all my aching muscles (typing rants hurts). For the price of one pack of cigarettes in Europe I can buy a whole bottle of booze and get blotto. Now THERE'S a fuckin' habit worth its weight.

So, while the Global Smoking Ban had crept slowly eastward from Hippie Central in California, it never reached the Czech Republic. I just returned after 6 years in Germany, and the Czechs STILL smoke like chimneys. EVERYWHERE. I got used to the smoky Czech pub over the years because the only non-smoking restaurants were either fast food chains for tourists or fancy food for yuppie fucks. I'm neither, so I'm forced to go to the smoky Czech pub. There was even a bit of reverse culture shock when I visited places I'd been years before when they were smoke chokers—to now see the effects of smoking laws. Upon my return to California after several years abroad (during which time they enacted the public smoking ban), I was heading to a bar with a good friend. As he was pulling up to park, I shouted LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE OUTSIDE! IS THE BAR ON FIRE OR WHAT?!? My friend laughed and said, 'No, idiot, those are the smokers stepping out for a smoke.' The same type of situation greeted me in an empty pub in Cork, Ireland in 2008. All of the people were out for a smoke. I asked the only patron remaining in the pub how the smoking ban has affected the cultural phenomenon known as the Irish Pub.

"Now ye can smell da farts" was his reply. Gawd I love the Irish wit.


UPDATE: Summer of 2017 marks the end of smoking in Prague pubs and restaurants. We can now breathe easily. Now we non-smokers get to hear all the whiny smokers complaining. Worry not, O chimney breath: you can still find plenty of scofflaws who let people smoke in their pubs. Just follow your nose.

Big Sir's Tip: visit the Czech restaurant/pub between the hours of 11am and 2pm on weekdays. Most of them have a temporary lunch time smoking ban in place while you chew and sip. And the food is about half price for the daily lunch menu.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I Dreamed of a Prague Burrito and It Was Muy Loco

I left Berlin after 6 years and returned to Prague at the right time. My old American Praguer pal J$ told me that Prague now had karaoke 7 days a week. And real American style buffalo wings (the hot and spicy chicken wings that enable most Amis to take to the sky and fly), "not the skinny, bullshit Czech wings, but real wings with all the joints."

Things had changed indeed. The city had evolved beyond the usual imported fast food garbage and two dollar bacterial lunches served in Czech pubs into a city with a host of new international cuisine—and not just for the yuppie scum. Of course it was now very difficult for me to find a smazeny syr (fried cheese) for under 150 CZK (I paid 50 CZK back in The Day), and even the price of the fine-and-previously-cheap Czech beer was inching its way up to the Euro-standard.

Enter Burrito Loco. It started as a late night pitstop for drunks on their way home from the locus point of night tram hell: from Národní třída to Lazarská, which I call Loserská, due to all the fine human detritus which sticks to the walls like meat blown off skeletons in a bomb blast. Even though the dodgy, nonstop fast food kiosks in the walls have been replaced by a megalithic glass Tesco mall complex, you just can't shake the late night loners. On one of my previous Prague visits for photography work, I found myself sucked into the magnetic vortex of Loserská. Instead of the fine, square-jawed Russian thug who used to serve microwaved food scraps out of a metal box, I stood in front of what appeared to be a California style burrito joint. Of course I didn't trust it. I stood in front of the scene, wobbling drunk and taking it all in, hoping to see something that would convince me to take a chance. Not a chance.

Shine On You Crazy Burrito

Now I see Burrito Locos everywhere: Loserská, Strossmeyerovo naměsti, Vinohradská and even in the Old Town. Those pendejos locos even took over the Old Bohemia Bagel on Masná. Now I had to try them. If they can topple a Prague Goliath like Bohemia Bagel, they must be putting some serious crack in the wrap. I staggered over to the Burrito Loco branch by Anděl. I stood outside wobbling drunk, as I usually do. I am always on the verge of making a bad decision to eat fast food at gawdawful hours. Nonstop burrito joints don't make it any easier for me. The devil on my right shoulder always says Eat That Shit! while the angel on my left shoulder gently whispers sweet reminders about how I am dangerously close to paying for two seats on the plane. Fucking bitch. I take the devil's hand, he dons a Mexican wrestling suit, and he jams a burrito down my panting gullet. It is so fucking good that I had to go back a few days later and have another one, sober, just to be sure.

Burrito Loco is a California style burrito bar. You choose your burrito bomb and they build it in front of you from a trench full of Ay Carumba. You can even get real, fresh guacamole for 10 crowns more. Hell, the Czech Mickey D's charges 10 crowns for each packet of ketchup or mustard. Tonight I went into the Anděl (angel) joint and ordered the Burrito Grande. The best part of the experience is picking your own ingredients and telling them NO FUCKING WAY when they reach for red cabbage, sauerkraut or corn. We ain't in Berlin or Britain, pendejo. Gimme:

Big Sir's Ideal Burrito

  • large tortilla for a large dude (grande, cabron)
  • chicken, because I avoid beef in Central Europe and anything vegan because I am not a gawd damned hipster
  • cheese (oh yeah), black beans, a bit of rice (don't be afraid to say WHOA! when they try to cut your drug with too much rice fluff)
  • guacamole, salsa, hot sauce, lettuce, onions,  jalapeños and of course,
  • Crystal Blue Persuasion meth straight from the trailer of Jesse and Heisenberg

They've even got 3 kinds of hot sauce on the table for you to add in case they are light-handed on the salsa or the crystal. After trying three or four of these tasty gutbusters from Burrito Loco, I can give it the official Wide Body Jetsetter Seal of Approval.*

* Now that doesn't mean that you can feel free to leave comments about how Burrito Loco ain't authentic, ain't California enough, or doesn't contain soggy, fried veggies like a gawddam TexMex catastrophe. This is just one Californian's opinion of his comfort food being available nonstop. In Europe. It's about fuckin' time!