On a quiet night, on a quiet street off Prague’s Wenceslas Square, tranquil jazz spinning on the record player is the only sound at Parlour, a quiet bar. One of the patrons, an enthusiastic tourist craving a more upbeat selection, boldly asks proprietor Jakub Ondříšek, the sole bartender for the evening, why she and her friends are listening to music that’s a touch melancholy. “Because,” he responds matter-of-factly, “I like it.”
Ondříšek, along with partner Martin Tomášek, opened Parlour in 2012, a time when the city’s cocktail scene was dominated by glamorous spaces like Bugsy’s Bar, Hemingway Bar and Tretter’s. They met working at local bar Back Doors. “He was a head bartender over there, and I was a guy from Habartov, deep in the Czech Republic,” says Ondříšek. “I asked for a job, and he asked me if I knew the Sazerac, but of course I didn’t. I knew nothing about bars.”
Jakub Ondříšek, left, and Martin Tomášek
While they are just as passionate about the classics, Tomášek and Ondříšek only wanted to showcase them amid a more low-key atmosphere. “We didn’t care about the scene,” says Ondříšek. “We just wanted to be free, to have a place without strange things and stupid business ideas.”
That play-by-our-own-rules joint spawned the brilliantly contradictory Parlour. Once past the hard-to-find entrance, there’s no witty menu to greet the curious but instead a clubby, dark space strewn with books, armchairs and regal paintings that once held court in Tomášek’s childhood garage.
The ambiance is decidedly reminiscent of a speakeasy, yet Parlour is completely devoid of pretense, evoking the same conviviality found in a Michelob-guzzling watering hole. To straddle both realms is a delicate balancing act, but the duo has found success by having honest, friendly conversations with guests, both those eager to experiment with new ingredients and those befuddled over a lack of wine and beer options.
If someone comes in, for example, craving a pilsner, instead of suggesting a pub a few feet away, Ondříšek will ask, “So if you like beer, it means you want to have something long, quite bitter and sparkling? No matter what, we always focus on taste.”
This translates to the likes of balanced Martinis and contemporary creations such as the Madness, made with gin, Aperol, lime, and tonic water. Drinks lean “strong and rich” to highlight the starred spirit, and barkeeps relish creativity, reaching for numerous bottles from the back bar elegantly tucked into an arch and pouring concoctions into pristine vintage glassware. If a customer desires a libation with tequila, it might result in pairing the agave spirit with lime, lemon marmalade,Vermouth del Professore and a touch of sugar. And an Old Fashioned variation could be the answer to a smoky whiskey preference.
“We just do what we love,” says Ondříšek. “What you see is us just the way we are.” The presence of a retro chess set salvaged from Tomášek’s grandfather’s house, a casualty of World War II, attests that heritage is just as important to these two as a vast, satisfying drinks repertoire.