Wine and Spirits

A Sparkling Favorite Returns to Prague

The Czech Republic’s resurrected American Bar pays homage to its lustrous history with glittering decor and polished cocktails.


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PRAGUE’S SPLENDOROUS MUNICIPAL House (Obecní dům) beckons from the city center with its mélange of Art Nouveau, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Located on Náměstí Republiky, the mosaic- and sculpture-adorned edifice designed by Antonín Balšánek and Osvald Polívka debuted in 1912, atop the site of the former Royal Court. Six years later, amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, documents were signed here to form the independent state of Czechoslovakia.

Beyond the profusion of ornate metalwork, stained glass, and Alphonse Mucha murals, the Municipal House also originally stood out for its subterranean American Bar, one of Europe’s oldest cocktail destinations. Its circular room, crowned with a vaulted ceiling and centerpiece chandelier, drew well-heeled Prague denizens — including women who were allowed to imbibe without the company of men, a rarity for the time — who sank into its black leather armchairs, sipping the likes of gimlets and daiquiris.

During Communism, however, the revelry dissolved, and the bar’s elegant interior gathered dust. Post-Velvet Revolution (the nonviolent 1989 demonstrations against the Communist Party), the space reopened for private events. But it wasn’t until early 2022 that it was reborn as Tretter’s Obecní dům by veteran bartender Michael Tretter and the gastronomic group Vyšehrad 2000.

“I knew it would be a challenge to revive, but I was attracted to the bar’s past and its retro atmosphere,” says Tretter. “For years, nobody knew it existed, that between the wars it was a place where actors and members of Prague’s high society came.”


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But Tretter was keen to illuminate this little-known artifact and given his outsize influence on Prague’s nightlife, bar-goers were bound to pay attention. The Tretter family’s hospitality roots trace back to 1928, and his own journey in the industry began after the fall of Communism, when he was just 16. After sojourns in Munich, Lake Garda, and New York City, he returned home to launch a consulting company and work at his father’s bartending school before unveiling Tretter’s in 2000, his pioneering, now-shuttered lounge that evoked 1930s New York.


“I was known for innovative cocktails at the first Tretter’s, but here I had the simple idea to focus on drinks you would find 100 years ago,” Tretter explains. As an homage to the American Bar’s roots, there are no newfangled libations. Instead, head bartender Ondřej Slapnička presides over go-tos like the Penicillin, martinis, and a Bloody Mary buoyed by Dijon mustard and fresh horseradish. There are subtle riffs on classics, including a rum-based truffle old-fashioned and the ciabatta- and balsamic vinegar–infused Negroni Centanni. A few recipes hatched at the old Tretter’s, such as the quenching Honey Smash with vodka, mint, lemon juice, and blackberries, also make an appearance. Bottles of bubbly — the Tretter’s crémant, made in Burgundy — are frequently popped, too.

Slapnička’s sharp technical skills come in handy while navigating the tiny, impractical bar. Preserved from 1912, it may be short on counter space, but it’s a sight to behold, crafted from black marble and flanked by vitrines. Those who make their way down to the dimly lit lair are there for the setting as much as the concoctions — the mirrored arches shimmering against the ebony tiles, the glamorous sconces with shades reminiscent of icicles, peeks into the former cabaret now used for private events, and the framed artwork by prolific Czech painter Mikoláš Aleš. “All of these details are original,” says Tretter. “This is history.”

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Our Contributors

Alia Akkam Writer

Originally from New York, Alia Akkam is a writer living in Budapest who covers design, drinks, food, and travel. Her book on hotel bars, published in 2020, will be followed up by one on gin cocktails this year.

Kata Geibl Photographer

Kata Geibl is a photographer living and working between Budapest and The Hague. Her work is mainly focused on global issues, capitalism, the Anthropocene, and the ambiguities of the photographic medium. She has exhibited worldwide in solo and group shows. Her first monograph was published by Void in November 2021.


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