Česká centra, Czech Centres

Česká centra / Czech centres - logo

Program

Jul 25, 2020 - Aug 31, 2020

The Comeback of Bohemian Life to New York

Slowly but steadily, the New York City restaurant and bar scene is awakening from pandemic lockdown. Restaurants and bars are reopening, and among them are also Czech restaurants, such as Bohemian Spirit and the Bohemian Beer Garden (known as Bohemka). The vibrant city nightlife has been impacted particularly badly by the pandemic since March with the ban of dining on premises, with many places struggling or being forced to close entirely. Fortunately, the summer brings the long-awaited comeback of dining – people are returning and can once again enjoy wining and dining, though currently only outdoors until indoor service can resume. The creativity inherent to New York has led to the development of the new phenomenon of temporary outdoor and curbside dining in a variety of styles and designs, establishing new islands of hospitality within the urban space. We spoke about the reopening and great Czech food and beer with two Czechs who run restaurants in New York, which both have in their name ‘Bohemian’ – a synonym denoting both ‘Czech’ and a relaxed lifestyle. These restaurant owners have taken extraordinary steps to welcome and safely cater to their guests again.

By Marek Milde


Bar and Czech Beer at the Bohemian Spirit at the Bohemian National Hall on Manhattan. Photo: Vít Stuchl

 

“We are basically starting from scratch,” says Ivan Srb, the president of The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, which reopened after three months of complete shutdown. “We only use our outside garden,” which is a vast outdoor oasis, where in the shade of trees, beer-loving folks can enjoy a great selection of beers and grilled sausages. “You feel comfortable and very safe here, despite the Covid-19 times,” Srb adds and is happy that patrons have started to return, and despite the practiced distancing and other precautions, the place is alive. “We feel that people are supporting us and helping us getting back on our feet. We do have slightly fewer customers, but they are friendly and happy to support our [re]opening.”


Outside seating in the Bohemian Beer Garden. Photo: Ivan Srb

 

Czech restaurants has always been part of the rich and diverse food landscape of New York City. Traditionally, the hearty cuisine and famous beer from the land of Bohemia – the present Czech Republic – have been landmarks of the once Czech neighborhoods: Yorkville on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Astoria in Queens. While the Czech community in these neighborhoods gradually dispersed, the Bohemian tradition lives on in a few local restaurants, such as Bohemian Beer Garden and Bohemian Spirit, today very popular with locals.

 

Paprikas with Rye Bread. Photo: Vít Stuchl

 

“I like to be among people, that’s why I do the restaurant business,” says Vít Stuchl, owner of Bohemian Spirit, a Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated restaurant located on the Upper East Side in the landmarked Bohemian National Hall. He recently reopened for outdoor dining and serves the legendary Czech delicacy, svickova, a braised Angus Beef with fluffy bread dumplings and lingonberry sauce, at the curbside tables, a new setup he furnished that instantly became popular.

 


At Bohemian Spirit, the restaurateur Vít Stuchl also takes care of delivering hot meals to customers at this time.

During the ban on service in the interior of the restaurant, beer and food are served every afternoon and evening right on the street in front of the BNH building.

Photo: Vlasta Stuchl, Vít Stuchl


Stuchl is relieved that customers are returning, but the struggle for his business is not over. “The pandemic time was devastating for my restaurant. I had to reinvest heavily and borrow to keep the restaurant going. Currently, we have about a third of our regular customers, barely enough to pay the bills.” Despite the hardships involved, he has not given up. His love for the restaurant and the community he caters to keeps him going, like during the peak of the pandemic, when he remained open for take-out and local deliveries, which he brought to patrons on a bike in person.

Luckily, the season is helping the reopening. In the summer, many people come to enjoy the crisp and hoppy Czech lagers – a specialty in both restaurants. Bohemian Spirit prides itself in serving Pilsner Urquell beer at the highest level of quality. Many say the beer here tastes as good as at the place of its origin – in Pilsen, Czech Republic. “It has been endorsed by the Pilsner Urquell’s own brewmaster, Václav Berka, who has visited the restaurant,” Stuchl proudly adds and reveals its secret: “The freshness is not the issue anymore, as the beer can get here from Pilsen in 12 days. It’s our subsequent care and maintenance of beer lines that make the difference.” Bohemian Spirit also offers a unique way of serving the golden brew. Unlike typical American beers, Czech beer here is traditionally served with the ‘head.’ “Many people here don’t know that the foam is there to preserve the freshness, the spark of the beer,” Vít Stuchl explains. You may also ask for Schnitt or Milk, which is the same beer, but the ratio between the brew and the foam increases. (For instance, Milk is mostly foam). The experience is in the changing texture – analogically similar to different types of coffee: espresso macchiato, cappuccino, latte, etc.

 


Bar at Bohemian Beer Garden. Photo: Hernan Ferrer

 

“A large selection of different beers is the key,” says Ivan Srb from the Astoria’s Bohemian Beer Garden, “and so are good bartenders and proper service.” The Beer Garden offers 14 high-quality draft beers, ranging from light to dark, strong to lite, featuring summer seasonal beers as well as IPAs. “Czech and German beer equally is very good and well-suited for our beer garden,” Srb says, “but most popular are Czech beers like Pilsner Urquell, Chechvar, Krusovice, Bernard, dark BrouCzech, and also very sought after is German amber beer, Spaten Oktoberfest.” Certainly, the golden brew is in good hands in Bohemka, Mr. Srb and his family have been connected with beer for generations. “My father was born in a pub, my grandmother was an innkeeper, and my granddad was the regional inspector of the quality of served beer, and that is why the quality of the beer we serve in our establishment truly matters to me.”


 

From the Menu in Bohemka, Pilsner Beer, Pierogy, Schnitzel. Photo: Ivan Srb, Hernan Ferrer

 

With good beer comes a great appetite, and that is where both restaurants excel each in their own way. The outdoor space of the Bohemian Beer Garden has an extensive grill menu, featuring choice sausages, chicken wings, and BBQ ribs. Among the Czech specialties are pork and chicken schnitzel, fried cheese, halusky, and pierogi with vegetarian options available. “More options are to come once the indoor kitchen and dining reopen,” Ivan Srb explains.

The Manhattan’s Bohemian Spirit features the best the Czech cuisine has to offer. It has received the Michelin 2020 Bib Gourmand distinction, and rightly so. There is a variety of Schnitzels, veal, pork and chicken, goulash with dumplings, and the aforementioned Svickova that has won the heart of many regulars but also famous Czech artists, athletes, and celebrities, for which Bohemian Spirit has become a hub. As the restaurant resides in the Bohemian National Hall, the seat of the Czech Center New York complete with a cinema, gallery, and ballroom, bursting with cultural events, the restaurant has become a popular place to visit and meet featured artists after events. On the walls, you will find portraits of famous Czechs like Miloš Forman, Václav Havel and Ája Vrzáňová. “We have had practically everybody here as a guest, all the stars who have performed here,” Stuchl says. “The Czech tennis and hockey players come here too and they usually bring friends. One evening, we had people from three NHL teams here, they spent the whole evening arguing that nobody can skate. But they love our food and do like to eat a lot, they don’t have to watch their waistline so much, they can just skate it out the next morning. But honestly, I do not care about the names.” He adds, “For me, every customer is a good customer.”


Szegedin Goulash

Bacon Dumplings. Photos: via Bohemian Spirit Instagram

 

There is also a long history of political, entertainment, and sports figures visiting or supporting The Bohemian Hall in Astoria. “We have a very strong connection to our Czech and Slovak communities, consulates, and other organizations in New York,” says Ivan Srb. “Presidents Václav Havel and Miloš Zeman visited us, President Havel planted a tree in our garden, hockey legends Zdeno Cara and Ziggy Palffy used to play table tennis with us here. Miloš Forman and Paulina Porizkova were big supporters in the past, just to name a few.” Bohemian Beer Garden has a cultural mission and its profits support the Czech School, the Gymnastic Club Sokol, and many concerts and festivals that take place in the garden. “I hope we will be able to offer entertainment soon,” Ivan Srb concludes.

 

Ivan Srb, President of Bohemian Beergarden. Photo: Ivan Srb Archive

Photo: Hernan Ferrer


Both restaurants have gone a long way to assure the safety of the food handling and service, strictly adhering to the protocols required by the Department of Health. “Since our garden is huge, we have been able to offer service with social distancing. Our guests have also been very cooperative with restrictions. It is not easy to keep complying with all the regulations, but so far, we are handling them with confidence,” says Srb. Certainly, the impact on the business operation is significant and requires many extra steps the restaurants need to take to operate safely. “Our customers compliment us about our garden seating. They feel very safe here enjoying very good draft beer and food.” New York City is awakening and it is great to see these places inherently connected with culture and history coming back to life. While it will still take time and great efforts to fully recover, the energy and enthusiasm are tangible, and as the Czechs say, Where beer is brewed, life is good. Undoubtedly, the hope for the good life is back, and Bohemian Beer Garden and Bohemian Spirit are here to stay, which is great news for all Bohemians and those who feel like it.

 


Seating under the tree canopy in Bohemka. Photo: Ivan Srb

 

Ivan Srb about The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden: Bohemka was established in 1902 and survived several recessions and the Great Depression. The restaurant was built for our Czechoslovak community years ago and we are still proud to serve a selection of traditional dishes with Czech beer. Our profit was and is still used to support our school where we keep our children educated about our languages, culture, traditions, singing, and dancing. We maintain the Sokol Gymnastics in our building. In the last 20 years, because our membership is decreasing and business expenses are increasing, we have become more dependent on our local community. We now run not only Czechoslovak festivals, Winefest, Pork Fest, and children’s traditional festivals, but we also organize concerts, live performances, and sports events for members and our local community, using our beautiful historic garden and main hall. www.bohemianhall.com


Vít Stuchl about the Bohemian Spirit Restaurant: We are a traditional Czech restaurant located at the landmarked Bohemian National Hall built in 1892. We are committed to presenting the best of what typical Czech cuisine has to offer. A combination of high-quality foods offered at sensible prices aims to bring gastronomic knowledge of Central Europe to everyone. In the MICHELIN Guide New York City 2020, MICHELIN has announced its list of 133 restaurants in New York City that received the Bib Gourmand distinction, featuring 29 new additions. We are proud to be one of them! www.bohemianspiritrestaurant.com

 

 


To keep up to date with new events at the Czech Center New York, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.




 

 

Venue:
Date

From: Jul 25, 2020
To: Aug 31, 2020

Organizer:


Remind me
This event has already started.