Bars

Whisky, cocktails, and all that jazz (Be Bop Bar)

Ken Hoskins travels to eastern Europe and puts his feet up in the Be Bop Bar with his new Czech mate.
By Ken Hoskins
Who would consider Prague a whisky drinking destination? The only distilled spirit the Czechs are known for is Karlovarska Becherovka, a bitter herbal concoction best left to little old ladies and to youngsters who like it with 7-Up.Yet, tucked away in the lobby of the historic Radisson SAS Hotel is The Be Bop Bar. It’s a clubby oasis of dark wood and green marble where Alexander ‘Alex’ Miksovic reigns as the Republic’s premier bartender. Whisky will be hard put to find a better friend than Alex.The Radisson SAS is located just off Prague’s famous Wenceslas Square. Originally built in 1930 as the Alcron Hotel, it was jazz-age Prague’s most swinging, ‘in’ hotel. When Radisson re-opened this Art Deco gem in 1998, completely restored to its former glory, Alex and The Be Bop Bar brought jazz back to the city centre.Despite his passion for all things cocktail , clearly Alex’s first love is whisky and particularly Blanton’s single barrel bourbon from Franklin County, Kentucky. Over the past five years, he has twice spent weeks touring the Bourbon whiskey distilleries of Kentucky. Earlier this year he was in Scotland for a month and in Ireland for three weeks visiting a total of 50 distilleries. On his last Kentucky visit, in May of this year, Alex insisted on stopping at a local market to buy a bouquet of fresh flowers which he placed, with great solemnity, at the foot of the statue honoring Colonel Blanton himself.It was the Colonel’s private stock of barrels, aged in Warehouse H alongside the Kentucky River, that gave inspiration to the bottling of the first single barrel bourbon in 1984. And while the number of single barrel and small batch offerings has multiplied significantly, Alex has remained true to Blanton’s.The Be Bop, however, is well stocked with whisky offerings from around the world. There’s Teacher’s Scotch in the well, side by side with Heaven Hill Bourbon. Additional Scotch offerings include ten single malts (Cardhu, Balvenie 10 year old, Glenfiddich, Glendronach, Knockando, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Old Pulteney, Speyburn 10 year old and Talisker). Ten blends fill out the Scotch category, including Cutty Sark and J & B. The Irish are represented with Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Black Bush and Tyrconnell, which Alex favours as “interesting and tasty.” There’s also a bottle of 1998 Middleton Very Rare that he brought back from his British Isles expedition, though he keeps it squirreled away in his bar manager’s office away from devilish hands. Canadian Club puts in an appearance and there is even a bottle of the Japanese 86 proof Gold and Gold whisky from Nikka. On special request, Alex can also serve up Nikka’s 84 proof Black Nikka Special.While Blanton’s is the Be Bop’s only single barrel bourbon, the call list also includes Jim Beam and the small batch Maker’s Mark. Two near relatives, the only Tennessee whiskeys, are also there in George Dickel’s and Jack Daniel’s.“Learning the nuances of how the individual whiskies are produced and talking with the master distillers helps me to be a better drinks guide for my customers,” Alex says adding that he has also learned a lot from his clientele over the years. Because of the Be Bop’s reputation and the Radisson’s close proximity to Old Town Prague, Alex has rubbed shoulders with an international set of guests. They include the likes of Gerard Depardiu, John Malkovitch, Shirley McLaine and John Mayal – to name but a few. He takes great pleasure in explaining that actor Jeremy Irons taught him to use freshly grated horseradish for Bloody Marys and actress Zoe Nathanson tipped him off about adding either pepper or paprika, or even both, to the salty lip of a Margarita glass.Despite his full schedule as Be Bop Bar manager, Alex has found time to write 10 drinks and cocktails books and brochures - including his 1990 bartending textbook, a first ever for the Czech hotel and restaurant schools. He even served a year between 1996 and 1997 as editor-in-chief of the top trade publication, ‘Bar & Man’. He has also toured the Czech Republic for the past several years with an annual road show alongside Ed O’Daniel Jr., the president and long time Bourbon missionary of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. In April, Ed and Alex took their bourbon seminars and tastings to five of the hotel and restaurant schools around the Czech Republic.But it’s behind the bar at the Be Bop, dressed in his natty white jacket and black tie, that Alex seems most at home - treating his loyal clientele to friendly and stylish service. There he trains and supervises staff who probably have never even heard of the first cocktail Alex mixed in 1967 - a ‘Vermouth flip’ consisting of red Vermouth and egg yolk. Small wonder it’s out of fashion, but Alex can even make Karlovarska Becherovka appealing. Just add a little tonic, he says, and it’s called a Beton.The Be Bop is open from 9:30 a.m. until 1 a.m. seven days a week, with live jazz Monday through Saturday beginning at 10 p.m.