The Czech authorities continue efforts to restart sales of hard alcohol, with plans to ease the controversial ban on spirits introduced in the wake of the methanol scandal. Lifting the ban won't come soon enough for the nation's bar and restaurant businesses, among them the Black Angel's Cocktail Bar, hidden away in the basement of Prague's U Prince Hotel. When it opened two years ago it was styled as a Prohibition-style bar, offering the decor, atmosphere and authentic cocktails of 1920s America. Ironically, the bar is now struggling with very real prohibition, as Managing Director Pavel Šíma explained.
And how many cocktails did you offer before prohibition was introduced a few days ago?
"On our menu we've got 41 cocktails, but then we've got another book which is just for bartenders, and there we have another 100-150 cocktails."
You've told me that this magnificent bar, with the leather seats and the mirror, is usually lined with all the bottles of alcohol, but now they're gone. They're hidden.
"Yeah. Right now the atmosphere is very very different. Normally when the customers come here, they see the bartenders shaking cocktails, they hear the ice in the shaker, and right now it looks more like a wine bar. People are drinking wine, champagne. They're still drinking a few cocktails, but the cocktails have only 20% of alcohol in them. So you drink like 30 cocktails and you're still not drunk."
"We've put together a special Prohibition menu with eleven cocktails on it. People try them but they say they don't have the volume of alcohol, so they're mostly drinking champagne, wine. A lot of them are drinking Apero Sours, or Apero Spritz."
You can still drink Martini though right? Martini's under 20%.
"Yes. You can sell port, Martini, we sell Lillet Blanc, Lillet Rouge, Baileys..."
And since prohibition was introduced last Friday, how much is it affecting you and your business in financial terms?
"It depends. On Friday and Saturday it was quite normal, maybe 20% down. The start of this week it was down about 50%."
So you're losing 50% of your business...
"Yeah, but most other bars are losing like 80%. So we are doing quite well, but still it's very bad. People are drinking at home - if they've got some alcohol at home - and not going out until 11 or midnight. But there are less people going into the centre."
"They needed to do something. But the point is, they needed to do something earlier, like two, three, four years ago. They knew about this problem and they didn't do anything. They're doing something now because people are dying, but this problem has been around for at least four years."
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