Days Remaining to Next Beer: 350
One evening in Prague we set out to find dinner somewhere with tables and cutlery, as our needs were pretty minimal. Wondering about we peeked into a place that seemed promising, especially as we were a touch early versus the dinner rush so the place had very few patrons but lots of staff hurriedly getting the large multiple room main floor ready for the surge they knew would arrive sometime closer to 7 pm. Places were being set, cloth napkins folded and creased just so, cutlery arranged with the largest pieces closest to center mass where a plate would sometime land like an eagerly anticipated spaceship at the base of Devil’s Mountain. Table cloth edges were tugged as waiters passed to pull the fabric taut so nearly invisible wrinkles would disappear like wrinkles form the brow of an aging LA star.
We entered and were whisked past a wide stone stairwell spiraling down into depths unknown into a tidy, well set, candle and chandelier lit dining room to one side of the overall establishment, a warm space devoid of patrons enough to give us that sense of being behind the scenes somewhat, like showing up early to a concept and sipping a pint while the roadies set up gear, tune instruments, and run through sound checks.
The long room had overhead an arched ceiling that ran the length of the space unbroken but for the tops of regular burly, cleanly finished columns, and vaguely reminded me of the ceilings in the train stations of London, though far smaller of course and made of polished stone rather than iron and glass.
The waiter gave us the English edition of the menu and recommended the litre of Pilsner Urquell as very Special this evening, only a single Euro. That part of the dinner order took least amount of deliberation. Sure, I fleetingly considered holding out for a gallon version of the Special, visions of Michael Meyer’s giant latte gag in So I Married an Ax Murderer springing up in my head.
When the beer arrived we had some sense of our stratagem for supper and told the waiter all about he. He listened patiently, attentively, only interjecting once to clarify a detail, and then away he went as a lad who could only be described as a lad with a thick fabric tie on his Grandfather probably wouldn’t miss delivered, lifting with his knees rather than his back, the litre of beer I’d ordered in a solid glass mug destined to come home with us, which subsequently it did for only one additional Euro. We paid for it because even with my girth a litre capable mug is more than I can duck into a jacket pocket. Besides, we enjoyed the place and wanted to show them full teeth smiling respect, and I haven’t even told you why yet.
Why we loved the place, besides the ample and amazing pilsner on tap or the tasty as could be food stuffs that kept arriving on our table far beyond what either of us could recall ordering, though difficult to recall anything when feeling the onset of a food coma coupled with a side of meat sweats, except maybe that obese patron in the suave French bistro a hair’s breadth of chocolate wafer away from exploding. And compared to the meal we put a small dent into on the outdoor patio cafe while watching an ancient astrological clock wind itself up to do something clever, this had been a light meal. How do Czechs stay so slender, other than walking everywhere, using real ingredients, and suffering harsh winters?
No, why we loved the place had to do with something we discovered due to the needs of our bladders, something right there beneath our feet. The restaurant had a completely different scene setting up downstairs. One part dungeon, couple parts Pirates of the Caribbean, many parts Tournament of Kings at Excalibur Hotel in Vegas, sans the horses or the neigh bales they leave behind.
So Lindz says something to the effect of needing to pee, something sultry and subtle like, “I need a slash.” Actually I think she just said excuse me and pushed away from the table before anyone had had a chance to drop off any of our diner order yet. She walked into the foyer and briefly chat to a passing waiter who dried his hands on the folded over apron double knotted around his waist before pointing to direct Lindz down the stairs gently curving away out of sight that we’d passed earlier. I stopped watching after that, making mental note where the washroom was as I eyeballed the litre of pilsner like a double-dog-dare challenge from God. I had fair suspicion the litre could outpace the elasticity of my normally resilient bladder.
I’d recalled a night out with film school friends a few months after we’d all gotten on with our lives. Three of us had ended up living in the same West End bunker style 20 story apartment building, two of us roommates to split the rent on a two bedroom place up on 19, the other that had found the building to begin with lived down on 12 if I remember correctly. I was working for Radical by then on Scarface, while my French roommate Celine worked as a PA cum 3rd AD on the Smallville set and Lee worked with the lighting part of the IATSE Union, I think Local 891, on a variety of shows and films. Our other pal, Devin, worked with CG as a PA as well, guarding trucks and the like, though he was beginning to turn to editing as his passion.
We’d had a fair number of pitchers and pints, celebrating something or other and buying one another rounds. All of us had stories to tell, they were young and adventures seemed to be ripening on the horizon for them, I felt excited for them, and I seemed to have found the beginnings of a stride in this city that still felt very new and exotic to me.
Along the way CG pointed out that one of the cryptic signs printed on a rectangle of corrugated plastic and roped to a light pole was from a particular TV show and had been put there to help direct crew trucks to set locations. So of course I stole the sign, reverting to a teenage kid for a moment, though thinking I had captured some wonderful souvenir, some piece of Vancouver’s place in the annals of film production. I tried to be discrete and slide it up under my shirt behind my back. The sharp edge of the box cutter cut corrugated plastic sliced my t-shirt open and let in the chill of the summer breeze wafting in from English Bay. CG, furious with me as though somehow my act would get back to her bosses on set and tarnish her reputation, made me put the sign back. If you’ve ever dealt with Unions is completely within the realm of possibility, she had a reason to fret, actually. And then on we went, bound for our building in West End with the rest of the hill from Cole Harbor left to climb.
Somewhere around Robson is when my bladder fired the warning shot, a sharp pang of pain that left behind a dull and increasing pressure, and of urgency, and I began to walk faster, split t-shirt flapping behind me like Hit-Girl’s purple cape. My friends kept pace and chat away about this show and that film oblivious to my impending, inevitable clench fail. Realizing I would not make it to our building, I politely tried to duck behind the tree, like the myriad of homeless folks wandering Vancouver’s downtown often do. Except it’s the weekend, and every time I try to find a spot out of people’s eye line, someone else walks down the sidewalk or rounds the nearest corner. I can’t perform for an audience, so I give up and head for the building, practically running like Forest to reach the place, key in, and sprint for the restrooms that bridge the lobby and elevator bank with the small pool on the building’s main floor. Somehow though once inside the lobby, my friends at my heels, I either forgot about the lobby restrooms or saw the elevator doors open and got cocky. My friends piled in around me and punched our respective floors, Lee his and CG ours with Devin in tow.
Elevators are essentially case studies in the theory of relativity, and time seemed to slow as floors sicked away, and as we passed 8 I began to feel droplets, by 10 I felt a thin rivulet, and by 12 as the doors opened I nearly face palmed Lee out of the way to get to his bathroom, only to have to cross my legs and wobble back and forth as he fumbled his keys out and got the door open. I left a trail of droplets and tiny puddles all the way to his water closet, stepping with high knees like a Norman Rockwell painting of boys playing hooky fleeing a truancy officer or Keystone cop. Lee stifled his horror while Celine and Devin had a hearty laugh at my expense. My bladder had been bested, and like a stroke of karmic retribution for stealing that film sign I’d ruined a shirt and soaked my freshly laundered Dickie shorts. After jet setting a heaping hose down like an uncapped hydrant, I toweled off and helped Lee clean up the tiny trail of shame I’d rendered, though the elevator had begun buzzing loudly so we had to let that one go, hopefully no one noticed or just blamed someone’s dog. Then on to my place to shower, change, and feed the ruined t-shirt into the roaring hole of a garbage shoot whose insatiable appetite provide no shortage of amusement during the years I lived there.
Sitting in Prague while Lindz descended to the facilities, staring at that massive mug of chilly, crisp pilsner, I recalled that promise to myself to treat the constraints of my bladder with far more consideration, respect even. And the adjacent promise to never again muck with Union materials or signage. I even toasted the air to commemorate that embarrassing incident, and to the good friends that let me live it down with compassion and understanding. More or less.
I was wondering what those cats might be up to when Lindz returned from the power room and said simply, “You have to go down there. Take your camera.” And she picked up my 12 inch Jason from the table and held it towards me. “And this.”
I walked down the spacious spiral stairs with some trepidation, and excitement, and a slight sense of appreciation from my bladder for already considering its needs so soon. As my head and line of sight dropped lower than the main floor and my eyes adjusted to the gloom of the dim lighting scheme down below, I realized that stepping below the threshold of the main floor is effectively a very delightful optical illusion, sort of like trying to half submerge your eyes or a camera lens into a body of water, the line between in water and out of it, and the differences between of light and color and scale and even sound is razor thin and unmistakable. Stepping down the stairs crosses an event horizon that seems to teleport you back some few hundred years into medieval times when winches were winches and wenches were wenches, when candles only burned from one end and mutton could conceivably still hit your plate with tufts of wool dangling from it.
I walked into the space a bit from the stairs and looked around with jaw flapping open because while there certainly was gimmick afoot as surely as any Disney hot spot, the difference was that aside from what theater and costumes the wait staff beings, the bones and brambles of the place were likely utterly authentic.
The building’s foundations were the same ones people had eaten next too and low vaulted roof the same one people had swilled spirits beneath centuries ago. There were candles that had melted down one after another to create considerable stalagmites of rippling ghostly white. And I seemed to have it all to myself, no one sat at the long, heavy wooden tables though candles burned and places were set, if you consider a cloth, spoon, and burly knife a place setting.
After looking around a bit, peeking into corners and leaning to look up the narrow flutes that lead to thick, lead veined windows likely at street level outside, and one spot I felt pretty sure coal must once have been delivered through, I head commotion and thought I’d been busted for snooping, though I’d been wary not to touch anything. Wait staff dressed in period garb appeared and scurried past me as though I were accompanied by the ghost of Christmas Past, each of them with a mission to set up various items and arrangements on the tables, some flowers here, clayware mugs there, wooden planks with artisan breads and cheeses still further over there.
I felt I should get while getting is good and turned to leave, only to find my way blocked by a fairly large presence produced by a fairly small person. I wondered if I would be scolded for being out of bounds and hoped if so they would speak in Czech so could hear what cursing sounds like that way. Instead the man in the medieval smock smiled a huge smile, pointed at my camera, and waved his hands around the place. And when he noticed my mascot travel gnome doll, he snatched Jason from my hand and began setting up staged shots for me.
I snapped away while the waiter stuck the doll on wine barrels and dangling from a prison cage, next to antlers and on the fireplace mantle. He climbed wooden strut to get me a lofty shot at oen point, and at another point he held up a hand to have me wait while he turned on the smoke machine that helped give the room ambiance so I could get a couple foggy photos.
All said and done the experience probably packed into 15 minutes, however like an elevator when your bladder is about to pop it’s o-ring, experience makes perception of time extremely relative, and when I finally trudged back upstairs, waving sincere thanks to the guy as I went and completely forgetting to stop by the wash room, I worried Lindz would have already eaten and be fuming for my having abandoned her for so long. Instead I arrived just as the first plates were inbound, and as I turned into the side room I passed a large group of Japanese businessman and their wives or away game spotters or whatever beginning to fill up a staging ground defined by velvet ropes, clearly bound for the dungeon and all the action down stairs.
I confirmed this later when I remembered to visit the men’s room, peeking in past the stairs to see how many people could fit into that wonderful, festive dungeon. Far more than I would have thought, and you haven’t lived until you see office men try to sort out what to do with Hagar the Horrible style medieval clayware steins. Good thing they weren’t serving the litre pilsners down there, someone might’ve incurred serious tennis elbow.
U Pavouka Bohemia Beer Bar & Restaurant, an admittedly cheese ball spot I totally recommend. And if you’re up for some dungeon diving, be sure to bring lots of friends, though you’ll probably leave with even more.