Throughout its history, the beautiful Baroque palace at Hybernská 5 in Prague 1 has been home to hotels, offices, banks, and general stores. The building is better known as Špork’s Palace, named after the Renaissance man and noble František Antonín Špork. After nine months of reconstruction in 2019, the building will now also host Červený Jelen, a hospoda run by Hospodska z Plzně.
Luboš Kastner, one of the founders, explains that one cannot talk about Červený Jelen without taking a trip into the past. Špork bought the palace in 1699 after his father passed away and he inherited a fortune. Besides being a patron of the arts and hosting numerous events such as concerts, plays, and operas, he was also a renowned hunter and founder of a hunters’ guild, with a deep understanding of and love for nature. He despised the spirit of consumption in Prague at that time. Legend has it that Špork, after a night of drinking absinthe, had a dream about red stags invading Prague. “When we found out about this legend, we just knew that would be the right name for our new establishment,” says Kastner.
The discovery of its name was just the beginning of a journey through history. As the building was redesigned and reconstructed by Stanislav Fiala, its hidden mysteries started to unfold. Besides finding original features, such as wall paintings and wallpaper, dating back to Špork’s time, the team also uncovered elements of Cubism from around 1926, when architect Josef Gočár was in charge of reconstruction and adding a two-story underground safe. The original flooring was revealed, which has been preserved by a layer of resin. In the vault, you can even see the original huge door. The features that couldn’t be salvaged were replaced with ethically sourced, upcycled materials, including the furniture – very few of the furnishings are brand new. It’s the little details that make the restaurant special, and each floor has its own energy. Kastner mentions that the design of the space ensures people don’t feel hidden and out of sight. No matter where customers are seated, they always have natural light and views of the open kitchen, bars, staircase, and tower of beer tanks.
The whole space has an aura of timelessness, despite its contemporary features. These complement the historical features, and the modernisation has been done with such respect and integrity for the building that it is a true homage to Špork and Gočár.
The Tower of Power
The 30m-tall tower of tanks was designed and built for practical reasons. As the restaurant’s three floors can hold anywhere between 700 and 1,000 customers, the team had to come up with a way to ensure the same quality of pilsner on each floor. The solution was to build a tower of tanks on top of each other. All the tanks have their own individual cleaning and delivery system to make sure the freshest beer travels the shortest distance possible. The beer’s journey from tank to glass can be measured in mere metres! What’s more, the cooling system keeps beer at a crisp 7°C, which Kastner says is the ideal drinking temperature.
To have so many tanks stacked on each other, with each empty tank weighing 180kg and able to hold 529 litres of beer, is unheard of and has not been seen anywhere else. It is no wonder that the tower has become a focal point in the restaurant.
With Beer Must Come Food!
When quality beer is flowing, it is vital to have it accompanied by good, tasty food. At Červený Jelen, diners can see the big, open kitchens with state-of-the-art cooking equipment, full of technology to ensure that everything runs smoothly and on time. It also serves as a great focal point, as you can see what is going on in the kitchen, which is fascinating to watch. There are two menus on offer, the Bank menu and the Vault menu. Both have been created by master chef Marek Fichtner and his team, and the main goal is to produce good, honest, creative dishes.
The Bank menu is centred around the rotisserie and the grill, where steaks are cooked to perfection. The Vault menu showcases the innovative, diverse dishes prepared by Fichtner. The menu is meat- and fish-oriented, and is definitely rooted firmly in traditional Czech cuisine. Whether you choose the meatloaf with potatoes, vegetables roasted in duck fat, or a rib-eye steak with barbequed porchetta, or whether you go for a more Czech classical dish, you can taste the new mixed with the old. This harmonises with the concept behind Červený Jelen.
Challenges are inevitable when running such a large restaurant, but Kastner and his partners are ready to conquer them. What they have already created in such a short time is an amazing achievement of which they should feel very proud – and František Špork would surely nod in agreement.
With the recent chain of global events, Červený Jelen like many other businesses in the food industries has had to adapt to a new way of serving and delivering meals. As such they now offer not only their usual menu of amazing grilled meats and Czech dishes but also an adjusted menu for the pandemic, check it out now on their website at www.cervenyjelen.cz
Photos for this article are by Renáta Muchová