The entrance to the time-traveler’s speakeasy in Ostrava was easy to miss. There was only a small sign above a sunken staircase in the Old Town area. There was no way to see past the basement entrance into the bar below. A dark curtain hung across the door, blocking all light and curious eyes.
U Gustava was advertised to us as a speakeasy, but also as magical. Not just any speakeasy. The bar was created when the time-traveling, globe-trotting namesake of the bar shared a book of his recipes with the present owner, a humble 22 year old with a dream.
Many of us have been to a speakeasy-style bar in the past few years. But a speakeasy for time travelers? Founded by a mythical man? This time-traveler’s speakeasy in Ostrava is truly one of a kind.
Ostrava is a curious place. Filled with young people hatching entrepreneurial and creative endeavors. Businesses are springing up from cement, like stubborn wildflowers in the cracks, refusing to be cut down. Slowly but surely, the city is being reclaimed by this beautiful and spirited growth spurt.
Inside U Gustava, you will find seating at the bar as well as comfortable banquettes around the perimeter offering flexible seating groups with assorted sized tables and mismatched chairs. A VIP back room includes a sofa and barco-lounger type chairs, as well as Christmas lights. It also includes a very mopey ghost, if you ask me, but not everyone will be sensitive to such things. I for sure felt it, as did two of my drinking companions. Pre-drinks even!
Bonus Supernatural Travel points for the ghost in residence at U Gustava’s time traveler’s speakeasy in Ostrava. I found his energy to be a bit bloated, but harmless.
Assorted artifacts and trinkets line the walls and niches here. These are all reportedly relics from Gustav’s travels, and part of the treasure he shared with the owner. But the real treasure was the recipe book he shared. 15 bespoke drink recipes, and each one named for a different legend. The legends and the drinks span the globe, touching on every continent, and hopping between years as easily as a modern jet hops between time zones.
The menu (pictured in the collage above) is a beautiful thing to leaf through, with gorgeous full color illustrations by a talented local artist, who is clearly also a friend of Gustav’s. I tried to guess at each of the legends prior to receiving a translation, but failed miserably. It’s worth watching this Facebook Live video shot at UGustava, to laugh at my guesses then hear the full story behind each cocktail.
These drinks are literally the stuff of legend. But would Gustav’s recipes truly deliver? Anyone can throw in a dash of grenadine and come up with a clever new name for a screwdriver, right?
I ordered a Dark Heart. This drink paid homage to both legend and locals because it was colored with coal (activated charcoal) and garnished with fresh local yarrow.
The Dark Heart ingredient list includes local specialty liquor Becherovka. Becherovka, I learned, is very similar to Slivovitz (plum brandy) which is a staple in my Eastern European family. What Becherovka includes that Slivovitz lacks is a proprietary blend of healthy herbs that give the Czech drink it’s healthy medicinal reputation.
The Dark Heart drink also included lime juice and a house made syrup with bourbon vanilla, chocolate liquor and charcoal.
Completely unlike any other drink I have ever had. Magically good even.
Suspicious, we ordered up several other cocktails from Gustav’s recipe list. The Elephant Princess. The Absinthe-laced Prague Witch’s Potion – sipped through a straw in special glass. Drinks named after the myth of Sisyphus, the Holy Grail and a Magic Guitar. Each one delivered in a way that surprised and delighted us and tasted like nothing we’d ever sampled before. But my favorite remained the Dark Heart.
As the night wore on, the magic seemed infinitely more plausible and the handsome, impossibly young, 22 year old owner, more convincing. Perhaps there was something to his story? Perhaps, mused another friend, the owner was actually a clever vampire.
For an instant I did feel caught in the pages of an Anne Rice novel. Perhaps we were all lured to this place for dinner. It would only be a moment before we were entirely bewitched and dragged underground to join the mopey ghost!
One of our drinking partners folded at this suggestion. He passed his drink over and paid his bill. “It’s all too much for me” he said.
Bravely we soldiered on, making new friends as we sampled some more of the signature drinks.
I was sad to go at the end of this magical night. I suspect I won’t soon have another chance to visit a mysterious Time-Traveler’s Speakeasy bar, run by a young vampire.
We all made it home with our necks and spirits intact. But one thing was catching. The spirit of creativity and adventure seeped into our souls as we sat in that basement, conjuring legends and convincing ourselves that magic still exists.
I don’t think there’s any cure for us.