New EU rules: the times - and the toilets - are a changing'


Czechs are a nation of beer-lovers it's true and rare is the street, which doesn't boast at least one pub. These vary enormously - from the swanky, upmarket bars that cater for tourists and discerning locals, and on the other, the traditional, old-fashioned Czech boozer. But that second variety - the simple Czech pub - feels threatened, as new, strict hygiene rules come into force.

Dismiss all images of burnished mahogany chairs and roaring open fires: the traditional pub in its purest form is a simple, rough and ready affair: men in blue overalls sitting around formica tables, sinking pints of frothy lager in a fug of cigarette smoke. The décor usually consists of plastic pot plants and a slot machine. Maybe a topless calendar on the wall.

I'm not complaining - the Czech pub experience, after all, provides the quickest, easiest and cheapest way of tasting the best beer in the world. But one part of this experience is usually best avoided.

In 5 months' time the Czech Republic joins the European Union. Many standards of life in this country already compare favourably to that of the EU. Czech pub toilets are not among them.

So the country introduced new strict hygiene rules for pubs and restaurants, and many of those rules are revolutionary: hot running water in the washrooms - wow! Paper towels next to the sink instead, of a single soggy rag hanging from a nail. But many pub owners are not ready for the new toilet rules:

"Paper towels is one thing, but any more than that and little pubs like this one will simply go out of business. We're ready to buy the paper towel, that's no problem. But hot running water in the toilets? I don't think so! We haven't even worked out how much it will cost. But it's definitely a huge amount of money."

That financial excuse doesn't wash with Prague's Chief Hygiene Officer Vladimir Polanecky:

"Look, paper towels and hot water in the toilets are completely normal in every toilet in Western Europe. The new rules mean that pubs and restaurants will have to install hot running water controlled by a tap that you can operate without touching. That tap costs about 6,000 crowns, which is around 200 dollars. 6,000 crowns are not going to ruin any pub in this country!"

Experts say only one pub in ten conforms to the new hygiene regulations, and meeting them will be costly. That's because we're not just talking toilets - there are also strict new rules on storing and reheating food, spelling an end to goulash sitting on the stove all day for one thing.

"Is this is the end of the traditional Czech pub?" asked one paper. Well, probably not. But the times - and the toilets - are a changing.