When I first heard of “Nail Bar*,” I was horrified: picturing New York’s Beauty Bar – where you can get a $10 manicure/cocktail combination during happy hour. “There’s no way I’m being dragged to another bar reeking of nail polish remover,” I thought indignantly, my masculinity threatened. Then I learned that, quite the opposite, this bar was known for Hammerschlagen: the German drinking game involving hammering a nail into a tree stump in the midst of a crowded bar (the crowded bar is optional). Chest hair, here I come!
Apart from Hammerschlagen, “Nail Bar” is a small, typical Czech bar: three kinds of beer on tap, a half-hearted selection of booze and a dozen tables. The attraction is, of course, that there are things to SMASH! We’re here for the stump which is unceremoniously plunked in the middle of the floor in such a tight space that the waitress is constantly throwing elbows as she tries to pass to the bar. It stands waist high, 20” in diameter, it’s surface speckled with the silver nail-heads of previous games and lightly dusted with a layer of saw from the abuse of missed shots.
The game is played with a masons hammer and long, heavy gauge nails. To start, each player hammers their nail evenly into the stump (exercising care to avoid knots and previous games) then the players take turns striking their nails with the chisel side of the hammer: one blow, hit or miss, and you pass on the hammer – the object being to drive the nail fully as quickly as possible. The typical bet per round is that the loser buys the next round of drinks. It’s devilishly simple and utterly delightful… until someone competitive misses a crucial shot and goes ballistic with a two pound hammer.
Nail bar is a popular hangout for students at The Language House, one of the many Language Schools in Prague, accrediting native speakers as teachers. This means that opponents range from last years students, who can drive a nail in one carefully aimed blow, to wobbly novices, who launched their nails off into the crowd with dangerous speed. Thankfully I fell somewhere in the middle and avoided buying drinks for all but the first game.
For those of you scoffing at the irresponsibility of the Czech and German drinkers, drunkenly swinging their hammers, I would now like to point out that Americans have adopted and adapted this game, taking it to an illogically dangerous conclusion. I first heard of the stump game when I was working at Pleasant Acres in the summer of 2003 but it never seemed like a good idea to combine alcohol throwing, catching and smashing with a hammer. Rock on, America.
*”Nail Bar” is a nickname coined by English speakers who didn’t know the bars real name. The place is actually called Bar u Nemožných – though no Google search will reveal it’s secrets.