Always Ready to Start Again

MT
At 3:15 a.m. the bomb went off, blowing out shop windows and mauling football jerseys, brass accents and dark wood chairs. But no one was hurt.

"I heard this big bang and went to the window. But there were no sirens or cops or anything, so I thought everything must be okay and went back to bed," said Chris Karle, a pub manager and owner, DJ and sometime actor.

It was 1995 and Karle had only been in Russia for four weeks as the new manager of the John Bull Pub, Moscow's first authentic English watering hole.

"When I got in the next morning, there were all kinds of police everywhere. It smashed up stuff and there was broken glass everywhere," he said.

Seeing the bad press coming and the atmosphere ruined after only two weeks of business, Karle shrewdly had T-shirts printed up with the slogan "I survived the John Bull bombing."

"People started to come back. It made it light," he said.

Karle, 46, clearly has a knack for reading situations and acting fast.

"You can't take anything for granted, and you have to be ready to be frustrated and to pick yourself up again. It's a difficult country and you have to accept how they do things here," he said.

"He's just a real character. He's pretty well liked by just about everybody. He puts his heart and soul into everything, maybe a little too much heart and soul," said Ged Hughes, a long-time friend and Moscow-based businessman.

Both Karle's attitude and the traits that his friends have observed have helped him weather 13 years in Moscow -- years that have seen wild boom and bust and boom again -- and years that have held personal tragedy.

Born in Brighton to a secretary and a psychologist, Karle was raised in London in the 1960s and zzz70s. He graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in political science and a focus in sociology and philosophy. While attending university, Karle worked as a DJ, a gig he continued after graduation.

From 1986 to around 1990, he toured Europe with the Sonny Hayes & Co. comedy troupe as a roady and warm-up man.

It was also around this time that he got his first role in a film. In "Shoot to Kill," he played a sergeant during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Partly because the troupe moved to work in a German circus in 1992 and partly because his new wife told him to get a real job, Karle quit and got a degree in pub management.

After graduating, he got a pub to manage in Sheffield called The Mail Coach.

"Then she left me," he said.

In a town with two violent football clubs, Karle "encouraged bikers to come to the bar. All the bikes out front and leather inside kept the hooligans out."


Vladimir Filonov / MT
Chris Karle has always found an outlet in music, even when times were tough.
One night though, two robbers entered his flat above the bar with a machete, two pistols and a baseball bat. They taped him up, smashed the phone and robbed him.

After a year of staying up nights with a bat, Karle had had enough and saw an ad to be the manager of a new pub in Moscow. The plan was to work for two years, save up, buy DJ equipment and go home.

"Everyone always asks me why I went to Moscow in the zzz90s, and I always tell them I just thought it would be a lot safer," he said.

After two weeks of adjusting and two weeks of opening the John Bull and training the staff, the anti-tank mine went off.

"At the end of the day he is a survivor. To be in Russia as long as he has you have to adapt all the time. As circumstances change, he has changed with them," said Hughes.

"All of the Russians in the pub carried guns. There were guys wearing bright red blazers. The thicker the gold chain, the cooler you were," Karle said. "It was wild here then. You never knew if Tuesday would follow Monday."

After making John Bull a success, in 1999 he was offered the chance to open up Churchill's Pub.

"In 2000, we were watching TV in the pub when Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned and Putin took over," he said.

The cultural, political and economic scene in Moscow was shifting.

"Its not more or less fun. It's just different now. Nightclubs are more commercial. In the zz90s, the clubs were full of like-minded people who were there for the music. Now you go just to show off your Prada collection. The music is just the background," he said.

In 2000, he fell in love and got married. Two years later, he opened up the Phlegmatic Dog on Manezh Square. The internet cafe and electronic music disco was a great success, voted by Yahoo as the "Most stylish internet cafe" in the world in 2004.

Karle was also DJing at Swissotel and Sorry Babushka as well as acting. He played an "antsy globalist" in "Ot 180cm i vishe" ["180 Centimeters and Taller"] and an eccentric English butterfly collector in an episode of Rosi Grishe.

His wife died in 2006, and, after that, he didn't work for a while.

In 2007, Karle became part-owner and general manager at Hemingway's, a pub near Park Kultury metro station. In mid-March, however, the local partners forced him out.

While he doesn't know what he'll do next, Karle still finds comfort in music. Some of his favorite DJs include Mathias SchaffhКuser, Alex Patterson, Bob Sinclar, Deep Dish, Hed Kandi and Anton Kubikov.

"There was a great underground rave scene here in the zzz90s. I like the dancing and the culture of it. I like that you can mix it. I like how you can control how the crowd reacts," he said. "It really brings people together."