with nightlife impresario Marcel Hrubý
Prague is full of mysteries, true, but some things here aren’t so much a mystery as they are simply tucked away. The stories are as weird as their characters, and they always appear unconnected at first glance. For instance,according to Rolling Stone, many, many moons ago a tribe of Czech “Indians” lived on the far side of Petřín hill. They went by the name of Borat. Ali G, the funniest living Brit, opens his interviews with “jagsaymaaash!” and then introduces himself as Borat from “Kazhakhstan”. Who knows if there were ever “Indians ” living in Prague? Maybe you could find out at Wakata, a Holešovice bar named after the communist cult movie wherein the indians (reds) rose up and defeated the imperialist cowboys. Tucked away in Staroměstská you’ll find the bar Duende, and chances are good that you ’ll also find Marcel Hrubý. Suddenly things will start to clear up (a bit).
After returning home from New York City after the Velvet Revolution, Hrubý opened Prague’s first rock club, the infamous Borát. Local legend has it that Ali G spent more than a few nights there during his months in Prague, drinking beer and practicing his Czech pronunciation. After Borát closed, Hrubý helped launch some of the best underground spots in Prague, including Wakata, XT3 and his latest project, Duende. People always cite “the atmosphere” as a reason for coming to Prague; Hrubý is part of
the swiftly disappearing “underground” of Czechs who made that atmosphere back when the only Americans here were Virginia farmboys. The Pill wanted to know more:
PILL: Tell us about why you emigrated.
HRUBÝ: Everyone wanted to get out. I tried four or five times to leave, but something always went wrong. I got out from Yugoslavia, but they put me in prison for nine days because they suspected that I was trying to escape.
PILL: Were they really keeping such a close eye on people?
HRUBÝ: Well, yes, but my girlfriend took a picture of us standing in front of some sort of special investigator headquarters...
PILL: But you got out?
HRUBÝ: Yes. I met some friends in Austria, worked around there for a while and then decided to go to America. The consul in Vienna asked me what my profession was, so I told him I was a blacksmith. I started explaining how to make a knife, starting from when you dig the ore out of the ground and he just gave me the visa after a few minutes.
PILL: So you made knives to keep America ’s streets safe?
HRUBÝ: No, no. I did all kinds of things. I went first to Boston, then to Key West. I got a business license there to be a beach bum...Then I went to New York. The first time I got there I came up out of the Holland Tunnel and thought I was in China or something.
PILL: And what did you do there?
HRUBÝ: I worked for Fred Smith on 72nd Street and 2nd Avenue. Plumbing. I told him my name was Marcel, but he called me “myself” because he couldn’t understand. Then I worked in a stable
for the Central Park tour horses. I drove a taxi for some time and then worked at a Ukrainian rock club. I organized the “We will rock you tonight” rock party.
PILL: Was that your inspiration for getting into the bar business?
HRUBÝ: A little bit, but mostly it was “Sloppy Joe’s” in Key West –Hemingway ’s favorite bar. It really stuck when my parents came to visit me right after the revolution. They were telling me that things were better, that I should come home, but they kept asking me what I would do. We were parked in my car outside the Strand bookstore [in New York City] and I just thought that I ’d open a bar. I left them in the car, ran in and bought Mr. Boston’s guide and about five other books about making a bar.
PILL: So back to Prague and then came Borát?
HRUBÝ: I got back here in 1990 and opened the club that year. I had met the man who owned the building in New York, and he gave me the contract for the lease. The place was already well-known: It was a sort of practice space for bands during communism and they used to give secret concerts there.
PILL: Where is that underground dissident scene now?
HRUBÝ: It ’s disappearing, but there weren ’t so many real “dissidents” anyway. There were only 250 or so signators to Charter 77, but now everyone wants to pretend that they were in on
it. We had some crazy nights in Borát though – Vaclav Havel used to come there and Magor (Jirouš, see Marek Tomin ’s article in The Pill issue 6). Havel hasn’t come [to Duende] yet, but maybe someday.
PILL: Duende is a much different sort of place than Borát; much calmer and more sophisticated maybe? Do you think Prague overall is changing along the same lines?
HRUBÝ: Sure, who knows? Things were a little uncertain when I started Borát. I had to
write out the list of books I read about bar management just to get the S.R.O. and they still didn ’t want to give it to me. Everyone was stealing from everyone then, now it ’s mostly the government and the mafia stealing from people. I know a lot of people who will leave if Klaus is elected. He ’s just an incredibly false person. When Havel was rotting in prison, Klaus was studying economics in London, learning how to steal.
PILL: What advice do you have for people who want to start a business here now?
HRUBÝ: Just don’t lose your intensity or give up on what you want.
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