Front of CBGB, circa 2005
|Location||Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA|
|Opened||December 10, 1973|
|Closed||October 15, 2006|
|Location||315 Bowery, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States|
|Part of||The Bowery Historic District (#13000027)|
|Added to NRHP||February 20, 2013|
CBGB was a New York City music club opened in 1973 by Hilly Kristal in Manhattan's East Village. The club was previously a biker bar and before that was a dive bar. The letters CBGB were for Country, BlueGrass, and Blues, Kristal's original vision, yet CBGB soon became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB was known for hardcore punk.
One storefront beside CBGB became the "CBGB Record Canteen", a record shop and café. In the late 1980s, "CBGB Record Canteen" was converted into an art gallery and second performance space, "CB's 313 Gallery". CB's Gallery was played by music artists of milder sounds, such as acoustic rock, folk, jazz, or experimental music, such as Dadadah, Kristeen Young and Toshi Reagon, while CBGB continued to showcase mainly hardcore punk, post punk, metal, and alternative rock. 313 Gallery was also the host location for Alchemy, a weekly Goth night showcasing goth, industrial, dark rock, and darkwave bands. On the other side, CBGB was operating a small cafe and bar in the mid-1990s, which served classic New York pizza, among other items.
Around 2000, CBGB entered a protracted dispute over allegedly unpaid rent amounts until the landlord, Bowery Residents' Committee, sued in 2005 and lost the case, but a deal to renew CBGB's lease, expiring in 2006, failed. The club closed upon its final concert, played by Patti Smith, on October 15, 2006. CBGB Radio launched on the iHeartRadio platform in 2010, and CBGB music festivals began in 2012. In 2013, CBGB's onetime building, 315 Bowery, was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of The Bowery Historic District (not a New York City Historic District).
CBGB was founded on December 10, 1973, on the site of Kristal's earlier bar, Hilly's on the Bowery, that he ran from 1969 to 1972. Initially, Kristal focused on his more profitable East Village nightspot, Hilly's, which Kristal closed amid complaints from the bar's neighbors. After Hilly's closure, Kristal focused on the Bowery club. Its full name of CBGB & OMFUG stands for "Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers". Although a gormandizer is usually a ravenous eater of food, what Kristal meant was "a voracious eater of... music". Kristal's intended theme of country, bluegrass, and blues music along with poetry readings yielded to the American movement in punk rock. A pioneer in the genre, the Ramones played their first shows at CBGB.
In 1973, while the future CBGB was still Hilly's, two locals—Bill Page and Rusty McKenna—convinced Kristal to let them book concerts. In February 1974, Hilly booked local band Squeeze to a residency, playing Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the club's change from country and bluegrass to original rock bands. Squeeze was led by guitarist Mark Suall, later with CBGB's quasi house band the Revelons, which included Fred Smith of Television and JD Daugherty of the Patti Smith Group. Although these bands did not play punk rock, they helped lay its foundation. The August 1973 collapse of the Mercer Arts Center left unsigned bands little option in New York City to play original music. Mercer refugees—including Suicide, The Fast, Wayne County, and the Magic Tramps—soon played at CBGB.
In 1974, on April 14, in the audience of Television's third gig were Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, whose Patti Smith Group debuted at CBGB on February 14, 1975. Other early performers included the Dina Regine Band. Dennis Lepri was lead guitarist as well as the Stillettoes which included Deborah Harry on vocals. The newly formed band Angel and the Snake, later renamed Blondie, as well as the Ramones arrived in August 1974. Mink DeVille, Talking Heads, the Shirts, the Heartbreakers, the Fleshtones and other bands soon followed. In April 1977, The Damned played the club, marking the first time a British punk band had ever played in America.
During 1975 and 1976, Metropolis Video recorded some shows on film. Starting in 1977, Metropolis Video filmmaker Pat Ivers and partner Emily Armstrong continued to record shows in a project called Advanced TV, later renamed GoNightclubbing. Ivers' and Armstrong's films are available at the New York University Fales Library.
CBGB's two rules were that a band must move its own equipment and play mostly original songs—that is, no cover bands—although regular bands often played one or two covers in set. CBGB's growing reputation drew more and more acts from outside New York City. In 1978, new wave songwriter Elvis Costello would open shows for The Voidoids, while The Police played at CBGB for their first American gigs. Meanwhile, CBGB became famed for the Misfits, Television, Patti Smith Group, Mink DeVille, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Fleshtones, the Voidoids, the Cramps, the B-52's, Blondie, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Shirts, and Talking Heads. Yet in the 1980s, hardcore punk's New York underground was CBGB's mainstay. Named "thrash day" in a documentary on hardcore, Sunday at CBGB was matinée day, which became an institution, played from afternoon until evening by hardcore bands. In 1990, violence inside and outside of the venue prompted Kristal to suspend hardcore bookings, although CBGB brought hardcore back at times. CBGB's last several years had no formal bans by genre.
In 2005, atop its normally paid monthly rent of $19,000, CBGB was sued for some $90,000 in rent allegedly owed to its landlord, Bowery Residents' Committee (BRC). Refusing to pay until a judge ruled the debt legitimate, Kristal claimed that he had never been notified of scaled rent increases, accruing over a number of years, asserted by BRC's executive director Muzzy Rosenblatt. Ruling the debt false—that BRC had never properly billed the rent increases—the judge indicated that CBGB ought to be declared a landmark, but noted that Rosenblatt did not need to renew the lease, soon expiring. Rosenblatt vowed to appeal.
Expecting Rosenblatt's resistance to lease negotiation, Kristal agreed that the rent ought to rise, but not to the $55,000 monthly that Kristal believed the BRC to want. A nonprofit corporation housing homeless above CBGB mostly through donations and government funding, the BRC had only one commercial tenant and raised its monthly rent to $35,000. Kristal and the BRC reached an agreement whereby CBGB would leave by September 30, 2006. Planning to move CBGB to Las Vegas, Kristal explained, "We're going to take the urinals. I'll take whatever I can. The movers said, 'You ought to take everything, and auction off what you don't want on eBay.' Why not? Somebody will."
Many punk rock bands played at CBGB when they found it was going to close in hopes that their support could keep it from closing. Rocks Off, a promoter in New York, organized CBGB's final weeks of shows to book "many of the artists who made CB's famous". Jobless Bob, Avail, the Bouncing Souls, and such newer acts opened during the last week, which included multi-night stands by Bad Brains and the Dictators and an acoustic set by Blondie. The final show, broadcast live on Sirius Satellite Radio on October 15, was played by Patti Smith, helped on some songs by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Television's Richard Lloyd, too, played in a few, including "Marquee Moon". Nearly finished, Smith and band playing "Gloria" alternated the chorus with echos of "Blitzkrieg Bop"—by the Ramones—Hey! Ho! Let's go!. During "Elegie", her final encore, Smith named musicians and other music figures who had died since playing at CBGB. On October 15, 2006, upon Patti Smith's last show at CBGB, the storied bar and club closed.
After closing, the old CBGB venue remained open as CBGB Fashions—retail store, wholesale department, and an online store—until October 31, 2006. CBGB Fashions moved to 19–23 St. Mark's Place on November 1, and closed nearly two years later in summer 2008.
Hilly Kristal died from complications of lung cancer on August 28, 2007. In early October, Kristal's family and friends hosted a private memorial service in the nearby YMCA. Soon, there was a public memorial, contributed to by CBGB onetime staff and by others. Kristal's ex-wife Karen Kristal and his daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman, battled legally over the purported $3 million CBGB estate, and settled in June 2009 with Burgman receiving most of the money left after payment of creditors and estate taxes. In 2011, a group of unknown investors bought the remaining CBGB assets, including the associated intellectual property and original interior. The location is now occupied by John Varvatos fashions.
In December 2015, various news outlets reported on a rebranded CBGB "reopening" at Newark International Airport - as CBGB L.A.B. (Lounge and Bar) by New York Chef chef Harold Moore; which had opened as of the end of December 2015.
By late 2007, fashion designer John Varvatos planned to open a store in CBGB's former space, 315 Bowery, but to tastefully trail CBGB's legacy rock and roll stickers on the walls, and much of the graffiti at the toilets was preserved, as were some playbills, found behind a wall, from shows at the club's 10th anniversary in 1983. The store opened in April 2008.
In 2008, a SoHo art gallery dedicated to music photography, the Morrison Hotel, opened a second location in the onetime CBGB Gallery at 313 Bowery, but the Morrison Hotel gallery closed in 2011. The building is currently occupied by Patagonia, a clothing store.
Called the "Extra Place", the alley behind the building became a pedestrian mall. The Dead Boys' Cheetah Chrome rued, "All of Manhattan has lost its soul to money lords", yet reflected, "If that alley could talk, it's seen it all". CBGB's nomination as a landmark drew an explanation:
CBGB was founded in 1973 at 315 Bowery, in a former nineteenth-century saloon on the first floor of the Palace Lodging House. The legendary music venue fostered new genres of American music, including punk and art rock, that defined the culture of downtown Manhattan in the 1970s, and that still resonate today. In this role as cultural incubator, CBGB served the same function as the theatres and concert halls of the Bowery's storied past. The former club, now occupied by a retail business, remains a pilgrimage site for legions of music fans.
Today visitors can see etched into the cement at the entrance to the clothing store, the name of the music venue and the date it was founded "CBGB '73". People often stop and take pictures of the inscription as well as the facade of the store.
CBGB's awning was moved into the lobby of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The CBGB Festival produced large free concerts in Times Square and Central Park on July 7, 2012. They also showcased hundreds of bands in venues across the city. The festival premiered dozens of rock-n-roll movies in theaters around Manhattan. Directed by Randall Miller and starring Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal, the film CBGB, about Kristal and the origins of the club, was released in October 2013 to harsh reviews. Iconic in American popular culture, CBGB's image remained storied:
We don't want anyone to walk into the space and say, 'Oh, they screwed it up.' We want them to walk in and say, 'It's not CBGB, but they did the right thing.'
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