Arguably one of the world’s most famous rock clubs was opened in December 1973, when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert promoter Hilly Kristal took over the Palace Bar. CBGB’s or CBGB OMFUG which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues, Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizer (a voracious eater of, in this case, music)” was located at 315 Bowery at Bleecker Street.
Hilly Kristal was a lifelong lover of folk music and originally intended his club to feature its namesake musical styles. Instead, amusingly, it quickly became a forum for American punk and No Wave bands such as the Ramones, Misfits, Television, The Voidoids, The Cramps, The B-52’s, Blondie, Swans, and Talking Heads. Within months after CBGB opened, local musicians and poets became curious about the bar. Tom Verlaine persuaded Kristal to book his band, Television, and others followed suit, including Patti Smith and her band, which had a seven-week residency in 1975. Record executives soon joined the neighborhood punks. Hilly Kristal was quick to recognize the new scene’s potential even though he professed a dislike for some of the music. From the beginning, Kristal decreed that bands had to perform original material and, while this policy fostered creativity, it was also a way to avoid paying performance royalties. By early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote in the New York Times, CBGB “housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to have grown up – or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up – under one roof.” Beginning in the early 1980’s until its later years, CB’s would transition from the Punk scene and become known for its Hardcore punk bands such as Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, and Cro-Mags.
Adjacent to his club, Hilly Kristal established, the “CBGB Record Canteen” (record shop and cafe) which was open for many years. Eventually, in the late eighties, the record store was closed and replaced with a second performance space and art gallery, named “CB’s 313 Gallery”.
This iconic venue became famous not only for the bands that played there but also for its grimy decor with walls covered in band stickers and flyers and its notoriously foul bathrooms. The club’s interior served as both a relic of rock history and a kind of living museum of graffiti. In some ways CBGB ended its life as it had started; in its original location and with its original floor plan complete with uneven floors and peeling ceiling. A virtual tour of the venue can be found here.
Already big names, such as Pearl Jam, Green Day and The White Stripes made appearances at the club in the last few years but the club had lost some of its luster. In 2005, a dispute arose between CBGB’s and the Bowery Residents Committee, which claimed Kristal owed $91,000 in back rent. That was the beginning of the end for the this loud and trashy mecca, which had played host to an estimated 50,000 bands. Despite several attempts to save the New York landmark, Patti Smith played the final concert ever at CBGB’s on October 15, 2006, ending its 33-year reign.
Following the closure of the music venue, CBGB Fashions (the CBGB store, wholesale department, and online store) stayed open until October 31, 2006 at 315 Bowery. On November 1, 2006, CBGB Fashions moved to 19-23 St. Mark’s Place, but it too closed in the summer of 2008.
Although the physical venue has been closed for several years (and several of its contents, such as a wooden phone booth and the outdoor awning can now be found in New York’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex) and Hilly Kristal died on August 28, 2007, CBGB’s is still part of the music world in New York. In 2010, CBGB Radio was launched on the iheartradio platform and in 2012, the CBGB’s 4-day music Festival was born with free concerts in Times Square and Central Park along with events hosted in more than 30 bars and music halls around Manhattan and Brooklyn. The festival follows Hilly Kristal’s ideology of showcasing emerging artist and also includes music business conferences, rock and roll film screenings, industry panel discussions and more.
“A Virtual Tour of CBGB’s – NYC on October 13, 2006 which is now closed.” http://360vr.com/CBGB/ Accessed November 25, 2012
CBGB. “The History of CBGB by Hilly Kristal”, http://www.cbgb.com/history.php Accessed November 25, 2012
Hell, Richard. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” New York Times, October 14, 2006, Opinion section, New York edition.