The upcoming closure of New York’s famed punk-rock club CBGB is lamented by locals as the loss of a legendary venue; for others it symbolizes another Manhattan neighborhood becoming corporate and bland.
Standing underneath the club’s red awning on Thursday evening, several young musicians smoked cigarettes and bemoaned the loss of the dank, grimy club that began in 1973 and will have its last show on Sunday, featuring Patti Smith.
The venue — its full name is CBGB & OMFUG, or Country
Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers — spawned the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, whose lead singer Deborah Harry will play there on Saturday.
“To not be able to stand on the shoulders of giants makes it harder to be seen,” said musician Ben Meyerson, 20.
His friend, Peter Kalaitzidis, 21, said simply, “Where else are we going to hang out and get drunk?”
They said the Bowery is the latest Manhattan neighborhood to succumb to commercial interests after such chains as
Starbucks overran the bordering East Village area several years ago.
“They’re selling it out,” said Kalaitzidis. “They’re gearing it to more corporate people.”
The Bowery was known for its tenements and winos, or
“Bowery bums” — a term immortalized in the Tom Waits song
“Better Off Without a Wife.” These days Bowery Street is lined with multimillion dollar, glass and steel apartment buildings, leaving many locals longing for the days of when clubs such as
CBGB were emblematic of a cutting-edge creative movement.
NO MORE SKID ROW
“The Bowery had the reputation of skid row and now it’s all steel and glass,” said poet and historian Michael “Big Mike”
Logan before a recent gig at The Bowery Poetry Club opposite the punk-rock venue. “We figured this would be the last place in Manhattan to be gentrified and become bourgeois.”
Logan recalled not so long ago the strip was once filled with drunks passing out, empty parking lots and “flophouses” offering cheap lodgings instead of the swank bars and celebrity lounges that now dot the urban landscape.
Many, including CBGB, were forced out by rising rents.
Club owner Hilly Kristal said he started CBGB 33 years ago because the rent was cheap. He wanted a place for country, bluegrass and blues music, but, opening in New York in the early 1970s, punk soon took over when acts such as Television and Patti Smith broke through there.
“Back then they didn’t care about the drudgery of the street and this is what attracted a lot of these artists,” said
He said the neighborhood changes occurred “very gradually and then in the last two years very abruptly,” noting many other small delis and stores have been forced out.
Others say CBGB’s closure is a natural result of the changing artistic movement where some have left Manhattan’s village areas to parts of Brooklyn.
“It goes from crack to middle class housing, that’s the way it is in New York,” said Bowery resident Laura Feldstein.
Logan noted not everyone is unhappy.
“I’m sure if you talk to Donald Trump, it’s great,” he said, joking that the area could change again. “All this steel and glass will be the squatters’ tenement of the future.”
But for Kristal and CBGB, it might soon all be irrelevant.
Kristal hopes to resurrect CBGB in Las Vegas, taking as many of the club’s fixtures with him, including the urinals.