a few days ago I was talking and reminiscing with a friend about the long lost good old days.
yep we talked…
…well not talked talked -but instead did the kind of talking where your fingers speak a voice through the magic of technology. the conversation began typical to most:
hi- how are you?
after a few finger tapping minutes of comparing recent injuries….projects we’re working on..future relocation plans….all that sort of thing- the discussion took a left turn and led us onto the path to yesterdayland. A place where once upon a time- a specific area in NYC was concentrated with artists and loads of places for them to congregate. pretty much between east 18th st and downward was a literal playground for music makers and their adoring fans. the players are still there but the live music venues are evaporating like crazy. this is happening for lots of reasons. at first maybe due to gentrifying the area -I mean a freakin 7-11 was installed on St Marks Place!!!! but thankfully/subsequently was removed….
….whew that was a close one!
this naturally led to exorbitantly escalating rents and forcing places into extinction. great places…. like Max’s Kansas City- Coney Island High- the Palladium (still called the Palladium by NYU students who dorm in the building that was once this iconic music hall)…. Wetlands Preserve….and so on- the list is miles long but I’ll stop there
These venues- relatively speaking -were nice…. there were also tons of hole-in- the wall- dive bars too- packed every night of the week- like we could do that back in the pre-pandemic days and it was an aint no thang thing- y’know? – though admittedly it didn’t take much to fill to capacity- some of ’em were too crowded if 40 people were inside
in the deepest pit of crowded disgusting divey places there was the shining beacon of divey places…the crowned jewel superstar of crowded disgusting divey places that none could ever hope to compare to.
and this was it.
here you go.
don’t look like much does it?
well I gotta tell ya….
um…no isn’t wasn’t much from the outside- just your regular run of the mill dump
….but inside…. yea it was some other kind of dump- way above average- so regular? nah. highly irregular in fact- on many levels. .
CBBG initially began its history as a biker bar but sometime in the mid 70’s something kinda happened to it. it morphed into the place that would launch many a legendary career when its owner Hilly Kristal was persuaded into booking musicians to play on its miniscule stage… really it also wasn’t so much of a stage at that. instead picture a large platform standing about a foot and a half high – maybe 18 feet wide and that was it…( I’m probably being generous with those estimations) it was really very small.
see what I mean?
yep small in size but the some of bands who played there were on the brink of hugeness.
bands like Talking Heads-Patti Smith Group- Blondie- Devo-The Ramones…the B-52’s oh also this little trio who in 1978 on a very early November morning somewhere around 1:00 am played a set to an audience of around 55 people…they were called…um…let me see…uh…oh yea.. The Police. I’d have been in that audience were I not at tender age of …being-too-young-to-legally-get-into-the-club years old.
that is not to say I didn’t occasionally/mostly get inside as an underage minor- it was in the who-you-know or who you were with that made the difference. Sadly that night I was with no one which meant ‘sorrry you can’t come in’ for me.
hosting bands and artists who were on the verge of ‘breaking’ made CBGB – this little and very narrow fire hazard of a club the place to get booked into….and playing a gig there held a lot of clout…kinda like slapping a gold star right on the forehead-something for that figurative resume.
but I’m sure quite a lot of you are thinking ‘CBGB..? never heard of it’ s’kay take my word for it the place is fiercely historic and of legendary status.
some fun facts about CBGB
1) The street level venue made millions while nesting up above it was a homeless shelter. capitalism and destitution crowding the same tiny bit of real estate at 315 Bowery NYC. poetic huh?
2) cementing its celebrated rating- CBGB has been used as a platform many times over. In 2012 its image was included in New York’s bid to host the Olympic Games…. HBO show Vinyl concludes with Kristal’s idea to open the club…it’s been featured in a Heineken commercial labeling it ‘NY’s BEST bar’ the infamous CBGB tee shirt has been seen just about everywhere- check out Mark Ruffalo’s 13 Going on 30 character Matt wearing one – I’m told so does the O.C.’s Marissa Cooper- Tre Cool wears one in a Green Day’s Welcome to Paradise video – actually that comes as no surprise but this does: Bon Jovi even mentions it in one the of their songs…it’s kinda present all over the place
3) its street address has been added to the National Register of Historic Places *please note this is not a part of NYC that would normally be recognized in any way so this is kind of a big deal*
4) oh yea also there was a movie made about this hole.
honestly it was only okay at best…CBGB’s fullest essence simply cannot be illustrated in a commercial film but I gotta give director Randall Miller credit for taking it on- applause applause good try..!
5) Its original awning is in the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame
so anyway…..anyone who’s been there- played there-worked there- anythinged there when recollecting CBGB may talk about the great people who played and hung out there…the Sunday afternoon all ages shows…and so on
arguably the one thing…the core thing everyone always references is….
and there was another one very much like it
had missing doors
were unisex ( yes, really. )
actualized the label ‘scariest bathrooms in nyc’…. well earned that title was.
that is where things happened…in these ‘rest’ rooms. bartering…exchanging…evacuating…I am sure I’ve stepped in more puke in those bathrooms than my daughter has spewed from all stomach viruses she has collectively had..and if you know kids and if you know stomach viruses that’s a lot-
Those…ahem… powder rooms– had a very casual anything goes rhythm and yes anything did go…I’ll leave most of it to your imaginations…just envision the worst- most extreme- nasty things…yes that happened in one or both of those bathrooms…..bathrooms that are some of the most talked about things when CBGB gets brought up…crazy isn’t it?
Can you believe these restrooms were so infamous that when the club faced a lengthy (somewhere around ) 90,000.00 rent dispute/eviction -which started the beginning of the end of CBGB- the infuriated Kristal announced he was taking everything with him…the sticker plastered walls…the bar… AND the bathroom fixtures…eventually- he did. that stuff is still out there somewhere. a while ago there was talk of relocating to Las Vegas (!!!!) uh….NO!!! A move like that would have only made a mockery of the whole thing- the antithesis of what it was supposed to be-and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts I’m far from the only person who feels this way.
Likewise-NYC’s Met museum hosted an art exhibit which paid homage to the bathrooms of CBGB- to a large degree it was an accurate depiction.. minus the indescribable/incomparable/inimitable smell -so lost points for that but still a huge coup for them there things.
…and now not to bore you with a tiny little legal matter but y’know it’s kinda important to finish the story…but Imma tie this part up with an very abbreviated version because it’s long and complicated and really when all is said and done- not important- the result is the same whether you know ALL the details or not.
soooo…. about that rent issue- apparently Kristal faithfully paid 15 000.00 monthly unaware there’d been a rent hike. The very pissed off landlords then sue for monies they maintained were in arrears. Kristal goes to battle and the court decided in his favor citing the landlord’s negligence to provide notice of rent increase and properly bill the occupant of 315 Bowery – as well the judge opined CBGB be declared a city landmark. THAT didn’t happen.
Disappointed and defeated -the landlord took a different route and decided to not renew CBGB’s lease in a last ditch attempt to divorce their most prominent tenant.
For a period after which the iconic club continued operating without a lease or paying a dime to the their landlord because- according to Kristal-he was never billed. What was that about?! And so 100s of 1000s of dollars in back rent accrued -prompting a month long campaign to save CBGB in hopes of raising the monies due -plus enough to relocate the epochal club.. supporters included various odd punk types- as well as hizzoner Michael Bloomberg.
Unfortunately the crusade to:
was unsuccessful. So what happened to the money it raised? It’s been reported- a large part of it was donated to various charities and the rest I expect became a part of the Kristal estate.
Finally the home away from home for a lot of us- out of options -sadly closed its doors- after a night of music headlined by the goddess Patti Smith herself- for the last time on October 15th 2006
Less than a year later while in the midst of finding a new street address for the club- in August of 2007 Hilly surrendered his fight with lung cancer.
he’s gone. the vomit pit is gone. the club is gone.
and with that there is a hole inside many downtown NYers who practically lived in and still love that place all these years later. okay I confess- were it still around- I probably would have stopped going there as frequently a long time ago- I mean I kinda grew up and have new responsibilities and aspirations
but for me the emptiness of its absence never grew smaller
none of this will ever be forgotten.
and for this- I am grateful.