Founded on the Bowery in New York City by Hilly Kristal in 1973; CBGB was originally intended to feature its namesake musical styles, but became a forum for American punk and new wave bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Misfits, Television, Patti Smith Group, The Dead Boys, The Dictators, The Cramps, and Joan Jett.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, the CBGB club created a space for emerging artists and bands that had nowhere else to turn. While the space was originally intended to showcase the genres of its namesake, the owners of the venue soon realized that their scope was too limited.
CBGB OMFUG first opened its doors on Dec. 10, 1973. Nestled in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, the bar was located on the Bowery next to a slew of other bars and businesses. When owner Hilly Kristal opened the bar, he gave it its name based on the music he thought would be shown onstage.
Originally the club was called Hilly’s On The Bowery and from 1969 to 1972 operated as a dive bar and biker bar. Hilly’s first intention was to turn the place into a spot for Country, Bluegrass, and Blues music (hence the name CBGB) and poetry readings. But by a matter of coincidence and after two locals, Bill Page and Rusty McKenna persuaded Krystal to allow them to book gigs, the initial concept changed.
Hilly Kristal, CBGB’s founder, had two simple rules: 1) all bands had to move their own equipment in and out and 2) only original music could be played (no covers allowed). At the time, an entirely new underground music scene was beginning to emerge and many of the local bands were looking for a place to play their music. Bands started lining up to play because there weren’t any options available elsewhere.
CBGB quickly became an important part of New York’s underground music scene. This was due to a number of factors, but one of the main reasons was simple: Kristal didn’t initially guarantee that bands would get paid. Hilly Kristal gave them most of the door money to cover their expenses.
In the 1990s, New York city began to undergo widespread gentrification. This change in the city affected the ever-grungy CBGB and the bar slowly began to lose its place in a changing city. This, followed by strings of complaints from the neighbors about the loud music, lead to fewer bands booking gigs, until in the end there weren’t any bands playing whatsoever.
In 2005, CBGB was sued for $90,000 debt by the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC), atop its normal monthly rent of $19,000. CBGN lifelong fans tried to save the venue from closure and a judge eventually ruled that the debt owed was false. However, after months of negotiation, a compromise about new rent amount between CBGB and the landlord wasn’t reached.
In 2006, when the lease expired, CBGB was asked to cough up $41,000 a month to stay at 315 Bowery. CBGB remained in place for a few months and Hilly Kristal decided to leave by September 30, 2006, and move into Las Vegas.
The last show, which was broadcast live on Sirius Satelite Radio on October 15, 2006, was reserved for Patti Smith and guests, including Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Television’s Richard Lloyd. But since the landmark venue closed, its name has lived on. On August 28, 2007, Hilly Kristal died from complications of lung cancer, one year after CBGB closed its doors.