Somehow, (chef) Harold Moore hooked up with the lamented CBGB and will serve ‘American fare in a fun environment recalling the legendary music venue.’1
CBGB’s, the venerable rock and roll club on the Bowery, was a lot of things. It was the birthplace of punk rock. It was the place where important bands built their music and launched their careers. If you grew up in New York, it was where you went to hardcore matinees to see your friend’s boyfriend’s band, or it was just the place you went to see shows because the band you liked played there when they came through.
It was a rock club, which means it was a black room with a stage at one end of it. CBGB’s was like a tenement railroad-style apartment, long and narrow. I think there might have been a pool table, and I remember some pinball machines near the door that I would vaguely notice out of the corner of my eye as I scurried to the stage.
Your goal would always be to find somewhere that was the least objectionable place to stand, out of the flow of traffic that headed diagonally from the end of the bar to stage right, where there was a passage on the side of the stage that went past the dressing rooms and then to the stairs that led to the bathrooms in the basement. If you were smart, you peed before you went, or peed after you were done. There were no stall doors and there were no seats and I am not sure there was water. (I went down once before I knew better; never again.)
There were tables and chairs, although not anywhere near the part of the floor I always stood on. I was told by the annoying girl who sat behind me in my Ethical Studies class during freshman year of college that there was a two-drink minimum, because she went there with her boyfriend over Thanksgiving and she ordered white wine and it was awful, but no one I know went to CBGB’s to sit down, so I cannot testify as to the veracity of this statement.
Between bands, you most likely went outside, especially in the summer when the place felt and smelled like a sauna (although not nearly as pleasant). When the show was over, you waited for your friends outside, and then you adjourned with your party elsewhere, because at the time there was nothing adjacent. Maybe you went for a drink at the Holiday or St. Mark’s Bar and Grill, maybe you went to the Riviera Diner in Cooper Square since it was near the trains, maybe you walked a block into the East Village to go somewhere like the Dojo, Christina’s, or Kiev, the stalwart late night East Village purveyors of cheap food.
I share these fond reminiscences of CBGB’s because yesterday, Gothamist shared the news that there would soon be a CBGB’s branded eating establishment at Newark Airport. Did you happen notice the one activity that was conspicuously absent in my descriptions of typical activities at CBGB’s? EATING THERE.
CBGB’s did have a kitchen at one time, but I believe that the kitchen had already been shut down by the time I started going there in the late 70’s. Even if the kitchen had been open, there is no way I would have ever thought about eating there, for all of the reasons noted above (and more). I felt more comfortable sitting on the sidewalk outside the club than I would have ever felt sitting on the floor inside the venue (and I have sat on the floor at many, many entertainment venues around the world).
CBGB’s means a lot of things to me, and to others like me. It means freedom, and revolution, and music that showed you a way out. But the club has been closed for 11 years now, owner Hilly Krystal is dead, and there is no one left to steward the legacy. Which is a shame, because kids and musicians still proudly wear t-shirts with the letters on it, and people still come down to 315 Bowery looking for that magic even though the room is now a clothing store selling $300 sneakers.
You can make (funny) jokes about the CBGB’s bathroom and a restaurant in the Newark airport, but it is just sad and angry-making and pathetic that this is what CBGB’s has amounted to: a brand whose ownership is bandied about by anonymous holding companies and horse-traded to someone who thinks it’s a dandy idea to mock up the awning and serve overpriced food to harried travelers. It is beyond Disney-ification; it is beyond parody; it is rendering any meaning void, and reducing the brand itself to sheer nothingness. In the end, the joke will be on the people who scrambled to pick the carrion off the bones before the corpse was even cold. There is some comfort in that.