You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

CBGB owner Hilly Kristal dies at 75

Famed nightclub was birthplace of punk rock

Hilly Kristal, owner of the nightclub that became ground zero for the American punk rock movement, died Tuesday at Cabrini Hospital in New York after a battle with lung cancer. He was 75.

Kristal’s bar on Gotham’s Bowery, CBGB and OMFUG, birthed punk rock as it launched the careers of the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith in the mid-1970s. Its reputation as an important place to perform spread quickly and acts such as the Police and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made their New York debuts at the small, graffiti- and sticker-covered club.

Kristal, who initially thought Television was bad and the Ramones were worse, was the only owner of the club. It was closed last year after 33 years of presenting live music following a dispute over the rent. There were plans to open a Las Vegas outpost of the venue.

At its final show in October — headlined by Patti Smith — Kristal was using a cane to walk and was clearly in ill health.

“In an era when disco was the mainstream, Hilly took a chance and gambled,” Marky Ramone said. “The gamble paid off for both him and for us. We are all grateful to him.”

Although the venue carried on in the 1980s and ’90s by presenting little-known bands, Kristal was able to keep the doors open by selling clothing and accessories such as guitar straps at CBGB Fashions, a space next door to the club that was initially opened as an art gallery. (The retail shop still operates on St. Mark’s Place.)

CBGB & OMFUG — which stands for Country, BlueGrass and Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers — was not attracting much of an audience beyond the area’s down-on-their-luck residents after it opened in December 1973 with country, Irish and jazz bands. It had formerly been the Palace Bar, named for the flophouse above it.

In early 1974, Television founder Tom Verlaine asked if his band could perform at the venue and Kristal said yes, figuring it could attract a crowd on Sunday, a night that the club had been closed. Television performed there regularly for three years including a two-month residency in 1975.

In late summer of ’74, Blondie, the Ramones and, a bit later, the Patti Smith Group and Talking Heads made their CBGB debuts, and by the summer of 1975, the club was the epicenter of what was then considered avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll.

It blossomed at a time when many of the city’s rock venues had closed. And after the initial wave of punk bands outgrew CBGB, the club became the home of the “no-wave” movement that included Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, the Contortions and DNA.

CBGB also developed a reputation for having the best sound system of any New York club.

Throughout the years, CBGB had rented its space from the building’s owner, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, an agency that houses homeless people. In the early 2000s, the committee went to court to collect more than $300,000 in back rent from the club, then later successfully sought to evict it.

Survivors include his wife Karen, son Mark and daughter Lisa.

More Scene

  • Blake Lively

    Why Blake Lively Isn't Trying to Be the 'Female James Bond' in 'The Rhythm Section'

    “The Rhythm Section,” Reed Morano’s new espionage thriller about a female assassin who sets out to avenge her family’s untimely death, is not a female-led approximation of a “James Bond” film. Though Barbara Broccoli, the magnate producer whose family has been solely responsible for the franchise, is producing the movie, “The Rhythm Section” is decidedly not [...]

  • Oscar Menu to Be Almost All

    Oscar Menu to Be Almost All Plant-Based

    The Oscars are getting greener. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Monday that it will be offering entirely plant-based menus at today’s Oscar Nominees Luncheon and then in the Dolby Theatre lobbies prior to the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9. The post-ceremony Governors Ball will be 70% plant-based, and 30% [...]

  • 'Little America' Team on Creating Immigration

    'Little America' Team on Creating the Immigration Anthology Series for Apple TV Plus

    Respect and authenticity were the key words at the screening of the new Apple TV Plus series “Little America” on Thursday in Los Angeles. Produced by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and inspired by true stories featured in Epic Magazine, “Little America” is an anthology series focused on immigration. For executive producer Sian Heder, [...]

  • 2018 Sundance Film Festival - Egyptian

    Sundance 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Heading to Park City? From intimate dinners and cocktail parties to late night bashes (that end just in time to head to brunch), there’s plenty to keep this year’s film festival attendees out of the cold between screenings. Here is Variety’s ultimate party guide for Sundance 2020:  Thursday, Jan. 23 “Summertime” Premiere Party Lyft Lounge, 8-11 [...]


    Jenna Andrews Hosts Zhavia Ward, Lennon Stella at Jed Foundation Fundraiser

    Jenna Andrews, the Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and executive, hosted a pre-Grammy event in partnership with The Jed Foundation at Alice and Olivia in West Hollywood on Tuesday.  The non-profit Jed is dedicated to protecting emotional health and preventing suicide. The foundation has partnered with high schools and colleges in order to “strengthen mental health, [...]

  • Coldplay - Chris Martin

    Grammys 2020: The Ultimate Party Guide

    Let the music play, indeed. The Grammys are just days away and dozens of parties are happening every night this week leading up to the big day, Sunday, Jan. 26. And the partying continues with several bashes following the ceremony. (All events listed are by invitation only unless marked otherwise; this list is being updated [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content