Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

CBGB Founder Hilly Kristal Dies

Club Owner Changed Face of Music

New York, NY (August 30, 2007) - 75-year old Hilly Kristal has died, ending a long bout with lung cancer. As founder of CBGB, a world-famous punk club in New York, he gave a number of unknown bands the critical stage time that would lead to their fame. CBGB was originally a country joint -- the acronym stood for “country, bluegrass, blues and other music for uplifting gourmandisers.” Founded in 1973, the club found its own niche as the era’s music was in flux. Hill took a chance on energetic acts that were exploring new sounds with fewer chords, outlandish distortion and a raw edge that was 180 degrees from disco. Bands like the Ramones, Blondie, The Patti Smith Group, Television, the Shirts and Talking Heads started their careers there.

The actual club embodied the spirit of punk music. Located in a neighborhood at Bowery and Bleecker Streets in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the drugs and criminal activity kept the straight-laced crowd away. Inside, it was 165 feet long and a mere 25 feet wide. Graffiti and caked gunk were left untouched. The bathrooms were hideous. For the emerging punk scene that took great care to avoid anything shiny and commercial, it was beautiful.

Hill’s battle with the building’s owner became very public as the club’s lease rate increased over the years, reaching astronomic numbers ($35,000 per month) as efforts to gentrify the neighborhood began attracting real estate moguls willing to pay exorbitant amounts for a piece of the action. The club closed in October of 2006 with performances by Patti Smith and Blondie’s Deborah Harry. Kristal dismantled the bar and other parts of the club, including the famously gross urinal in the men’s room, and shipped them to Las Vegas where he was hoping to re-open the club somewhere along the strip.

Despite the uncertainty of CBGB''s future in Las Vegas, the club is likely to maintain a visual presence in the music industry. The black CBGB t-shirt continues to be a staple of rock n’ roll wardrobes, as it has been for decades. CBGB continues to be sold online and at a retail location between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in New York City.