CBGB OMFUG opened up 45 years ago on Dec. 10, 1973. It was intended to be a country, bluegrass and blues venue, but destiny had other plans.
By 1974, the venue had already become a hotspot for the emerging New York punk rock scene. Almost every legendary and pioneering punk rock band made it their home away from home, from The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, Suicide, to Patti Smith, The Cramps and so many others.
On October 15, 2006 CBGBs closed its doors for good due to money and rent issues. That spot is now a John Varvatos clothing store with a Patagonia store next door.
Even with its closure, the CBGBs name carries on. The original awning hangs in Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the original location was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Its musical spirit lives on, too. The CBGbs iHeartRadio station launched in 2010 and 2012’s CBGB Festival was one of NYC’s biggest festivals.
Will there ever be another CBGBs? Sadly, it doesn’t seem likely. NYC isn’t giving new venues a chance.
NYC’s sky-high rents are enough to squash dreams of opening the next CBGBs. And if you find an affordable location, you still need to contend with NYC’s frustrating alcohol and venue laws to get a liquor license. If you clear those hurdles, strict building codes could still slam you for the smallest infractions. (Mayor de Blasio only recently repealed the outdated cabaret law.) The combination of expensive rent and the city fines become too much to handle for CBGB-like venues like Shea Stadium, Market Hotel, Palisades, Death By Audio, Glasslands.
If you overcome all those challenges and create a thriving performance space, a big, supposedly hip, company could move into the neighborhood and either buy you out or price you out (I’m looking at you, Vice).
Is it impossible to keep the the city’s gritty punk rock spirit alive? Absolutely not.
If CBGBs taught us anything, it’s that punk rock is resilient. No matter how many DIY spaces get shut down or legit venues can’t afford the rent, music lovers will find a way to keep the dream alive.
Take Market Hotel for example—it has been shut down multiple times but always bounces back. To make nice with the city, they’ve opened their space to farmers markets and city council meetings and limit drinking to a small 21+ room in the back during shows (they keep the patrons happy by giving out free tiny bottles of beer). This venue isn’t quitting anytime soon.
Or look at Shea Stadium. When the punk rock haven was kicked out of their space, they started a Kickstarter page in hopes of raising $50k to buy the place back. Instead they raised almost $100k. When they completely lost the place, they pledged to find a new, more sustainable location and are on the hunt now.
The owners of Glasslands didn’t give up either. The venue was shut down in 2015 when Vice turned it into their offices. But last year they opened Elsewhere in Bushwick, which has since become one of the area’s largest and most popular rock venues.
So, you win NYC. There will most likely never be a place like CBGBs in the city again. But, the essence of CBGBs lives on in all us NYC punk rockers and we’ll keep fighting the good fight.