Hilly Kristal, founder of New York City’s legendary Bowery punk club CBGB, died on Aug. 28 at age 75, due to complications from lung cancer. The Lower East Side club opened in 1973 as CBGB & OMFUG, which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.” It closed on Oct. 15, 2006 after a huge public outcry for the landlords to keep the underground music venue open. The landlords wanted to increase rent and even demanded back rent due; the settlement included that Kristal could keep the club open for an additional 14 months and then shut down.
Kristal then planned to reopen in Las Vegas but was always quite vague about where it would be; he was considering a mall and started packing and storing every artifact in the club. “We’re going to take the urinals,” he said. “I’ll take whatever I can. The movers said, ‘You ought to take everything, and auction off what you don’t want on eBay’ Why not? Somebody will.”
CBGB’s early years was its golden age, launching the careers of Talking Heads, Television, Dictators, Mink DeVille, Blondie, Patti Smith, and the Ramones, among others.
Toby Mamis, Alice Cooper’s manager, who formerly managed Blondie, Runaways and Joan Jett, told TicketNews that Kristal’s legend grew as the club’s stature exploded. “I would have to say that he was an accidental pioneer. He didn’t know what he was getting into initially, but once he got there, he embraced it with fervor and helped change the face of rock ‘n roll like few other club operators.”
CBGB continues today with a retail store on St. Mark’s Place in New York City and worldwide merchandise sales. Plans are still alive for expansion to other cities.
Kristal is survived by his daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman; son, Mark Dana Kristal; son-in-law Ger Burgman; grandchildren Jenny and Adam Burgman; CBGB; and the thousands of artists and musicians who played the club.
A private memorial service is planned, with a public memorial held at a later date. Contributions in Kristal’s honor may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society or to the Hilly Kristal Foundation for Musicians and Artists (168 Second Avenue, PMB 207, New York, N.Y. 10003).