From CBGB to a high-end fashion store: A look at one of New York's most iconic music venue of the past as it appears today.

From Rock To Fashion

A visual storytelling by Lucas Compan


The Ramones played their first gig at the CBGB. The down-and-dirty cave on the then-seedy Bowery – stinking of cigarettes, stale beer, sweat (and don't ask what else) – was the cradle of American punk, art rock, and new wave.

Hilly Kristal opened it in 1973 and named it to reflect the music he expected to feature. CBGB OMFUG stood for Country, Blue Grass and Blues – Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. But after punk bands invaded, nastier versions of the acronym were invented.

The Ramones at CBGB storefront (1974). Photo courtesy of Gypsy Warrior.

Rockers from all over came to hear Talking Heads, Joan Jett E the Blackhearts, Blondie, Patti Smith, the B-52s, Guns N' Roses, Korn – artists of the seventies, eighties, and nineties who defined the era's wildest, edgiest sounds. It was a raw, tough, often ugly scene. 

Guns N' Roses at CBGB (1987).

The Police and Sting live at CBGB, October 20, 1978 – First time in the U.S.


After years of rent disputes with his landlord, Hilly gave up. When their lease expired in October 2006, Patti Smith played a final show, and CBGB shut its doors forever.

Patti Smith: the last show at CBGB, in October 15, 2006. After 33 years, the legendary place shut its doors forever.

The following year, fashion designer John Varvatos was scouting a downtown address for his ultra-cool men's boutique and heard that a bank was about to take over – and demolish – CBGB. A Detroit boy and a rocker at heart, Varvatos not only rescued it from the wrecking ball, he turned it into an upscale shop/museum – preserving the club's gritty bones as a backdrop to pricey classic menswear with rock roots.

Varvatos not only rescued CBGB from the wrecking ball, he turned it into an upscale shop/museum – preserving the club's gritty bones as a backdrop to pricey classic menswear with rock roots.

Buttery-soft leather jackets and boots are menswear artfully arranged by blistering walls plastered with the punk club's original graffiti and ephemera: stickers, tickets, flyers, posters.

John Varvatos is one of the greatest designers of world fashion and a popular name to New Yorker menswear. All of his clothing share some features, high-quality raw material, unique design, good taste, sophistication in urban fashion and one particular quality: a connection with the rock n'roll universe.

A rack of posh cashmeres hangs near the tunnel leading to what was the club's grubby toilet. Rock memorabilia, vintage vinyl, books, and photos are displayed for sale beneath the shop's lavish chandelier.

Ringo has appeared in Varvatos ads. The boutique doubles as a concert venue and there's no telling wich rock legend might appear at one of the monthly Bowery Line shows. The ghost of CBGB lives!

John Varvatos at 315 Bowery Street (at Bleecker Street), New York, 10003. www.johnvarvatos.com | Transit Subway: Bleecker St (6 train), 2nd Avenue (F train), Broadway Lafayette St. (B, D, M trains), Bowery (J train), Prince St. (N, R trains)

John Varvato's store, April 15, 2016. 


Hilly Kristal

Hilly Kristal at CBGB, 1992 (Photo: Charlie Samuels)

John Varvatos

John Varvatos (2012) fashion designer

This visual story was inspired by Jo-Anne Elikann, author of the book "111 Places in New York You Must Not Miss," Hilly Kristal–founder of legendary CBGB, and John Varvatos, fashion designer that rescued CBGB.

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