Trouble For CBGB

It appears New York City’s CBGB nightclub and its landlord – the Bowery Residents’ Committee – aren’t on very good terms. In fact, the legendary punk venue could be facing eviction if it doesn’t resolve a dispute over unpaid rent.

On February 17th, 73-year-old CBGB owner/manager Hilly Kristal said he was surprised to find out through his lawyer that the club owed $91,000 in back rent to the BRC, a non-profit homeless service agency that subleases space to the venue.

“Every month, they were sending us such and such rent (invoices). There were increases every two years and, at some point, they stopped,” Kristal, who has operated the club for 32 years, told Pollstar. “We kept sending the money. … I think it was last summer we got something that we owed them $1,500, so we paid it.”

But BRC Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt said the club’s contract was very clear.

“They signed a lease that was very explicit about what the rent was,” Rosenblatt explained to Pollstar. “They knew what the rent was, they didn’t pay the full amount. It’s the second time they’ve tried to abscond on their obligations to pay the rent.”

In 2001, the two sides went to court over a matter involving more than $300,000 CBGB owed in back rent. After seven months, it was agreed that Kristal would pay the sum over a period of time.

“And now, once again, he’s not paying his rent,” Rosenblatt said. “Martha Stewart doesn’t get by when she doesn’t live up to her responsibilities and neither should Hilly Kristal. This is the real world. When you give your word, you’ve got to live by it.”

Kristal said he has the money to pay the back rent, but is holding off on his attorney’s advice because “it could be a harassment thing.”

The case was set to be heard March 14th.

Meanwhile, another question looms: Will CBGB get its 12-year sublease renewed with the BRC at the end of August? As it stands, things aren’t looking good.

Kristal said the organization offered to renew the lease but would double the club’s rent, making it approximately $40,000 per month. He can’t afford that.

“I’m not in position to discuss what the new lease might be with someone who can’t even meet their obligations under the current lease,” Rosenblatt said. “I don’t think it’s intelligent for anyone to say, ‘Let’s talk about what the future is,’ when we can’t even deal with the present.”

Rosenblatt also voiced concerned about safety at the venue as well as the safety of the 175 homeless people living in the floors above the club.

“I was just looking at pictures of a party I had at CBGB and I can’t tell you how surprised I was to find out the significant violations – that they were operating without a public assembly permit, (and) they had insufficient safety egress,” he said, mentioning the fatal Great White performance at Rhode Island’s Station nightclub.

“I think when you go out to listen to music, you expect that you don’t need to worry for your safety.”

Kristal contends the club is safe, and that Rosenblatt’s accusations are unwarranted.

“They said we don’t have a public assembly, and that’s not true; we have a public assembly here,” he said. “At an inspection once, there were two out of 15 curtains that were over a year old and we had to have them redone. Within a week, I got brand new (fire retardant) curtains.

“Now, a year and a half later, [Rosenblatt] says we don’t have this. It’s not true.”

If CBGB doesn’t get its lease renewed, Kristal could relocate to Las Vegas where there seems to be a brewing punk scene.

“It’s another place where people come from all over the world and it’s not in bad taste for an underground place to be there anymore,” he said, adding that New Jersey and Los Angeles also expressed interest. “I might do that just to keep it going if I had to.”

However, New York is Kristal’s home and he feels that’s where the venue should remain.

“We’re going to try and stay here for as long as people want it,” he said. “We’re going to fight.”