CBGB Goes Chic

So you went to CBGB’s and all you got was a $1,600 leather jacket.

Upscale menswear boutique Varvatos opened its doors April 7th in the space where the Ramones, Television and Blondie first made their marks – as did thousands of punk fans on the building’s walls and notorious restrooms.

The walls are still black and some aging graffiti remains, but the once dank Bowery home of CBGB has taken on a split personality.

The stage is replaced by a tailoring shop adorned with gold Alice Cooper records and ’70s-era concert flyers. And the famously rank bathrooms have been ripped out.

Owner John Varvatos claims to be a fan of the old CBGB and the New York punk scene, but Dana Kristal – the son of late owner Hilly Kristal – isn’t impressed.

"I wanted to combine music, fashion, memorabilia and really make it like a cultural space," Varvatos told the New York Post of his remodeling job.

He promised emerging artists will be welcome there, and said he will host a fund-raiser for young musicians next month. Whether they can afford the $1,600 leather jackets and $130 knitted tees is another question.

Robert Hollander, an East Village resident and activist, said the transformation of CBGB into an upscale boutique is a symptom of pervasive commercialism in what was once a gritty, browbeaten neighborhood.

"It’s kind of ironic because they’ve made this gesture to preserve a little bit of history but the reason CBGB is gone is because places like this have opened up in the neighborhood," Hollander told AM New York.

CBGB closed in October 2006 after Hilly Kristal lost a rent fight against the building’s landlord. Kristal died in August.

Dana Kristal told AM New York that he appreciated Varvatos’ attempt to preserve the CBGB legacy, but said most of the original club had been gutted.

"Maybe he thinks it’s neat and he cares," Kristal said.