[10 April 2008]
You can kick it, smother it, force the owner to sell it, but New York City’s CBGB just won’t die. Not quite, anyway, thanks to designer John Varvatos, who’s taken defibrillator paddles to the former home of the underground club and juiced it back to life.
After recently leasing the space at 315 Bowery - aka the “birthplace of punk,” where legends like Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones and Green Day once played - he’s transformed it into a rock-retail hybrid, part store, part gallery, part performance space. John Varvatos Bowery officially opened this week.
“There were seriously a thousand unconnected pipes on the ceiling, the floor was rotting - but we kept everything we could,” Varvatos says. “We left the aura of the place.” That means stickers, concert posters, graffiti, smoke damage, cracked paint - everything familiar to die-hard fans, except those infamously scuzzy toilets, and the four letters CBGB. (Varvatos doesn’t have the rights.)
There have been modest changes. The atherosclerotic ducts were flushed so air could pump through and the basement was, um, sanitized, the “Cujo-size” rats dispatched and the stage removed. A smaller one was erected for performances by local bands. And a radio station and DJ booth should be in place by summer. JV won’t be spinning, but he does the playlists.
“I love downloading everything,” he says.
Of course, his clothes - lots of vintage leather, work boots, tees and more pulled from two eponymous collections, his Converse line, plus a soon-to-come exclusive line called 315 Bowery - fit right in. A portion of profits benefit a developing artists fund.
Hey, Daddio, what’s that spinny thing? Why it’s vintage hi-fi equipment from Varvatos’ personal collection, on sale along with picture discs and mint-condition, still-sealed vinyl, like a Japanese pressing of AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock ...” ($75), or a first-press “Easy Rider” soundtrack ($175).
“I’ve been a huge music nut since I was a kid,” he says, estimating he saw some 100 shows at CBGB back in the day. “I was very sad when it closed. I didn’t want to see it turn into a bank or deli.”