As several hundred enthusiastic supporters rallied to keep CBGB’s open, the landlord of the venerable punk club announced Wednesday that the lease on the 32-year-old landmark will not be renewed.
The Bowery Residents’ Committee, landlord of the building on the Bowery, “believes it is in the best interest of our clients — the homeless and neediest New Yorkers — to sever this relationship,” BRC executive director Muzzy Rosenblatt said.
The existing lease was to expire at midnight Wednesday. The statement from Rosenblatt called for CBGB’s to “vacate the premises both voluntarily and expeditiously” — a scenario that appeared unlikely, given the promises of Little Steven Van Zandt and others to wage a battle to the end on behalf of the bar that launched punk rock.
“We’re not going without a fight,” said Van Zandt, who was joined at the rally by “Sopranos” co-stars Tony Sirico and Joe Pantoliano. “If the eviction proceedings start tomorrow, which I hope it doesn’t, we’ll fight it in the courts.”
The rally was aimed at putting public pressure on Rosenblatt. But while Gavin Rossdale was leading his new band, Institute, through a rollicking version of “Machinehead,” the decision on booting the club had already been made.
Even the hardy CBGB supporters at the rally, where Public Enemy and Blondie were also scheduled to perform, seemed resigned to the club’s demise.
“It doesn’t look hopeful,” said Lucky Pierre, 26, a New York University student. “But we’ll keep the fires burning until the last minute.”
An increasingly frustrated Van Zandt blasted Rosenblatt for the inability to reach a new agreement. The E Street Band guitarist, “Sopranos” star and radio show host entered the negotiations about six weeks ago.
Not ready to quitThe club’s owner, Hilly Kristal, also was not backing down.
“We intend to stay,” he declared. “This is not a eulogy. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t come to an understanding.”
It was Kristal who started the club in December 1973, creating a space that eventually spawned such acts as the Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads. The club eventually gained an international reputation as the birthplace of punk.
Some of the club’s supporters at the rally echoed ’70s fashion statements, sporting green hair, safety pin earrings and black Ramones T-shirts.
Among them was 45-year-old Rochelle Goldman, who was wearing a “Save CBGB” T-shirt complemented by assorted CBGB’s wristbands dangling from both arms. “People say it’s a museum, but I’m still going there,” she declared. “I’m an old punk.”
Rosenblatt’s group — an agency that aids the homeless — holds a 45-year lease on the building and houses 250 homeless people above the club. CBGB is its lone commercial tenant; their rent feud dates back five years, when the committee went to court to collect more than $300,000 in back rent from the club.
The current rent is $19,000 a month, although that figure was expected to at least double under any new lease. The club’s landlord-tenant woes were reminiscent of the fight over The Bottom Line, the vintage Greenwich Village club that closed in December 2003.
CBGB won a legal decision earlier this month when a Manhattan civil court judge ruled that the club couldn’t be evicted for a bookkeeping mistake that left Kristal about $100,000 behind in his rent.
Not even the intervention of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who offered to mediate the dispute, could resolve the problem. Bloomberg said he hoped to find CBGB’s a new location in the city.