Legendary Landmark Closing

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CBGB's, the New York City icon of punk rock is closing it's doors after 33 years in the same Bowery location. Many groups got their start playing their, including the Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads. Despite an effort to save the venue, in the end, it came down to a landlord tenant dispute with club owner Hilly Kristal on the losing end.

After Sunday, memories are all that will remain when the cramped club with its capacity of barely 300 people goes out of business after 33 years. Although its boom years are long gone, CBGB's remained a Manhattan music scene fixture: part museum, part barroom, home to more than a few rock and roll ghosts.

The club didn't exit without a fight. An assortment of high-profile backers, including E Street Band guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt, battled to keep the legendary club open. But in the end, it was a simple landlord-tenant dispute — and owner Hilly Kristal saw the handwriting on the club's dank walls.

"I knew the closing was inevitable, because my lawyers said, `You can't win this case. The law is that your lease is up, and they don't even need a reason to put you out,'" said Kristal.

Kristal sits beneath a platinum record from Joan Jett, a CBGB's clock and a few of the endless band stickers that blanket the interior. Kristal, who is battling lung cancer, wears a black and white CBGB's T-shirt with a matching baseball cap.

He once managed the Village Vanguard, the renowned jazz club where he booked acts like Miles Davis. Things were a bit different at his new club: "In rock, the bands were creative — but at first, they didn't play so well."

The first punk-scene band at Kristal's nightspot was Television, soon followed by Patti Smith. Punk poet Smith will play the closing night as well, a booking that Kristal described as effortless.

Smith isn't the only veteran playing one last gig. The '80s hardcore band Bad Brains and the '70s punks the Dictators are both scheduled for the final week. Blondie's Debbie Harry and Chris Stein are also stopping by.

When Kristal opened his doors in December 1973, CBGB's stood for country, bluegrass and blues — three musical styles that wound up in short supply. Tommy Ramone, drummer for the Ramones, recalled how a new breed of bands gravitated to the space.

But have no fear, music fans! In the spirit of everything old is new again, Hilly Kristal is stripping everything he can out of the club, down to the bare walls, and moving to Las Vegas! Hey, it worked for Elvis! And the Playboy club. Why not CBGB's, too.

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