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 Lord knows what lurks beneath the surface of this proudly filthy club

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 "This is it: the moment that punk rock dies "

  CBGB Owner Relocating Club Urinals Included ' To Vegas This Spring

  Flea Jams With Patti Smith, Punks Weep At CBGB's Last-Ever Show

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— by Chris Harris

NEW YORK — The smell is bad enough to test anyone's gag reflex.

Worse than the stench of death, it's a putrid mix of decayed wood, decades-old dust, mold, vomit, sweat, stale beer, rat feces, a million cigarette butts and fruit so rotten that it actually smells slightly sweet.

This is the smell of CBGB's last hours.

It's an aroma this reporter won't soon forget. Nor will the team of 10 construction workers who've been hired to painstakingly dismantle the iconic birthplace of punk rock, piece by dingy piece, for reassembly at some undetermined future time and place.

For days, these guys — each armed with crowbars and wearing white surgical masks — have been unscrewing, unhinging and unbuilding one of rock music's most revered landmarks. They're doing so in an environment that's the very definition of hazardous, knowing all the while that they're always just one misstep away from a tetanus shot, or worse. Lord knows what lurks beneath the surface of this proudly filthy club, which hosted music, booze and fans — and all the substances that come with each — nearly every night from its opening in December 1973 till its swan-song show on October 15.

Let's just say the club smells its age. There must be at least four dozen flies buzzing around. At points, the stink is so intense that some of the workers can't help but dry-heave. "I've never smelled the smell we're smelling today," one of them says. "It's like a mix of Sprite and sh--."

Everything must go. The historic plywood stage that the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Bad Brains, the Police, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Soundgarden and tens of thousands of others have sweated and spat upon. The battered bar where countless fans and musicians have imbibed all manner of intoxicants. The rickety wooden loft that held the lighting board, the graffiti- and sticker-coated wall panels, the neon beer advertisements caked with moss-like dust, the stained urinals from the men's restroom — a room where even the bars of Dial soap left at the sink have been tagged by Sharpee-wielding vandals. It's all being removed, wrapped in plastic and loaded onto two storage trailers that will sit in New Haven, Connecticut, until Hilly Kristal, the only proprietor the club has ever had, decides where he wants to attempt to re-create CBGB.

As his club is dismantled around him, Hilly sits in the same place he's been for much of the last 33 years: at his ancient desk near the club's entrance, as seemingly oblivious to the sounds of hammering, splintering wood and wrenched nails as he was to the thousands of soundchecks that took place over the years.

New York is becoming increasingly inhospitable for the kind of artists that play at the club, so Hilly's looking at opening a new CBGB in Las Vegas. He says he likes the music scene there and some city officials have said they'd welcome him with open arms. It won't, however, be located on the glitzy, hedonistic Strip; Kristal says he's found a very different location he likes downtown, along Fremont Street. There, he'd like to reconstruct the club not as a carbon copy of the original, but rather to "preserve certain elements of it that people strongly associate with CBGB," explains B.G. Hacker, one of the venue's managers. "The bar and the stage are critical. Everything else is just atmosphere." Plans call for a CBGB museum to be installed in the new club, with some artifacts contained behind glass. The only thing holding up CBGB's transplantation to Sin City is the lack of a financial partner, Hacker said. Kristal, who is 76 and battling lung cancer, cannot do it alone.

First, though, there's the matter of an October 31 deadline. The club spent many months embroiled in a very bitter, very public dispute (see "CBGB Owner Relocating Club — Urinals Included —' To Vegas This Spring") with its landlord before both sides reached an agreement that mandates Kristal completely vacate the premises by that date.

To help him with the five-day process of packing up the club, Kristal has hired Aurora Productions, a New York theatrical production management company that specializes in the construction and disassembly of Broadway stage sets. They're breaking everything down, and once Hilly has secured a destination, they'll rebuild it as best they can. Days before the dismantling commenced, every square inch of CBGB's interior was photographed to help with the impending re-creation; each piece of the club that's removed is labeled, so the team that does the rebuild knows what goes where. The process is something between a crime-scene investigation and an archeological dig.

"I found a joint!" one of the workers yells. He holds up an ancient, almost translucent marijuana cigarette, found when a wall behind the stage was ripped down. "We haven't found any hypodermic needles yet, but we're looking," he adds.

Beyond the obvious health risks associated with this kind of job — of which there are plenty — the most challenging aspect of the project is determining just how the club was put together in the first place, so that the workers can take it apart without destroying anything. Kristal approached Aurora for the task about a month before the job began, and they in turn hired the movers and the 10-person construction crew.

"They needed someone abnormal, people who can take things apart and care about how they will be put back together," explains Aurora's Tuesday Curran. "It's an interesting project, and it was a challenge for us. We just have no idea what anything's going to do. When we build a stage, we know how to take it apart — we built it. This is taking longer than expected because we're doing it blind, to be honest."

NEXT: 'This is it: the moment that punk rock dies '

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