Hilly Kristal's got an awful lot of packing ahead of him.
The owner and operator of New York's legendary CBGB club says by mid-October, the last drinks will have been poured and the last unsigned band will have taken the stage inside the punk-rock landmark. In compliance with an agreement Kristal reached with the club's landlord last December (see "CBGB Owner, Landlord Reach Accord: Club To Close On Halloween '06"), CBGB will no longer exist on the Bowery.
Still, Kristal says he's not about to let the mythical club go the way of the dodo.
"We want to take a lot of this stuff with us, and I think we're going to move to Las Vegas," Kristal said, adding that he'll start disassembling parts of the club as early as September. "I have some developers who have some really great space in the downtown area. So, I'd say sometime in spring we'll be in Las Vegas. It's a big undertaking, and these developers are putting the money into it, and I want to make sure that, for my benefit and theirs, we make this work."
Of course, Kristal, who wouldn't name the developers he's working with, knows it won't be the same in Vegas. "I don't have any choice," he explained. "I have been looking for space in New York and the rent's $125,000 a month on Broadway." He said he came close to securing a space downtown on Essex Street, but the deal didn't make it past the negotiations phase. So, it's "Viva Las Vegas" for one of New York's most revered rock and roll attractions.
"[The Vegas CBGB] won't be the same size or the same shape, but I am going to have all the things that matter there," Kristal said. "I am taking the bars with me, I am taking the stage — I'm taking the urinal that Joey [Ramone] pissed in with me. I'm going to take a lot of things — anything that makes this place CBGB.
"I'll make it CBGB, and even more so," he continued. "I think we can do better, starting in a new place, where the city's for it. It's more important to try to keep things going and moving up."
Kristal said he'd still like to open a second CBGB in New York but doesn't see that happening for at least several years because of high rent. But financial worries and his club's impending move aren't Kristal's biggest concerns at the moment: Three weeks ago, he learned that he has lung cancer, and he's been enduring chemotherapy treatments ever since.
"It's in one spot," he said of the tumor. "They will be able to have great surgeons cut it out — a part of my lung. But I have to tell you, chemotherapy ain't fun. It's going to be corrected, and things will be good."
Kristal's highly publicized battle with his landlord, a nonprofit called the Bowery Residents' Committee that funds programs for New York's homeless, ended in December with an agreement that stated CBGB could continue to operate in the same space it has occupied since its 1973 inception until October 31. Kristal agreed to pay near-market rent of $35,000 per month, an increase of $16,000 over the amount he was paying before the lease ran out nearly a year ago.
Kristal said he's working with a couple of bookers to give CBGB a fitting send-off and added that several of the artists who helped make the club famous, as well as a number of on-the-brink bands, have been contacted about performing as part of the two-month finale. A schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.