CBGB was a New York City music club opened in 1973 by Hilly Kristal in Manhattan’s East Village. The club was previously a biker bar and before that was a dive bar. The letters CBGB were for Country, BlueGrass, and Blues, Kristal’s original vision, yet CBGB soon became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB was known for hardcore punk.
In 1973, while the future CBGB was still Hilly’s, two locals—Bill Page and Rusty McKenna—convinced Kristal to let them book concerts. In February 1974, Hilly booked local band Squeeze to a residency, playing Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the club’s change from country and bluegrass to original rock bands. Squeeze was led by guitarist Mark Suall, later with CBGB’s virtual house band the Revelons, which included Fred Smith of Television and JD Daugherty of the Patti Smith Group.
Although these bands did not play punk rock, they helped lay its foundation. The August 1973 collapse of the Mercer Arts Center left unsigned bands little option in New York City to play original music. Mercer refugees—including Suicide, The Fast, Wayne County, and the Magic Tramps—soon played at CBGB.
CBGB became famed for the Misfits, Television, Patti Smith Group, Mink DeVille, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Fleshtones, the Voidoids, the Cramps, the B-52’s, Blondie, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, the Shirts, and Talking Heads. In the 1980s, hardcore punk’s New York underground was CBGB’s mainstay.
Sundays at CBGB was matinée day, which became an institution, played from afternoon until evening by hardcore bands. In 1990, violence inside and outside of the venue prompted Kristal to suspend hardcore bookings. Yet CBGB brought hardcore back at times. CBGB’s last several years had no formal bans by genre.