Fashion designer moves into N.Y. club CBGB's space

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The punk spirit of CBGB lives on, but it has cleaned up its act.

Patrons of the music venue CBGB are seen outside the club in New York City October 14, 2006. CBGB is closing on October 15 after 33 years as a music venue. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Menswear fashion designer John Varvatos has opened his newest boutique in the space that once housed the famed underground music club CBGB, where popular acts such as Blondie, Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith played.

Varvatos has preserved much of CBGB’s poster- and graffiti-covered walls and recreated some of its gritty mood with dark wood, Victorian-style crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains and a black ceiling.

The much heralded CBGB, born in 1973, closed its doors in October 2006 after a rent dispute.

CBGB’s stage is gone, as is its distinctive original door. But the space still has a slightly cavernous feel, and the decor of guitars, drums, vintage hi-fi equipment and classic album covers evoke its history. Plans call for an in-house disc jockey and concerts by up-and-coming artists.

“We’re not trying to reinvent CBGB’s,” said Varvatos in an interview this week. “We’re just trying to respect the past and let people have an opportunity to enjoy what was there.

“It sounds kind of hokey, but the walls kind of talk in that place,” he added.

But the floors are no longer sticky, the air is clear and the bathroom is clean.

“It’s the most popular question -- what did you do with the bathroom,” said Dace-Allen Morris, a spokesman for Varvatos, recalling the club’s notoriously dirty facilities.

Next door, the Morrison Hotel Gallery, which sells prints of photographs of rock ‘n’ roll stars, has taken over the space that once was a gallery connected to the club.

Preserving the essence of CBGB comes as a relief to club veterans such as Roberta Bayley, who worked at CBGB’s front door in the 1970s and also photographed many musicians who gave the club its distinctive sound and character.

Living nearby for more than 30 years, she has watched Greenwich Village, where the store is located, evolve from hip and edgy to commercial and expensive.

“I think everyone was really worried, thinking it would be trendy and upscale, but it looks really cool,” she said.

Varvatos, a Detroit native, launched his menswear line in 2000. Twice named Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, he has six boutiques in the United States and also sells his designs in stores worldwide.

This store has been open to customers for just a few days, and a grand opening is set for April 17.

Varvatos’ designs pick up the vintage punk theme, with distressed leather jackets, worn boots, beat-up jeans and T-shirts. But the prices are not for punks: a leather jacket is $2,500, while a pair of vintage boots is $400 and jeans can run as much as $285.

Longtime resident Bayley takes the price of the clothing in stride. “It’s for people who don’t have time to wear out their clothes,” she reasons. “They’re too busy making money.”