Hilly Kristal 1932-2007

CBGB legend's obituary

Hilly Kristal, founder of legendary punk venue CBGB has died at the age of 75.

Born in New Jersey in 1932, Kristal moved across the Hudson River to New York City at age 18 where he worked as a singer, performing at venues around Manhattan including Radio City Music Hall.

Kristal eventually moved into the business side of music and for a time managed West Village jazz club- the Village Vanguard- a venue that remains today. During his time at the club, Kristal was responsible for booking such jazz luminaries as Miles Davis.


In 1970, Kristal opened a bar on the Bowery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side which he named ‘Hilly’s On The Bowery’. He subsequently changed the name to CBGB & OMFUG, standing for ‘Country Blue grass and Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers’.

As the titled conveyed, Kristal had intended on the venue becoming a country/bluegrass/blues venue but he found it difficult to find acts of this nature to book and instead welcomed punk bands to play.

Legendary acts including Blondie, The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith all got their start at CBGB, as did Television and Living Color.

In the early 2000s, Kristal became embroiled in a legal battle with his landlords – the Bowery Residents’ Committee, an agency that houses homeless people – as they tried to collect over $300,000 in rent from CBGB and eventually won their bid for eviction.

Despite many campaigns and protests to keep CBGB open, the club closed its doors after a 3.5 hour performance from Patti Smith on October 15, 2006.

Kristal was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 2006 and was visibly frail at the closing night of his club. Despite his illness, Kristal was adamant that he would re-open the club in Las Vegas, and had plans to use many of the original fixtures and fittings from the Bowery location, including the bar and urinals.


Kristal is survived by his daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman, son, Mark Dana Kristal, son-in-law Ger Burgman and grandchildren Jenny and Adam Burgman.

–By our New York staff.

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