It may not quite be a record in store remodeling turnaround time, but John Varvatos has managed to open his shop at the former site of the legendary rock and roll club CBGB's less than six months after it was announced. A visit to the store, which opened its doors with little fanfare this past Saturday, explains how he got the interior finished so quickly.
He didn't change too much.
It's been a while since we have passed through the doors of CBGB's, and it was not exactly high on our list of regular haunts, so we can't be too precise about how accurately Varvatos has preserved the club's interior, but we do remember it as being a vaguely glamorous dump, where you might think twice about using the bathroom. The stale beer and cigarette aroma has now been banished. The designer has made the place somewhat more glamorous and quite a bit less dumpy, most notably by adding a smooth new floor, but he has preserved the club's dark, graffiti splattered walls, and turned the bar with a backdrop of stained glass church windows, into a long, high checkout counter. Album covers and framed rock posters now adorn the mottled walls, and a small stepped stage displays the butchest of Varvatos boots. Towards the entrance, there are bins of vintage vinyl at designer prices (Pearl Jam's Vitalogy in mint condition: $42). Video screens showing old CBGB's performance are a step away.
Varvatos has stocked the store with a mix of all his labels, emphasizing their casual side. For suits and topcoats you will still have to venture further south to his Spring Street flagship, but in keeping with the site's heritage, this location also offers vintage biker jackets, t-shirts and other items provided by What Comes Around Goes Around. He's hardly the first designer to add vintage pieces to his stock, but this is one of the few store where it doesn't seem so pretentious.
In fact, Varvatos has done a pretty good job of acknowledging the site's heritage without turning it into a souvenir stand. He has been associating his collection with rock musicians for the past several seasons in his ad campaigns, featuring Iggy Pop, Velvet Revolver and, currently, the members of Cheap Trick among others. Taken out of their context, however, the clothes themselves are only marginally rock and roll-ish. Overall, Varvatos' style, even in his casual lines, is generally quite a bit more refined than your typical rock club gear. He has, however, been respectful, even affectionate, regarding his latest retail home, with the clear understanding that he will never be able to please those who mourn its former tenant. There will inevitably be those who insist on grousing about the transformation of a beloved landmark into a chi-chi designer shop. It's fairly safe to say that for all its devotees, CBGB's most vital years were far behind it by the time it was forced out, and the unfortunate death of its owner shortly thereafter would probably have closed it anyway.
Look at it this way: It's a much better addition to the Bowery than the bank branch or Duane Reade that inevitably would have taken the space otherwise.
John Varvatos 315 Bowery at the end of Bleecker Street, East Village