In case you should happen to walk past 315 Bowery one of these days, you’ll notice something a little different: the dingy rock pit that once was CBGB is now a John Varvatos menswear store. While this isn’t exactly breaking news (word of the pending takeover has been floating around since early fall of ‘07), I still did a double take. Structurally, it looks (eerily) similar, from the rounded awning to the windows flanking the door, and gauging from the interior, I’d say this was intentional: I recently read on the blog Racked that Varvatos once said, “We want them to walk in and say, ‘It’s not CBGB, but they did the right thing.’” While I can’t say that upscale “tough rocker guy” boots lined up along a low stage stocked with a prop drum set and unplayed guitars would have been Hilly Kristal’s dream for the space, it does seem fitting that Varvatos should conjure a Planet Hollywood vision of the legendary punk venue since it’s, what, re-opening in Vegas or something? The walls are still grungy and lined with (albeit ridiculously organized and stylized) vintage rock posters, some over papered and beat-up wall space, classic old stereo equipment and turntables, and a sign that says “Gabba Gabba Hey.” In many ways, it’s the perfect setting for a designer looking to cater to aging rockers (Joe Perry, holla!) and I-have-a-job hipsters ($100 John Varvatos for Converse kicks!). Varvatos is trying to shelter the ghosts of the space, even if it does feel like Rent.
Yeah, yeah, it’s “oh so shocking” and “a classic example of the gentrification of the Bowery,” but, realistically, real estate is real estate in this city, and nothing is sacred. Take for example the sleek and stylish Stuart and Wright boutique in Fort Greene, which used to be a dry cleaner’s — the owners chose to keep the fantastically retro façade, including a big sign that reads “French Garment Cleaners” with an Eiffel Tower graphic. A lot of the stores in Soho have a gallery-esque look because, well, they were art galleries before they were overpriced retailers. The gargantuan Prada shop on Prince and Broadway used to be the visitors’ entrance and bookstore of the Guggenheim Museum’s Soho branch. Parasuco — the obnoxious denim giant on Spring Street — made the old East River Savings Bank into its flagship, a grand space composed of vaulted ceilings and marble. Everything old is new again.