A Punk Temple Reborn: Would You Care to See the $200 Safety Pins?

The notorious bathroom isn't likely to be preserved when high-end men's retailer John Varvatos takes over the former home of landmark punk music club CBGB in New York. CBGB vets Johnny Rosado, below left, and Spencer Kray check out the vibe at Varvatos's SoHo boutique.
The notorious bathroom isn't likely to be preserved when high-end men's retailer John Varvatos takes over the former home of landmark punk music club CBGB in New York. CBGB vets Johnny Rosado, below left, and Spencer Kray check out the vibe at Varvatos's SoHo boutique. (2005 Photo By Scott Gries -- Getty Images)

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By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

NEW YORK -- New York City will have its very own Extreme Makeover moment next spring when John Varvatos, a high-end men's clothing brand, opens a boutique in the space once occupied by CBGB. That's right, the dingy, pungent and hallowed birthplace of American punk rock -- renowned both for the talent on the stage and the fungus in the men's room -- will be home to a store full of flat-front dress trousers and hydrating facial moisturizer.

Never mind the bollocks, here's a leather hooded jacket for $1,695.

Manhattan has been upscaling for years, so the news, which surfaced on blogs last week, managed to seem both mind-blowing and inevitable at the same time. Still, this has the feel of a Moment, and a good time to ponder what the city is gaining and losing as it sprouts Best Buys and seven-figure one-bedroom condos.

So we recently invited a couple of punk rockers to another Varvatos store, in SoHo, where they were asked to muse aloud about the club and Manhattan and punk, all the while pawing through the merchandise and dealing with sticker shock.

So, ladies and gentlemen, meet two members of the Krays: Johnny Rosado (33, singer, songwriter, guitarist) and Spencer Kray (stage name, the only name he gives, 25, bass).

These guys played CBGB more than a dozen times over the years before the club closed in 2006, after its irascible owner, Hilly Kristal, lost a fight with his landlord and decided to relocate to Las Vegas. (Kristal passed away, at 75, in August.) The Krays were onstage for one of the last shows at CBGB. On a rainy afternoon, they talk wistfully about the club as if it were an idyllic home destroyed by a natural disaster.

"It had the best sound system in the city," says Rosado, who comes across much quieter in person than he does howling on tracks like "Profane Existence." "For smaller bands that had their own sound, it was a great place to present your ideas."

"It felt dangerous," says Kray, who has two-toned hair and an air of intensity. "Fights broke out. The place exuded a kind of excitement."

Rosado and Kray look slightly uncomfortable in the Varvatos store, which is dark-paneled and sleek. A handful of staffers roam around, dressed immaculately in the browns and blacks of Varvatos clothing, much of which looks inspired by the thrift-shop side of rock fashion. On a rack is a wool overcoat that Rosado says is a dead ringer for one that he picked up on the cheap years ago.

"I got one of these for $5," he says, smiling like a man in on a joke. The Varvatos overcoat, it must be said, looks excellent on him.

A lot of the clothes here, it turns out, are basically luxe versions of the garb that Rosado and Kray have been scooping up at secondhand stores for a long time. Kray notices a shelf with a sweater of horizontal stripes that looks uncannily like the one that he has on. Except that the one in the store is made of cashmere and costs $495.

"But someone put a lot of love into that sweater," Kray says, sounding surprisingly sincere about it. "Five hundred bucks' worth of love."


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