Bobern Bar and Grill

Bobern Bar and Grill

42 W 28th St, New York, NY 10001

Bar Music Venue

Bobern Bar and Grill, on West Twenty-Eighth Street, was named after its owners, Bob and Ernie, and it was one of the small venues where the Stilettoes performed.


Tony Ingrassia Directs Blondie


In 1975, Blondie performed as the backing band in a revival of Jackie Curtis’s Vain Victory, with Debbie Harry playing the role of Juicy Lucy and the boys in the band wearing identical blue sharkskin suits that Chris Stein found at a discount store on Broadway. Danny Fields wrote about the show in his SoHo Weekly News column, which was the first time Blondie was mentioned in print. “That was big for us at the time,” Stein recalled, “and we got a lot of attention. We got exposed to a lot of the intelligentsia through that.” Local media outlets like the SoHo Weekly News, Village Voice, and the soon-to-be-launched New York Rocker played a pivotal role in the development of the downtown’s various arts scenes. Influential rock writers like the Voice’s Robert Christgau publicized what was happening and accelerated their momentum, creating a kind of feedback loop. Tony Zanetta was also cast in the revival of Vain Victory with Blondie, which was directed by the ubiquitous Tony Ingrassia. “I think a singer or a star needs to be able to magnify their own personality,” Zanetta said, “and Tony was really, really good at that. I mean, he worked with Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Wayne County, and Cherry Vanilla, and I think they all took something from those experiences.” Back in 1973, when the Stilettoes were performing at places like Bobern Bar and Grill, Harry and Stein hired Ingrassia to help the group with choreography, projecting a cohesive image, and singing with attitude. “Tony did a lot of stage work,” Stein said. “He was a very flamboyant and a loud guy, and was responsible for a lot of cool projects, even though he was very unsung.” Harry added, “He was a slave driver. He was making us work very hard and not to sing technically, but to sing emotionally. And that was a great lesson, to make sure that you really had a connection with what you were saying or talking about or singing about, rather than just singing a nice melody with good technique.”

From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore

Blondie’s Wobbly Start


“Blondie were more ramshackle than the Ramones,” recalled producer and recording engineer Craig Leon, who recorded their first album. “They didn’t sound very good, quite honestly. They weren’t taken seriously. If you would have said, ‘Who was the band that was least likely to be signed?’ it would have been them. Particularly in the earlier incarnations that I’d seen, like the Stilettoes.” Debbie Harry said of those early years, “We weren’t even really a garage band. We were so bad we were more like a garbage band.” Her quip is fitting, given that Blondie emerged from the ashes of a group called Pure Garbage, featuring Warholites Elda Gentile and Holly Woodlawn. During Woodlawn’s short tenure in the group, she recalled that she “jiggled my jugs, wiggled my hips, shook my maracas, and played the cymbals between my knees, a rare talent that I had picked up from a battery-operated monkey at FAO Schwarz.” After Pure Garbage broke up in early 1973, Harry ran into Gentile and suggested they start a new band. “I had made a deal with Jayne County to allow her PA system to remain in my loft in exchange for free rehearsal time,” said Gentile, “and that allowed me to put together the Stilettoes.” The band primarily played makeshift spaces and failing bars, like Bobern Bar & Grill on West Twenty-Eighth Street. Named after its owners, Bob and Ernie, Bobern was such a low-rent venue that they had to take the legs off a pool table to make a stage, but at least it was conveniently located on the same block where Gentile lived. The Stilettoes played there between October and December 1973, and they developed a following in part because Gentile had connections as a Max’s Kansas City waitress who was dating the New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain (and had previously had a child with Eric Emerson).

From Chapter 31 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore