The Ramones Guide To New York City

Walk down East 2nd Street off of Bowery, and you’ll pass by Albert’s Garden, a small community garden midway up the block.

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If you happen to visit on a day when the gates are open, head inside and you’ll find a beautiful little East Village oasis maintained by local volunteers.

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But for something particularly special, hang a left when you enter and walk down the path to its end.

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At first glance, the blank brick wall in front of you might seem entirely unremarkable when compared with the beauty of the surroundings. But had you been here on a particular day in early 1976…

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…you would have seen four long-haired punks in leather jackets and ripped jeans posing for the album that would forever change rock’n’roll.

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New York City has changed tremendously since the brothers from Queens first picked up guitars in 1974 to write songs about bored gluesniffers and murderous male prostitutes. Hell, if Jackie and Judy are still around, they probably wouldn’t even recognize it. But if you look closely, you can still find traces from their early days. Let’s take a closer look.

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Though they’ll forever be synonymous with the area around Bowery/St. Marks, this is the actual world that birthed The Ramones: Forest Hills, Queens…

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1) Birchwood Towers – 66th Road & Yellowstone Blvd, Forest Hills, Queens

Our tour begins at Birchwood Towers in Forest Hills. Once home to both Joey Ramone (at the time, living with his mother and brother) and Johnny Ramone, the Birchwood complex consists of three highrises.

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Each tower has its own name: oddly, the Bel Air, the Toledo, and the Kyoto.

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Joey’s thoughts on his upbringing here can be found in the song “Beat on the Brat” from their self-titled first album:

“[Forest Hills] was a middle-class neighborhood with a lot of rich, snooty women, who had horrible spoiled brat kids. There was a playground [at Birchwood, wedged between the buildings] with women sitting around and a kid screaming, a spoiled, horrible kid just running rampant with no discipline whatsoever. The kind of kid you just want to kill. You know, ‘beat on the brat with a baseball bat’ just came out. I just wanted to kill him.”

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2) Forest Hills High School – 67-01 110th Street, Forest Hills, Queens

All four founding Ramones members – Joey, Johnny, Tommy and Dee Dee – attended the picturesque Forest Hills High School, where they found themselves pegged as outcasts.

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Johnny and Tommy bonded over a shared love of music like the Stooges that was “aimed at weirdos.” Joey was “around.” They’d meet Dee Dee later.

3) Thorneycroft Apartments – 66th Road at 99th Street, Forest Hills, Queens

Located just a block from Birchwood Towers (you can see them in the background) is the Thorneycroft Apartment complex (since renamed).

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Head through grounds (or go around back)…

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…and you’ll come to an open lot surrounded by a chainlink fence.

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This bare-bones courtyard was a summer hangout spot for the future Ramones. Times were especially turbulent then – one childhood friend recalls looking out the window and seeing Johnny punch a kid’s dad in the nose.

3) Art Garden – A few doors down from 98-81 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, Queens

By early 1974, the Ramones had their monickers, instruments, and a rehearsal space in the basement of Joey’s mom’s art gallery, Art Garden, on Queens Boulevard (she’d often find Joey and Dee Dee passed out in the gallery when opening each morning).

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But where exactly was the Art Garden? Everyone remembers it as having been “right next to” or “adjacent to” the defunct Trylon movie theater at 98-81 Queens Boulevard (seen above). But the exact address seems to have been lost to time (a store owner I spoke with seemed to think it was in one of the storefronts east of the theater).

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Wherever it was, The Ramones began fermenting into the band they’d become in a basement somewhere on this block. As Joey’s brother Mickey remembers, “I walked into the Art Garden and heard something rumbling in the basement. The door to the basement…was on the floor in the back of the gallery. When I pulled it up, the sound came rushing up out of the hole – the sound that would soon make history.”

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4) Joey Ramone Place – East 2nd @ Bowery, NW Corner – Manhattan

We now jump boroughs to arrive in Manhattan at the corner of East 2nd and Bowery…

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…home to the most stolen street sign in New York City: Joey Ramone Place (I’m guessing the weird bend is from a recent failed attempt). The location perfectly marks the epicenter of the Ramones’ explosion into rock history, as we’ll soon see…

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5) 6 East 2nd Street – Manhattan

Just a few buildings in from Joey Ramone Place, 6 East 2nd Street was home to the loft apartment of Arturo Vega, the Ramones’ creative director, art director, lighting director, historian, confidante – the list goes on and on. As Dee Dee recalled, “Arturo Vega was like the Ramones’ evil mom. A mean Latin queen that tried to pass himself off as French. Although he was really Johnny’s friend, initially he let Joey and me crash in his loft and it was sort of like home for a while.”

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Vega, said to have attended all but two of the 2,200 live shows the Ramones put on from 1974 – 1996, is most famous for designing the Ramones’ eagle logo. He died in 2013; passing by the entrance to the apartment today, I noticed a memorial pasted on the door. A retrospective of his work is currently open to the public at nearby at 6 East 1st Street through April 25.

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6) Former CBGB (now John Varvatos) – 315 Bowery – Manhattan

Also less than a stone’s throw from Joey Ramone Place is the corpse of CBGB, where the Ramones debuted their first public show on August 16, 1974, one of the few places that would feature their style of underground weirdness. They’d go on to play 73 more shows by the end of that year alone, quickly becoming synonymous with the venue.

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The club closed in 2006 following a much publicized rent dispute. Today, it’s a John Varvatos store.

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My visit today was my first time back since my last punk show there nearly 15 years ago. You know that feeling you get at a funeral when you view the body and, no matter how good a job the undertaker did, there’s just something really, really not right about the whole thing? That’s how I felt looking at the framed posters on the walls, the stickers on the ducts, the graffiti…

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To be clear, I’m glad Varvatos has preserved the space as a tribute to its roots, far preferable to it being gutted as would probably happen with any other tenant. I just don’t particularly want to look at it.

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7) Extra Place (alley behind CBGB) – Manhattan

While you’re at the former CBGB’s, swing around to the back alley, known as Extra Place.

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Find the rear entrance to CBGB’s…

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…and you’re at the spot where the cover to the Ramones third album, Rocket to Russia, was shot. Back then, it was a gritty, dangerous alley; today, there’s a lobster shack.

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8) Albert’s Garden – East 2nd Street btw. Bowery & 2nd Avenue – Manhattan

Finally, as mentioned above, be sure to stop by Albert’s Garden to take a glimpse at one of the most famous brick walls in rock history (you know Johnny’s flipping you off, right?).

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And so concludes the first chapter in the Ramones turbulent career.

While I wish I could finish this piece by extolling the fame and fortune that would meet the Ramones after their first record release, the band never found mainstream success during its existence. Meanwhile, band in-fighting led to numerous line-up changes over the years and a rift between Joey and Johnny that never healed. All four original band members are now dead, which is shocking when you consider how many bands that pre-date the Ramones are still touring. It’s only in the last five or ten years that Ramones t-shirts have suddenly become as ubiquitous as any classic rock band from the 70s, courtesy of Urban Outfitters.

A personal note: punk rock shows ruined concerts for me, and I hold the Ramones responsible. I first started listening to punk rock at 12 years old, and I swear there is simply nothing – nothing – on this planet as much fun as being at a good punk show, where the entire room is literally pulsating with energy as kids pogo and mosh and push and shove and careen into each other and then, and just when someone hits the ground and it looks like they’re going to be trampled to death, everyone grabs them and yanks them back to their feet so they can join back in on the fun.

The idea of going to a concert simply to observe a band play, where the general audience response tends to be nodding one’s head while taking a video to post on Facebook, is so utterly disheartening that I can’t bring myself to do it, even for bands I love (and don’t get me started on those concerts where you have to sit down).

Ultimately, I blame the Ramones for starting it all. And I thank them.

-SCOUT

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25 comments

  1. Hi Scout,
    What a great read.
    If I ever get back to NY I’ll try and look for the brick wall. Hopefully a day the gate is open.
    Closed more often than open?

    Best wishes.
    Neil

  2. Don’t forget the corner of 53rd & 3rd!

  3. Great post, and I agree with your love of punk shows and hatred of mouth-breathing, selfie stick-carrying idiots who grin and nod through generic concerts that they’re attending because they’ve seen the act live on the Today Show. There’s actually a lot of great music out now, much more than during the Ramones era, but there is no band that can match the Ramones. They were utterly unique. Thanks!

  4. This is great, but there are a lot more places to add.

    Dee Dee and Johnny bought their first guitars at Manny’s Music on W 48 St.

    23 East 20 St was the location of Performance Studio, where they rehearsed and had their first performance — as a trio! (Monte and Tommy built the space.)

    Joey lived at the St Mark Apartments, 115 East 9th St, for many, many years. He’s buried not far outside the city at the Mt Zion Cemetery in Lyndhurst NJ.

    Johnny lived at 140 7th Ave for a long time.

    When they weren’t on tour, Dee Dee could usually be found on St Mark’s Place. He would frequently sell items on the street; in the last few years of his life, he’d sell his paintings there.

    Joey often DJed at what used to be Coney Island High, also on St Mark’s Place, and held his birthday parties and performed solo shows there and at the Continental around the corner. The Ramones played their last Manhattan shows at CI High. (Their last shows in NYC were on Randall’s Island.)

  5. Thanks for that. From 14 years old chipping in to get one kid in and spit transferring the stamp onto all of our hands to my my 21st birthday seeing them for my 21st time, I was ruined as well…

  6. Art Garden was a couple of blocks further East on Queens Boulevard. It occupied the space where Subway is now.

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.726893,-73.852936,3a,75y,346.02h,81.06t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sIM3ogZS7a3NpzClYh2J9nw!2e0

  7. Eugenio Gregorio

    Markys apartament on Brooklyn cadman plaza north.

    Too tough to die album cover on Playmates arch on central park.

    Halfway to sanity album cover on 14 mott st, chinatown.

    53rd & 3rd

    Chelsea Hotel (dee dees home)

  8. Great post – thanks. I wonder if the Art Garden’s was the basement they didn’t wanna go down to. A shame we don’t know more about where *exactly* on Rockaway Beach Dee Dee liked to hang out.

  9. Great post, thanks. I first saw the Ramones in 1976, and they changed my life; seeing them made me decide to move back to NY in 1980 when I graduated from college, rather than head to LA, and I wound up in the East Village since I knew I wanted to live near CB’s. Never regretted it. BTW Johnny’s not flipping anyone off; I had a serious crush on him so used to spend hours staring at the album covers, that’s his pointer finger and he’s gesturing to his privates. For many years, until he moved to LA, he lived at 85 East 10th Street between 3rd and 4th Aves., and I’d see him wandering around the neighborhood on a regular basis, which was always fun.

  10. God description of a punk show. I got into The Ramones at a very young age, a little after their first album even (my older punk brother certainly helped) and never looked back. The shows are still the same. Just the other night, saw The Buzzcocks yet again (at Irving) and it’s still the same energy and fun. Same with The Adicts, GBH, and other long-time punks. But it all started with The Ramones. Great posting.

  11. Awesome article! Thanks for keeping NYC fascinating!

  12. CBGB’s at one point decided that it would be a good idea to bring The Police to play. They even put chairs in front like a theater. So, me and my friend Tony V. we went there because we liked “Roxanne”. Anyway the Police start playing and this little boy (11-12 years old) has this roach clip that is attached to a telescoping antenna and we are all smoking up. Including his very hot sister. So the kid gets really fried and all of a sudden he hates on The Police. He’s like “Fuck You you English fucks” and he’s sticking that roach clip right on Sting’s face. So at some point Sting gets really annoyed at this, so he takes a swipe at the kid and kinds clips him a bit. Ok, then we all jumped on stage and beat the daylights out of the so-called “police”. Then we got kicked out violently by the bouncers. Fuckit. It was worth it just to get a few kicks on Sting.

  13. Brilliant article! Bravo.

    First saw the Ramones at the Ritz in ’85 and that’s where I took my first stage dive. It wasn’t intentional. Just as the Ramones were taking the stage, my friends all grabbed me, picked me up (I was a mere 115 lbs back then) and threw me on the stage. I dived off the stage simply to get away from the bouncers who were coming after me. Great memory.

  14. Hey I lived in Toledo told 73

  15. Hey I lived in Toledo until 73 73

  16. The Art Garden II was located at 98-87 Queens Blvd.

    • Richard Adler is right, the Art Garden II was the law office in the photos above. I just heard from a friend in Rego Park that a developer bought a good portion of the block and will be tearing down those buildings.

  17. Hi,
    I am Ramones Fans form Brazil. I am trying finding some places in Googles Maps with Ramones Pictures.
    You Can found some heres
    Birchwood Towers -https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/449401265252000/

    CBGB – https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/447045382154255

    Supreme Court – https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/443501799175280

    Ramones At London 1976 – https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/443625319162928

    Too Tough To Die – Playmates Arch https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/440750612783732

    Halfay To Sanity – At 16/18 Mott Street, Chinatown
    https://www.facebook.com/ramonesfanswebsite/photos/a.247459718779490.1073741828.244454115746717/440030806189046

  18. The Art Garden II was actually a partnership of Jean Singer and Charlotte Lesher, Joey Ramone’s (Jeff Hyman) mother. The original Art Garden on Booth Street in Rego Park, was a business owned entirely by Jean Singer. Her next endeavor was Art Garden II in which she brought Charlotte in as a partner. Jean and Charlotte both supported Jeff and his fellow band-mates practicing in the basement. There is no doubt to the accuracy of this information as I am Jean’s daughter.

  19. Watch this video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUH2WNyIaQ4 and freeze on minute 16:39 where a picture of the Art Garden is. We can see in the front of the shop the parking ticket machine, just where in the today´s picture the Law & Office 98-87 shop is so, the Art Garden was the current Law & Office 98-87 shop.

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