The club featured many famous musicians over the years and remained very popular until its closing. For a short while after the closing, Kristal considered moving the club to Las Vegas.
Kristal was born in New York, New York in 1931, but his family moved to Hightstown, New Jersey when he was an infant. He studied music from a young age and eventually attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. Kristal also spent a period of time in the Marines.
He moved back to New York City, where he worked as a singer, appearing on stage in the men's choral group at Radio City Music Hall. He later became the manager of the Village Vanguard, a jazz club in Greenwich Village, where he booked Miles Davis and other musicians.
He married in 1951 and had two children: Lisa Kristal Burgman and Mark Dana Kristal.
In 1968 he co-founded the Schaefer Music Festival with concert promoter Ron Delsener; the festival took place every year until 1976 in NYC's Central Park and featured superstars from all music genres like The Who, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Bob Marley, B.B. King, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Ike & Tina Turner, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Brothers, Kris Kristofferson, Curtis Mayfield, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith and The Doors, amongst many other bands.
In 1970 Kristal opened a bar in the Bowery section of New York called "Hilly's on the Bowery", which closed within a couple of years. Then, in December 1973, he created "CBGB and OMFUG", an abbreviation of the kinds of music he intended to feature there: "Country, BlueGrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers". The club became known as the starting point for the careers of such punk rock and New Wave acts as The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television, and Blondie.