Max’s Kansas City was a New York bar, restaurant, club and trendy hangout where such acts as the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls got their start. It was also where Bruce Springsteen once opened for Bob Marley.
Situated at 213 Park Avenue South, it was opened by restaurateur and arts patron Mickey Ruskin in December 1965 as a safe haven for New York’s creative community.
Max’s quickly became a hangout of choice for artists and sculptors of the New York School whose presence attracted hip celebrities and the jet set. It was also a favourite hangout of Andy Warhol and his entourage.
The free food given away during cocktail hour would often be the only meal some of the regulars would get. Even Lou Reed once said that without Max’s he would have starved, as Mickey fed him every day for nearly three years.
Rock ‘n’ Roll history became punctuated with tales from Max’s. Aerosmith signed their record deal after their first show at Max’s. An unknown Bruce Springsteen got his New York City break there, as did a young Billy Joel. The infamous solo career of Sid Vicious came to its shambolic end there.
It’s where Patti Smith went electric and where David Bowie met Iggy Pop. In Walk On The Wild Side, when Lou Reed sings “Candy came from out on the Island/In the back room, she was everybody’s darling,” Candy was Candy Darling, a Max’s regular. And guess where the backroom that he was talking about was?
And that doesn’t even touch on the influence Max’s had on movies, fashion, art and literature.
But Mickey was no businessman. And with bar tabs often stretching to thousands of dollars, and more and more art being taken in lieu of payment, it was inevitable that even somewhere as magical as Max’s couldn’t keep going and the club closed at the end of 1974.
As Mickey’s involvement ended, a man named Tommy Dean ushered in the second era when he reopened Max’s in 1975. After the strength of character that Ruskin had brought to Max’s, changes were inevitable.
The old guard from the backroom moved on and the club became one of the birthplaces of punk, regularly featuring bands such as Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Suicide, The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Dictators, The Cramps, Mink DeVille, The Fleshtones, The B-52’s and Devo.
The landmark venue closed its doors on New Year’s Eve 1981, a victim of economics and changing tastes.
Mickey Ruskin died in New York City on 16 May 1983 at the age of 50.