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Max's Kansas City was a nightclub (upstairs) and restaurant (downstairs) at 213 Park Avenue South, between 17th and 18th Streets, in New York Citymarker that was a gathering spot for musicians, poets, artists and politicians in the 1960s and 1970s.

History

Max's I

Opened by Mickey Ruskin (1933-1983) in December 1965, it was a hangout for artists and sculptors of the New York School, like John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers, whose presence attracted hip celebrities and the jet set, and was also a favorite spot of Andy Warhol's entourage. The Velvet Underground played their last shows with Lou Reed at Max's in the summer of 1970. It was home base for the short-lived Glitter rock scene that included David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and, of course, Reed. Many bands had early appearances here: Bruce Springsteen played a solo acoustic set in the summer of 1972, and Max's was the site of Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's first New York City gigs. Bob Marley & The Wailers opened for Springsteen at Max's at the beginning of Marley's career on the international circuit, in 1973. Fashion designer Carlos Falchi was a busboy at Max's in 1970.

Max's Kansas City's popularity declined after pop art transformed into punk rock, and the legendary establishment closed in December, 1974. Ed Koch later had a campaign office in the building.

Max's II

The club reopened in 1975 under new ownership of Tommy Dean Mills who started with a formula of offering disco. Peter Crowley, who had been booking bands at Mothers, a gay bar on 23rd Street was hired to start booking bands there in a venue that was an alternative to CBGB'smarker.

Max's Kansas City became one of the birthplaces of punk rock, featuring bands like Cherry Vanilla, The New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Blondie, The Ramones, The Cramps, Mink DeVille, Steel Tips, The Misfits, The Dictators (who were falsely rumored to have been banned from playing there), Wayne County, The N. Dodo Band, Cheap Perfume, The Blessed, The Fast, The Alan Milman Sect, The Fleshtones, Klaus Nomi, Elliott Murphy, and Patti Smith, as well as out-of-town bands in the same vein such as The Runaways and The Damned. After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious played many of his solo gigs there. Devo played several shows at Max's in 1977, including a show where they were introduced by David Bowie as "the band of the future."

Max's closed its doors in November 1981. The building survives and now houses a deli.

Max's III

Mills reopened the club again on January 27, 1998, at a new location—240 West 52d Street—site of the former Lone Star Roadhouse. However it closed shortly after opening.

The opening had been delayed by litigation by Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin who said she owned the trademark to Max's Kansas City and got a temporary restraining order to prevent use of the name.

Aftermath

In 2000, Acidwork Productions, Inc., a production company founded by Neil Holstein (second cousin of Mickey Ruskin) began working in conjunction with Victoria Ruskin (Mickey Ruskin's daughter) on a feature length documentary about Mickey and his many establishments, including Max's Kansas City.

In 2001, Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin established the Max's Kansas City Project in memory of the late Mickey Ruskin who fathered two of her children. To honor the spirit inherent in Ruskin's philosophy of helping artists in need, the project, a 501 non-profit provides emergency funding and resources for individuals in the arts in crisis and empowers teens through the arts.

Origin of name

The name does not come from any club owner direct connections to Kansas City (either of Kansas or of Missouri). Ruskin grew up in Jersey City, New Jerseymarker and was educated at Cornell Universitymarker.

There are two stories as to how the name came to be, both involving suggestions by the poet Joel Oppenheimer. The first story is that the name commemorated a poetic place described by fellow poet Max Finstein. Oppenheimer and Finstein were among the poets who had gathered at Ruskin’s earlier establishment the 9th Circle in Greenwich Villagemarker. The second story is that when Oppenheimer was a kid, "all the steakhouses had Kansas City on the menu because the best steak was Kansas City-cut, so I thought it should be 'something Kansas City.'" "Max" was chosen because it sounded "restauranty."

Oppenheimer also suggested the menu items on the marquee of “Steak, Lobster, Chick Peas.”

Ruskin opened another similar restaurant “Max's Terre Haute” on the Upper East Sidemarker but it did not do as well.

Further reading

  • Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin, High on Rebellion Inside the Underground at Max's Kansas City (1998) Thunder's Mouth Press, ISBN 1-56025-183-2
  • Weinberger, Tony, The Max's Kansas City stories" (1971) Bobbs-Merrill [1971] CALL NUMBER in Library of congress: PS3573.E393 M3


References

  1. Cathy Hoyrn, The Return of the King of Patchwork, The New York Times, October 29, 2009, Accessed October 30, 2009.


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