Some places go down in history for their architecture, for having housed dignitaries, for being the scene of a heinous crime, and some are all of those things. Enter Max’s Kansas City, the New York, late-night hotspot of grimy interiors, rock and roll royalty, and some seriously debauched behaviour. Through these portraits, we can see the epicentre of NYC’s booming music scene, Max’s Kansas City, rise and fall.

Before the influx of corporate cash, New York was the only place to be. The city was vibrating with creative energy and Max’s provided a safe space for the giant forces of music art and poetry to converge in one extra special spot. Whether they were drinking or performing pretty much anyone who was anyone during the seventies found themselves at Max’s.

Max's Kansas City, Park Avenue South, New York, America

Found on Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue South the venue housed some of the scene’s biggest characters and with the chance of Debbie Harry being your waitress for the night, we would’ve been there every night.

Plus the opportunity to ‘accidentally’ bump into William S. Burroughs, or Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Rauschenberg, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, whom all called Max’s home for an evening or two.

Rockers James Williamson, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. Photograph by Danny Fields

“I met Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City in 1970 or 1971,” recalled David Bowie. “Me, Iggy and Lou Reed at one table with absolutely nothing to say to each other, just looking at each other’s eye makeup.”

James Wolcott recalls in Vanity Fair that Max’s was “a restaurant and nightclub on Park Avenue South whose name had little to do with Max and even less to do with Kansas City, this magnet for artists, actors, musicians, poets, and fame moochers was opened in 1965 by Mickey Ruskin [1933–1983]”

Wolcott continued: “The mottled glory that was Max’s is a two-part saga. From the mid-60s to the early 70s, it was thronged with painters, sculptors, and Zeus-browed critics, its in-crowd back room becoming the banquet spot for Andy Warhol and his apostles from the Factory. (Warhol’s flagship band, the Velvet Underground, recorded a live album there.)

“This gave way to the thundering hooves of glitter-rockers such as the New York Dolls in their platform wedges and lipstick pouts, bringing down the curtain on Act I. Max’s closed in 1974 and reopened in 1975 under new management and became the North Pole of the punk/New Wave movement to CBGB’s southern pole on the Bowery.”

David Johansen and David Bowie at Max’s Kansas City, New York City, 1974.
Bebe Buell at Max's Kansas City, 1972

So many great photographs were taken by long time patron, busboy and photographer for Max’s who joined in 1972 recalls: “There were three epicenters at Max’s: Bar, Back Room and Upstairs. Each zone had prominent art. You didn’t have to go to MoMA to see contemporary American art. Mickey was the top curator of that time.

Bar had a hovering sculpture by Forest Myers. The window was by Michael Heiser. At the Long Wall was Donald Judd. The Passage way had a crashed car by John Chamberlain; it had sharp ends, so all waitresses had bruises. The Back Room had the legendary bloody neon cross by Dan Flavin as well as Myer’s Laser’s End – probably the most immaterial sculpture ever made. Upstairs had some Warhols. My photograph hung over the cashier by the entrance. I was elated to be in such a company. Those are the real secrets of Max’s. “

Model Bebe Buell (right) and an unidentified woman.
Dorothy Dean and Jackie Curtis, Max’s Kansas City regulars (and sometimes bouncers). Photograph by Anton Perich
Artist Willem de Kooning. Photograph by Anton Perich
arhol Superstars Eric Emerson and Nico. Photograph by Anton Perich
Model Donna Jordan and writer Fran Lebowitz. Photograph by Anton Perich
 Singer Maria Muldaur rehearses at Max's Kansas City in New York, where she opened with a repertoire including blues, jazz and country songs. Her first solo album has just been released and she seems to be on the brink of stardom Maria Muldaur, New York, USA. September 15 1973
Andrea Feldman in front of Max’s. Photograph by Anton Perich

The collection of images comes via the following sources: Vanity FairDazed and Stephen Kasher Gallery.

For more salacious material, check out
Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll, by Steven Kasher.


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