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NYC club Max's Kansas City remembered: Warhol hangout turns 50

New York City history is full of stories of idolized places and people. Clubs, music scenes and first shows of bands that would later become famous are discussed in excited, nostalgic-tinged tones. On the short list of such conversations is Max's Kansas City, the nightclub and restaurant that was at center of NYC cool from the late '60s on through the '70s.

At Max's, everyone could be someone. It was the hangout spot of choice for Andy Warhol and his entourage and artists including John Chamberlain and Forrest Myers. Many famous musicians frequented the club, too: David Bowie met Iggy Pop in the backroom, said Yvonne Sewall Ruskin, partner of the late Mickey Ruskin (Max's Kansas City owner) and a former waitress at Max's, who shared highlights of the club's past with us. But you could also just go there and become someone, if you were dedicated.

Mickey was adamant about making his customers feel comfortable and he wanted them to become "regulars," said Sewall Ruskin.

In her memoir, "Just Kids," Patti Smith described how she and the artist Robert Mapplethorpe went to Max's repeatedly before they were admitted to the backroom, where the "cool" people hung out.

Sewall Ruskin is the director of The Max's Kansas City Project, a nonprofit that provides emergency relief for individuals in the arts in need of housing, medical and legal aid. She's celebrating the 50th anniversary of Max's with a benefit tribute concert for the organization on Thursday night at The Cutting Room in New York City. (Info and tickets here:

Max's defined an era in New York City, and played a role in the success of many bands and musicians, from Bruce Springsteen to Aerosmith to the Velvet Underground. Take a trip back in time with us.

Max's Kansas City, one of NYC's most famous clubs

Max's Kansas City was a club and restaurant
Photo Credit: Anton Perich

Max's Kansas City was a club and restaurant in Manhattan that helped define the rock 'n' roll era of the late '60s and early '70s. Its sign, advertising steak, lobster and chickpeas, is iconic.

Mickey Ruskin at Max's

Mickey Ruskin opened Max's Kansas City on Jan.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yvonne Sewall Ruskin

Mickey Ruskin opened Max's Kansas City on Jan. 16, 1966, on a sleepy section of Park Avenue South, but it quickly became the place to hang out -- and wait tables.

"It was the hottest place to work in New York," Yvonne Sewall Ruskin said, adding that both Emmylou Harris and Debbie Harry of Blondie were once also waitresses there.

The original Max's Kansas City closed in 1974, and was revived by a different owner later. Ruskin died at age 50 from an accidental drug overdose, Sewall Ruskin said.

"I was never legally married to Mickey, but we were together throughout the Max's years and we have two children. When he passed away, I stepped up to the plate to protect the interest of the family and legacy," Yvonne Sewall Ruskin said.

Garland Jeffreys, Steven Van Zandt and Lou Reed were Max's regulars

The back room at Max's was where many
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Yvonne Sewall Ruskin

The back room at Max's was where many artists and famous people would gather. Yvonne Sewall Ruskin was a server at Max's, and said no waitresses wanted to work the back room.

"You had to deal with people on drugs, jumping up on tables! The waitresses talked about the back room -- the Warhol room -- they were all on drugs, they didn't eat anything and they all signed Andy's name on the checks. And he was cheap!"

Warhol spotted and courted many actors and actresses at Max's that would later become part of his scene.

John Chamberlain and Cyrinda Foxe, dancing at Max's Kansas City

Max's wasn't downtown, but it epitomized the downtown
Photo Credit: Anton Perich

Max's wasn't downtown, but it epitomized the downtown vibe. Artists and musicians sought refuge there, and Andy Warhol said it was where "pop art and pop life came together in the 60s," according to Yvonne Sewall Ruskin, whose out-of-print oral history, "High on Rebellion: Inside the Underground at Max's Kansas City" is being republished as an e-book.

Cyrinda Foxe, pictured, was a member of Warhol's crew and was later married to both David Johansen of The New York Dolls and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. She explained to PUNK magazine ( in a 2001 interview that she "started going to Max's of course 'cause all the young kids were there. And I met all the drag queens, and they were so enlightening."

Abstract expressionist artists and sculptors working in NYC at the time, like Chamberlain, Neil Williams and others, also frequented Max's.

Mick Jagger at Max's

Max's wasn't just a cool place to be.
Photo Credit: Anton Perich

Max's wasn't just a cool place to be. Important cultural events transpired there, too. Yvonne Sewall Ruskin shared some highlights with us:

Aerosmith was signed after its NYC debut performance at Max's in 1971 by record producer and A&R executive Clive Davis, then-president of Columbia Records. Though, Aerosmith went on to have a huge career in music, that night at Max's they were opening for the already locally popular New York Dolls, who had invited Davis to come to the performance.

Another band that would find big success after its NYC debut at Max's was Bob Marley and the Wailers, also in 1971. The opening act that night? Bruce Springsteen.

Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger went to Max's with Andy Warhol, and even though Ruskin liked to provide anonymity to his guests as best he could, the fame of Jagger couldn't be contained and the waitresses all crowded the back room, Sewall Ruskin remembered.

The Velvet Underground was the house band for a month in the summer of 1970. A recording, "The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City," is historically important because it was one of Lou Reed's last performances with the band.

Collector Francois de Menil and artists Forrest 'Frosty' Myers and Neil Williams at Max's

The artists were the first to come to
Photo Credit: Anton Perich

The artists were the first to come to Max's. At the time, Abstract Expressionism was the reigning art form in NYC. Pictured: the collector and architect Francois de Menil, the sculptor Frosty Myers (best known for his giant piece "The Wall" on a wall in SoHo) and the painter Neil Williams. Myers and Williams helped Ruskin design Max's, according to The New York Times.

Andrea 'Whips' Feldman dancing on a table, as Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim watch

Photo Credit: Artchie Strips

Andrea "Whips" Feldman was a member of the Warhol entourage, having acted in several of the artist's films including "Trash" and "Heat." She was known for performing a striptease act on top of a table that she called "Showtime" at Max's, pictured. Feldman committed suicide in 1972.


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