Andy Warhol described Max's Kansas City as the place "where pop art and pop life came together." A new book and exhibition pay homage to the famous nightclub.
On any given night in the late 1960s, you could stumble into a dive-y Manhattan bar called Max's Kansas City and find yourself squashed in a red vinyl booth beneath garish red lights. You might order a $2.50 drink called "The Dolls," heeding the description that reads, "Don't ask. Just drink it."
While munching on the nightclub's famed chickpeas, you'd hear music coming from the jukebox-turned-sculpture. Or, better yet, you'd hear live music coming from upstairs — bands like Television and the Ramones giving birth to New York's underground rock scene. Brooding over tables in the front room: artists like Willem de Kooning; in the back room: Andy Warhol and his coterie, partaking in unseemly activities.
Of course, you can only imagine the scene — not only because the days of Max's Kansas City have come and gone, but also because, even if this were 1972, you probably wouldn't have been allowed in.
Max's Kansas City was the place to be for emerging artists in the '60s and '70s, and only the most iconoclastic elite could get in. In Andy Warhol's words, it was "where pop art and pop life came together." Like a curator of people, the owner, Mickey Ruskin, had a specific idea of what he wanted at his nightclub. He saw it as meeting ground — or, more accurately, a playground — for the city's most creative — a place where artists could relax or party without paparazzi.
Fortunately, Ruskin did allow a few people to photograph, and many of those surviving photos have been curated by Steven Kasher of New York City's Steven Kasher Gallery in a book and exhibition. Max's Kansas City was, Kasher explained on the phone, "at least in people's memory, a uniquely wonderful, nurturing, great public party that went on for many years."
The exhibition, on display through Oct. 9, features photographs by the select few artists who were permitted to wield their cameras: Bob Gruen, Anton Perich, Dustin Pittman and a few more. It also showcases art and sculpture by the folks who frequented Max's: paintings by Warhol, sculptures by John Chamberlain, and a re-creation of Forrest Myers' laser-jukebox installation. In honor of that jukebox, enjoy this playlist of Max's-era jams:
"Marquee Moon," 1977, Television, led by Tom Verlaine
"Heart of Glass" live, 1976, Blondie, led by Debbie Harry
"Sweet Virginia" live, 1972, The Rolling Stones
"Then She Kissed Me" cover, live, 1975, Bruce Springsteen
"Pale Blue Eyes" live at Max's Kansas City, The Velvet Underground
"Rock Lobster" live in Atlanta, 1978, The B-52s
The Ramones, live at Max's Kansas City, 1976