Monday, November 23, 2009

Max's Kansas City

Jayne County wrote a song about it. Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers released an album called Live at Max's Kansas City and so did the Velvet Underground.

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

Opened by Mickey Ruskin (1933-1983) in December 1965, it was a hangout for artists and sculptors like John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg and Larry Rivers, whose presence attracted hip celebrities and the jet set, and was also a favorite hot spot of Andy Warhol and his Factory devotees. The Velvet Underground played their last shows with Lou Reed at Max's in the summer of 1970. It was home for a short time to the Glitter rock scene that included David Bowie, Iggy Pop and, of course, Lou Reed. Bob Marley & The Wailers opened for Springsteen at Max's in 1973 at the beginning of Marley's career on the international circuit.

Max's Kansas City's popularity declined and the legendary establishment closed in December, 1974. Mayor Ed Koch later had a campaign office in the building.

The club reopened in 1975 under new ownership of Tommy Dean Mills who started with a formula of serving up disco. Peter Crowley, who had been booking bands at Mothers was hired to start booking bands there in a venue that was an alternative to CBGBs.

Max's Kansas City became one of the birthplaces of punk, 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 rumored to have been banned from playing there, which turned out to be total bullshit), Wayne County, The Senders, The Rousers, The Fleshtones, Klaus Nomi and Patti Smith. After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious played many of his solo gigs there. Also 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 (see pictures below). The best part is the old chandelier. Like a tattered prom dress that you wish could tell its story, it remains hanging from the ceiling, a constant reminder of days gone by...

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