Soon after Mickey Ruskin opened Max’s Kansas City in December 1965, his bar and restaurant became one of the downtown’s premier social hubs. Ruskin—who Lou Reed described as a hawk-faced man with dark stringy hair that hung over his right eye—had already developed several music and entertainment contacts in the previous decade. Most notably, he ran the East Village’s Tenth Street Coffeehouse and Les Deux Mégots, and Greenwich Village’s Ninth Circle (which in the 1970s and 1980s transformed into a well-known gay hustler bar). At Max’s, large abstract art hung on the white walls, including a Frank Stella painting, though everything else was red—from the tablecloths to the red bowls filled with chickpeas, which sustained many a hungry artist. “What Mickey would do is he would trade credit for art,” said Off-Off-Broadway actor Tony Zanetta. “So basically, that’s how he built his business. Some of it was probably just luck, in that the Factory moved across Union Square, so the Warhol people started going there.” One might say Ruskin was an art patron who happened to run downtown bars and coffeehouses. Warhol gave him art in exchange for an unlimited bar tab, so that he and his Factory associates could eat and drink for free.
From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore