Trading Art for Drinks

Trading Art for Drinks

One might say Max’s Kansas City owner Mickey Ruskin was an art patron who happened to run downtown bars and coffeehouses. Andy Warhol gave him art in exchange for an unlimited bar tab, so that he and his Factory associates could eat and drink for free. “Mickey had always been attracted to the downtown art atmosphere—at Deux Mégots, he’d held poetry readings—and now painters and poets were starting to drift into Max’s,” Warhol recalled. “The art heavies would group around the bar and the kids would be in the back room, basically.” Future Warhol superstar Viva (born Janet Susan Mary Hoffmann) began going to Max’s with a couple of painter friends well before she met Warhol. “We went to the opening of Max’s,” she recalled. “Soon, everybody congregated there, including Andy Warhol, but I met a lot of people at Max’s before I even got involved with Andy.” The energy at Max’s Kansas City increased in the spring of 1966 when Ruskin opened up the unused back room to Warhol, who lurked at a big roundtable. Dan Flavin’s red neon light sculpture, which lit the room, cast even the most innocent visitors in a hellish light. “Max’s was the place where all the different scenes crossed and merged, which was what made New York so fabulous in the late sixties and early seventies,” recalled Jayne County, then known as Wayne County. “The gay scene, the drug scene, the theatre scene, the music scene, the art scene. Everyone was getting ideas off everyone else, and everyone ended up in a film or a band or something.” During the 1970s, County became one of the club’s resident DJs, and her various bands regularly performed there with the Ramones, Blondie, and other punk groups.

From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Max's Kansas City
213 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10003