In two exhibitions soon to open in the city—"Artists at Max’s Kansas City, 1965-1974: Hetero-Holics and Some Women Too" at the Loretta Howard Gallery and "Max's Kansas City" at Steven Kasher Gallery—the legendary club that housed artists and musicians until 1981 will get a little more time in the spotlight, even though there's not much to show. Owner Mickey Ruskin, who gave up the club in 1974 to Tommy Dean Mills, was notoriously strict about keeping what happened in the club under wraps. Kasher called the club "an oasis, and nobody there wanted a record of what they were doing. This was a long time before the era of blogs and YouTube."
Those secret antics included partying with the likes of Andy Warhold, Robert Mapplethorpe, Forrest "Frosty" Myers, John Chamberlain and William S. Burroughs. And as the Loretta Howard Gallery put it, "As the Cedar Tavern played a role in the formation of abstract expressionism, Max’s Kansas City galvanized a younger generation of artists from when it opened in 1965 to when it closed its doors in 1974." While that sort of activity sounds fit for the public eye, it was the casual nudity and drug use that Ruskin wanted to keep for artists only.
Unlike most artists hangouts, which attracted the group through late hours and cheap drinks, Max's was most likely the first bar in the city designed specifically for the slightly-affluent group. Myers told the Times, “We thought, ‘How are we going to get people over here?’ [The bar was located at 213 Park Avenue.] Mickey was into art, and so we decided that this was not going to be a working-class bar, or a poets’ bar. It was going to be an artists’ bar."
Once new management took over, the bar transformed into a music venue and hosted everyone from DEVO to the B-52's to Klaus Nomi. But it closed in 1981, and Ruskin died of a drug overdose in 1983. But Myers remembers Ruskin's generosity in a time where not many were open to the art world. "Basically if you were an artist, he wouldn’t keep you out," Myers said. “Which is unusual because artists at that time didn’t really have much social power.”