Wild sex and drugs at Max’s Kansas City

The Beatles famously sang about “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” But for one of the Fab Four, it was George in the Back Room with Rubies at the iconic New York rock club Max’s Kansas City.

The new documentary “Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC” — which will be screening at Joe’s Pub on Tuesday, Wednesday and July 30 — reveals that George Harrison had a gem of a way of picking up chicks in the VIP back room of Max’s.

“He always carried a little pouch of rubies,” recalled Max’s legend Alice Cooper in the doc. “And once he decided which one he wanted to be with, then he would put the ruby ​​down in front of her. And if she picked up the ruby, that was a done deal then.”

“Nightclubbing” — which premiered at the Dock of the Bay Film Festival in San Sebastián, Spain, in May — takes you inside the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that went down at Max’s Kansas City in the nascent thrashing of the punk -rock movement with NYC-bred acts such as the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and the Ramones. Not just a punk mecca, it was also the place where the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith were signed by Clive Davis, and where Debbie Harry served new-wave attitude as a waitress before forming Blondie.

Debbie Harry
Debbie Harry worked as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City before forming Blondie.
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“It was the cool factor,” Cooper said. “There was a lot of other little places to play, but Max’s was the place. It was the cool place.”

“It was one of the homes of punk,” added Billy Idol. “That’s what it was for us.”

Restaurateur Mickey Ruskin opened Max’s Kansas City at 213 Park Ave. South in December 1965 — eight years before the more-heralded CBGB. With a restaurant in the front and a back room for VIPs, it turned into a hipster hangout when Andy Warhol became a regular along with scenesters from his nearby studio, the Factory.

Billy Idol
Billy Idol performed on the closing night of Max’s Kansas City in 1981.

Models and movie stars — from Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda to Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor— would mix and mingle in the buzzy back room. “It was a great place to hang out,” said Cooper. “There was nobody there trying to get your autograph, ’cause everybody was bigger than you.”

Max’s added live music in 1969, featuring acts such as the Stooges. Cooper recalls one particularly piercing performance by Stooges frontman Iggy Pop, who, bloodied from rolling around on glass onstage, had to get 16 stitches afterward. “I think [Stooges manager] Danny Fields and I were the ones who took him to the hospital,” he said.

Max's Kansas City
Max’s Kansas City was open from 1965 to 1981 at 213 Park Ave. South.
Ray Stevenson/REX USA
Mickey Ruskin
Restaurateur Mickey Ruskin opened Max’s Kansas City in December 1965.
Getty Images

It was also at Max’s where Iggy Pop met David Bowiesparking their renowned creative collaboration, while Ziggy Stardust also drew inspiration from Cooper and his eponymous group for his Spiders from Mars backing band.

As Max’s became more of a proper live music venue with its upstairs room in the early ’70s, there was plenty of debauchery. It wasn’t uncommon to find people having sex in the bathroom or shooting amphetamine into their butt.

David Bowie at Max's Kansas City
David Bowie met his creative collaborator Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City.

“It was all about sex and drugs,” said trans punk-rocker Jayne County.

County also recalled Dee Dee Ramone revealing his scarred penis after he was attacked during an altercation with his girlfriend. “She freaked out and tried to stab Dee Dee in the c–k, and tried to cut his c–k off,” she said. “And he had scars on his c–k.”

David Johansen of the New York Dolls
David Johansen and the New York Dolls helped lead the punk-rock movement at Max’s Kansas City.

“Nightclubbing” also recounts how Sid Vicious played his last show at Max’s in 1978, 12 days before his girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead at the Chelsea Hotel. Vicious was arrested for her murder but never went to trial, because he died from a heroin overdose while out on bail.

Idol fondly recalled playing the closing night at Max’s Kans City in 1981, performing “Dancing With Myself” among other tunes. “It was my way of saying thanks…cementing myself a little bit with the Max’s history in a way,” he said.


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