NYC's Ghost Landmarks of Rock
Many Big Apple music venues faded as times and tastes changed. A rock 'n' roll archaeologist surveys legendary spots transformed by the city that never sleeps and always expands.
CBGB, once a Grand Central Station for punk and the ethos that defined it, is now a John Varvatos clothing store. It’s symbolic of the changes New York City has imposed on some of rock culture’s more celebrated venues. (photo: left, © Lucas Jackson/Reuters; right: AnneLise Sorensen; photo illustration: Michael Ross and Michael Hipple)
It's really not so surprising that 40 to 50 years down the road, many of New York City's pop-culture landmarks of the '60s and '70s aren't there anymore. What's more surprising is that so many of them have disappeared without a trace.
And even more surprising -- given how large these bars, clubs, theaters and studios still loom in popular legend -- is how so few of the people who now occupy these spaces have any idea of where they're standing and what was there before.
Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin and Tim Buckley at Max's Kansas City in 1968. (© Elliott Landy/Corbis)
Max's Kansas City (1965-1974): Andy's playground
"Really?" said Joseph Herrans, a concierge at the W New York Union Square Hotel, on being told that Max's Kansas City once was right next door, at 213 Park Ave. S. "I had no idea. I'm sure our guests would love to know that. I'll start telling people."
Herrans has worked at the W for 11 years; one would think that by now somebody would have told him, because Max's was hardly just another place to go for drinks. Open from December 1965 to December 1974, it was for seven of those years the noisy, bustling playground of the Andy Warhol demimonde. Anybody who was anybody in that world was there, from Salvador Dali to Tim Buckley, usually huddled with Warhol in the 25-by-30-foot back room.
One of Warhol's minions, Danny Fields, a Harvard-educated magazine editor (and apartment mate of Edie Sedgwick), would grant or deny admission. "Nothing was required except that you be fabulous," he once recalled. "You didn't have to be rich, you didn't have to be beautiful, you didn't have to be famous; you had to be fabulous."
Today, Max's has morphed into a 24-hour restaurant, one of several such eateries that have occupied a space that was once one of rock's hottest live venues (Photo: AnneLise Sorensen)
Today the space is undergoing renovation as a 24-hour Bread & Butter restaurant. It's not the first such place there; in the past 38 years, the room also has been an Evergreen Gourmet Deli and a Korean deli called the Green Cafe. A long silver counter runs down the left where the bar used to be. The partition that separated the back room is gone, turning that space into just more room for people to sip cappuccino and nibble an egg white-and-vegetable sandwich.
Without a key, one cannot get to the second floor of the five-story, 112-year-old building, where in the summer of 1970, the Velvet Underground played its first New York City concerts in three years -- a nine-week engagement. As it turned out, it was the band's last gig with Lou Reed, the band's visionary songwriter and guitarist, before he quit on Aug. 23 to work as a typist at his father's accounting office on Long Island; that show was recorded and released two years later as "The Velvet Underground Live at Max's Kansas City," and still available.