A little over forty years ago, in a nightclub called Max’s Kansas City, Robert Mapplethorpe made his way through a crowd of artists, drag queens, and cocaine fiends, hoping to charm his way into Andy Warhol’s inner circle. His friend and ex-lover Patti Smith, then an unknown like him, watched his efforts warily. A few years later, Mapplethorpe would be shocking the art world with his provocative homoerotic photography and portraits of Warhol. Smith would be performing at Max’s. But before they achieved fame, they were vagrants moving through the world of artists, socialites, and provocateurs in downtown Manhattan. After Mapplethorpe lost his battle with AIDS in 1989, Patti Smith captured their experiences in her award-winning memoir Just Kids.
In this article, we’ll trace Patti Smith’s trail through New York City. Max’s, once a focal point of Warhol’s Factory, is gone now. There is a CVS at the address it once had north of Union Square. But other places are still here or remembered in film.
1. Scribner’s Book Store
The story begins far north of the East Village in Midtown. Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe when she worked at Scribern’s Book Store, at 597 Fifth Avenue, a beautifully ornate headquarters for the book seller. It has been home to Sephora at 48th Street for for some time now, but you can still see the store name in gold. As Smith writes in Just Kids:
“I needed to get another job. My friend Janet Hamill had been hired at Scribner’s Bookstore, and she found a way of giving me a helping hand by sharing her good fortune. She spoke to her superiors, and they offered me a position. It seemed like a dream job, working in the retail store of the prestigious publisher, home to writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and their editor, the great Maxwell Perkins. Where the Rothschilds bought their books, where paintings by Maxfield Parrish hung in the stairwell.”