London's Last Sex Cinema Is Back from the Dead, so I Paid It a Visit
Club 487 represents a backlash against the sanitization and gentrification of the UK capital. But how long will it last?
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It's a cold-as-fuck Friday night in South London. The gray doorway bears a sign saying: "487—Private Members Only—Stiff Door, Push Hard." I note at least three double entendres, comply, and step into a black box shaped like a wardrobe. There is no light, except from a small lozenge-shaped hole at eye-level. A girl's face appears. She eyes me suspiciously.
"We're shutting in half an hour."
I ask if I can have a quick look around, just for a couple of minutes.
"Ooooh, I don't know—there's a lot you can do in two minutes, darling."
She lets me in anyway, buzzing me through a door on my right. I descend a handsome wooden staircase down into darkness. I may have entered through a wardrobe, but this is not Narnia. There is the sound of amplified female cries of pleasure, and the sharp smell of fresh paint, amyl, and cum. Everything is painted black; everything looks new. I pass two "private cabins"—little cave-like rooms with low wooden benches and a flat-screen TV screwed to the wall, each with a furtive-looking punter seated within—into the main arena. Here, six rows of as-yet-unstained red velvet seats face a huge HD screen. A group of men of mixed ages sit avidly glued to Fuck Dollz II. Fans of communal wanking rejoice: It's January 2015, and I'm standing in London's brand-new—and only—public porn cinema.
In July 2014, I wrote an article commemorating the demise of Mr. B's in Islington, the last adult cinema in the UK capital, which had been alive in various guises for more than 40 years. It was finally closed by Paul Convery of Islington Council last summer as part of his quest to gentrify the borough. At the time, the cinema's owners promised that they would find new premises and continue trading elsewhere. This seemed little more than a romantic dream—wank-shack proprietors are not known to be the most driven operators, and the combined scourge of urban gentrification and readily available internet fap-matter made it seem unlikely. But against all odds, Mr. B's has done it, setting up shop south of the river.
Club 487 is situated on a typical London street in Deptford. There are pubs, the gentrified Royal Albert, and the altogether more scary Irish gaff, the Little Crown, a Peruvian hair product emporium, the Iyengar Yoga Institute, a Morley's Chicken shop, and the Lima Food and Wine store with its bright green frontage. Not necessarily the kind of place where you'd expect to find a palace of public onanism. But it was the first available premises the owner could find, according to Danny, the friendly, earnest-looking manager.
Danny sits in what is currently the office, a large bare Victorian front room, surrounded by cans of paint, stepladders, screwdrivers, hammers, and other tools. Porn plays on a small TV set. There's a half-finished quarter bottle of whiskey on the floor beside him.
"Word's getting around, mate. The old regulars are starting to come down. And we had a coachload down from Birmingham the other day. It's going well."
Festively, Club 487 opened on New Year's Day 2015.
Down in the Stygian gloom, it becomes apparent that much of the audience is made up of former Mr. B's habitués. I spot Dave, a man in his 60s who always wears a baseball cap bearing his name and is prone to getting drunk and naked while watching the movies. I also see Steve, the pinstriped banker who cuts an incongruous, Patrick Bateman–style figure. But there are new customers here, too. Eyes watch as I hurry past the private viewing cabins, where a lone man sits in each, awaiting a companion. There is a strangely hypnotic atmosphere here—no conversation, just the sound of amplified, counterfeit female ecstasy and the occasional moans of the covert fappers present.
In an era where pop stars and actors are banding together to protest against the blandness that property developers have wrought in Soho, and where puritanism—largely driven by money—increasingly seeks to prohibit places like Club 487, how long it survives for must be open to question.
Whatever you may personally think of adult cinemas, the fact is that the "harm" they do to local areas is nonexistent. Club 487 has a members-only policy. It is hidden behind two very heavy gray doors. It has cameras installed to ensure that no one loiters outside (and after all, why would they?). If you didn't know it was there, you would pass it without being any the wiser.
But Deptford, which has long been tagged "the new Shoreditch," is currently being marketed ferociously to moneyed foreign investors. In a cheesy promotional video covered already by VICE, Tim Murphy, managing director of IP Global, an investment company tasked with flogging new flats by the Cathedral Group to overseas buyers, describes the area as "the apex of fashionability." "You can just see it hasn't had all that money thrown at it yet," he says. "And that's what you want. When you're investing in property, you don't want trendy stores ... and Starbucks everywhere, because that means the prices have already gone [up]... when the artists start coming, that's when you want to get in!"
Artists, yes. When hoary, rain-coated masturbatory enthusiasts start coming (pun intended)—less so. The scourge of "place-making" is being visited on Deptford as it has on so many other areas of London, and I can see pressure being exerted on venues like Club 487 that don't sit comfortably on some sanitized marketing plan. But cities are all about diversity and a tolerance for the preoccupations of others, as long as they're harmless. And why should the amenities of places like Deptford or Soho be dictated by a bunch of investors in Kuala Lumpur who will probably flip the flats they buy to turn a profit without even setting foot in them?
It is late afternoon, before the evening rush. Downstairs, in the gloom of the cinema, the orgiastic white noise persists. Dave and three other men sit on red velvet seats, transfixed in the glow of Anal Debauchery 3.
"Things are going well. We've got Debbie coming down next Thursday," Danny tells me as I leave. "She's a real star on the circuit. Brings her own entourage with her."
The mind boggles. Whatever the future holds, for the moment Club 487 is thriving.
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