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Travel

Making Friends at Brooklyn's Last Porno Theater

I felt both intensely violated and intensely cruel. For the first time, it hit me that although we had wandered into this pervert’s Mecca as ironically detached tourists, this man was a permanent fixture here; it was his home.

by EJ Dickson
Jul 21 2014, 5:13am

Photo via Google Street View

Before the days of Pornhub, Redtube, and bored eastern European men with waxed assholes blowing each other on cam, there was the porno theater. In a city once hailed as the smut capital of the world, the Cinema Kings Highway is one of the few remnants of the New York’s seamy past. 

Located in Midwood, a predominantly middle-class Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, the Cinema Kings Highway is widely regarded as the borough's last porno theater, a designation that, in this post-Bloomberg era of sky-high rents and cronut lines, miraculously retains a perverse nostalgic appeal for longtime New Yorkers. Formerly a 1930s Art Deco movie theater called the Jewel (Woody Allen was allegedly a frequent attendee), the Cinema Kings Highway was converted into a porn theater in the 1960s, according to the Cinema Treasures directory. Today, the smut palace stands as a testament to a bygone era of sordidness. (It also functions as a pretty prominent gay cruising spot according to online reviews). 

Most people in the Orthodox Jewish Kings Highway neighborhood view the Cinema Kings Highway as an embarrassment, but when my friends and myself, four white kids raised on a steady diet of irony and Robin Byrd reruns, found out about the theater, we considered it nothing less than pervert Mecca. Armed with a giant thermos of Negronis, we decided to take the F train to the Kings Highway stop in Brooklyn to step into the time warp known as the last great New York City porno theater.

When we arrived at the Kings Highway stop, it was Shabbos, so most of the stores in the leafy, quiet neighborhood were closed. The only people we saw on the street were a Jamaican nanny and a gaggle of Hasidic men coming home from afternoon shul. “We’re going to the porno theater,” we told them. Although they were probably used to hipster derelicts traipsing around the neighborhood for that reason, they looked at us as if we had declared that we intended to shit into each other’s mouths.

At first glance, the Cinema Kings Highway looked shut down—the marquee was totally empty, and wooden boards covered the box office walls. The only indication that the theater was open was a printed sign directing us inside, where a taciturn, middle-aged Pakistani gentleman with a gold tooth sat at the box office. Admission was $12, which cost less than a mainstream movie theater but more than I expected a porno theater to charge. 

“This is porno theater. You understand?” he asked me about four times as I tried to buy a ticket. “We show pornos. People fucking. You know this?” I gently told him I understood and gave him my money. It took every ounce of self-control within me to refrain from saying, “Wait, this isn’t a revival screening of Feivel Goes West?” 

The theater lobby looked exactly as you probably would imagine: low-hanging fluorescent light bulbs, a row of 1980s arcade games in the corner near a small booth with free instant coffee and Swiss Miss hot chocolate, unshaven middle-aged men weaving in and out of the shadows. 

There were three screens in the theater: one for straight porn, one for gay porn, and one for what the proprietor described as “art house” cinema, although when we arrived at the theater they were playing Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai. They played the movie because of a 1995 New York City zoning law requiring adult theaters to reserve at least 60 percent of its showings for mainstream films. You’re allowed to spend all day at Cinema Kings Highway and the theater lets you hop from screen to screen, so many of the patrons had likely been here for hours. It’s kind of like buying a Park Hopper pass at Disney World, except Disney World obviously has less dried cum on the walls. 

We headed into the straight porn theater, where there three or four men sat in silence. The projector showed a POV clip of a perky Eurasian girl slithering around a leather couch, displaying her yawning anus on screen; she wore frosted pink lip gloss and a diamond collar that said “Princess.” The guy behind the camera kept saying racist comments, like “Me love you long time” and “Bend over and show me that tight little Asian slit,” but nobody in the audience appeared to find the blatant cultural fetishization of Asian female sexuality offensive. Apparently, they hadn’t read Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Although no one was masturbating in the theater itself, the men kept walking behind the screen. I became curious and followed them, only to find a veritable Parisian catacomb of jerkoff booths. Small, 80s-era TVs played gay and straight porn, and there were drawings of comically oversized phalli and anti-Semitic epithets scrawled on the walls. One of the men waited outside an occupied booth, and a youthful-looking black male in a baseball cap gave me a nasty glare. I retreated back to the theater, terrified. 

I returned to the theater, where my male companion was loudly arguing with our friend Lizzy over whether or not ( a ) the Eurasian young woman on screen was sporting a rosebud, and ( b ) how prevalent the incidence of rosebuds are in the heterosexual female population. I looked around; none of the other patrons were there. We had chased everyone out of the theater, save for one man, a pale, chubby gentleman in unfashionable wire-rimmed glasses who looked like an anthropomorphized version of a blobfish. Oof. 

The man stood over us and stared, breathing heavily. He carried a plastic Duane Reade bag, and looked so much like the stereotype of a porn theater patron that it’s like he was dressing as one for Halloween. I began to get profoundly uncomfortable. Because we were, with the exception of my male companion, the only women in the place, I assumed we were being targeted because of our gender, and were not welcome there. 

I left to play a few rounds of Mrs. Pac Man, running through all my quarters in less than a minute, and then checked out a few minutes of The Last Samurai, where the only patron was an avuncular bearded man who for some reason kept wanting to talk about Vanilla Sky. I politely engaged him in conversation, then turned back to the action onscreen, admiring Tom Cruise’s 90s era Bruce Jenner-meets-the haircut I had during 4th grade picture day coiffure. If there were a Buzzfeed listicle of definitive Cruise haircuts, The Last Samurai should rank, like, third. 

The Pakistani proprietor cornered me and asked if me and my male friend needed some condoms when we went back to the booths. I politely demurred. Apparently taking that as a sign that I was available, he then requested that I give him a kiss on the cheek. I let him kiss my hand, his lips feeling cracked and dry on my skin. I felt like telling him they should start charging patrons for coffee and use the savings to invest in a humidifier. 

I then met my friends in the gay theater, where there were three or four men quietly sitting and watching the action on screen. The movie was titled Brazilian Butt Boys 8, and one of the butt boys in question looked and sounded exactly like the actor who plays Grey Worm on Game of Thrones

My male companion, now well in his cups, went up to the screen and started gesticulating wildly, pantomiming rimming Grey Worm’s asshole. In the midst of his performance, we felt a familiar presence in the theater: the man with the shopping bags. 

My female friends and I recoiled; I felt both intensely violated and intensely cruel. For the first time, it hit me that although we had wandered into this pervert’s Mecca as ironically detached tourists, this man was a permanent fixture here; it was his home. We had invaded his space and turned him into a spectacle to be gawked at, and now he was letting us know how it felt, and might even show us what was inside the Duane Reade plastic bag while he was at it. (First guess: sharpened baby penises). 

I felt sick to my stomach, and wanted nothing more than to leave. I told my male friend so. He refused, and turned to the man. “Hey, man, get a move on,” he shouted. He didn’t move. 

“Hey, man,” he shouted again. As if snapping out of a reverie, the man turned to us and gestured to the screen, where Grey Worm was enthusiastically rimming a South American man with butt acne.

“Are these guys Brazilian?” he asks in a sharp Brooklyn accent. “I’ve seen this one.”

Almost collectively, we heaved a sigh of relief. This wasn’t a dangerous pervert who wanted to give us a taste of our own medicine and shank us with infant members. This was just a lonely man who wanted to take the opportunity to talk shop with a fellow twink porn connoisseur. 

“I’ve been to Rio, in the eighties,” he continued. “They’re the most beautiful people. These guys are nothing compared to them.”  We then chatted awkwardly, if not politely, about Brazil and the upcoming World Cup until we excused ourselves and walked out into the sunlight. We hadn’t made a friend, but we’d probably made the closest thing to it that you could in a porno theater, without exchanging any bodily fluids. 

On the way back to the F train, our male friend loudly mocked our fear of the blobfish with the Duane Reade bags. “You idiots thought he was cruising you,” he said, “when, in fact, he was cruising me. Fuck you narcissistic bitches! He loved me.” On the way home, a few blocks past the porno theater, we passed a few bakeries. One of them was advertising cronuts. We didn’t buy any, but it felt good to know they were there. 

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