I passed across a bill and he returned my change () with an origami fold and a wink so brazen it nearly deserved a tip.
Then a buzzer sounded: the security latch released, and I pushed through a turnstile into the fusty darkness of the Bijou Film Forum.
It took me three passes before I could bring myself to open the unmarked black door on East 4th Street, the one an older man had entered after trying to cruise me near a rack of Citi Bikes.
Inside was a steep staircase, painted deep orange, leading down into a basement lobby.
There was a framed poster on the wall: As I descended to the lobby, the smell of cleaning fluid wafted up.
Downstairs, a well-groomed Latino man sat behind a ticket window where signs advertised “films from unknown studios/filmmakers” and hours of 8 p.m. No words were spoken; no words are needed in a place like this.
Ewalt had lived near Times Square in the wild, pre-Giuliani days of the late 1980s.
“There was literally women walking around in lingerie and fur coats,” he recalled, “and kung fu stores, and exploitation movies, and deflated blow up dolls that were kind of collapsing in all the windows.” There was also a group of all-male theaters occupying converted movie palaces — places like the 1,433-seat Adonis Theatre, which the legendary porn director Jack Deveau had immortalized in (1978), starring Jack Wranger and Mandingo.(“The ladies room’s right here,” says one character to Wranger.I did a circuit, sticking my head in a small locker room and nodding to the older man from the Citi Bikes.The toilet was painted more of that dark orange, but the stall graffiti was disappointingly beige (“KILL OBAMA”).As I moved through the darkness, men circled me like lions around a jittery gazelle, and I lept from space to space, eluding eye contact, which works as a kind of consent here: “Yes, take me now.” According to photographer Stephen Barker, who documented New York sex clubs during the early ’90s, the Bijou opened around that time.I first became intrigued by New York’s gay porn theaters after visiting the museum-like Bowery loft of artist and DJ Scott Ewalt.