Daniel Maurer 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: Daniel Maurer As I descended to the lobby, the smell of cleaning fluid wafted up. No words were spoken; no words are needed in a place like this.
Then a buzzer sounded: Daniel Maurer After my eyes adjusted, I noticed a long empty bar, opening out over a dark room where a handful of men wandered around looking lost.
Telenovelas playing on a small-screen tv. Daniel Maurer The modest screening room contained about seats. I did a circuit, sticking my head in a small locker room and nodding to the older man from the Citi Bikes. 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: Ewalt had lived near Times Square in the wild, pre-Giuliani days of the late s.
By the time Ewalt came along, these Times Square theaters were already pretty run down — mold on the walls, water in the basement — but they retained a certain voyeuristic appeal, and men came to trawl for sex, watch drag queens like Chi Chi LaRue, or, like Ewalt himself, revel in the subversive thrill of it all. Daniel Maurer Back at the Bijou, I clocked the age and builds of the other men: As I did a lap through the corridor that hugs the cinema in a U-shape, they stepped to the doorways of dark, cell-like booths outfitted with wooden benches.
They silently invited me in by flashing their cocks. One man began to trail me, so I slipped into the cinema and sat down to watch Ms. Latifah contemplate suicide on the ledge of a hotel.
Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones even took a turn at the theater in , launching a music club that seems to have lasted a red hot second. Since its halcyon days, in other words, the black door has hidden queers and iconoclasts, letting them do whatever they want, street-level society be damned.
As I pushed through the turnstile to exit the theater, the man at the box office banged on his glass window. It was the first thing anybody had said to me at the Bijou Film Forum, and I loved it.