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Porn to be mild! Come for the smut, but stay for the classics

Brooklyn Daily

At the last adult movie theater in Brooklyn, you’ll come for the porn, but you’ll stay for the classics.

Sure, Midwood’s Cinema Kings Highway makes its bones as the borough’s last smut houses, but insiders know that if they head upstairs, they’ll broaden their choices from merely “gay” or “straight” to include some of the 20th century’s finest films.

The other night, the classics room at the moviehouse between E. Seventh and E. Eighth streets was showing “Papillon,” the Oscar-nominated Steve McQueen classic from 1973. Another time, customers taking a break from “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” got a chance to watch the porn version’s Steven Spielberg-directed inspiration.

The man working the ticket booth, who did not wish to be named, said the place draws a good mix of both pornophiles and old-fashioned cinema-freaks.

“Everybody has a different choice. Some like the porno and some like the regular movies,” he said.

The Triple-X Cinema Kings was built as the Jewel Theater in 1937, and was once a beautiful building with Art Deco features. Local legend holds that the Jewel was where a young Woody Allen nourished his talent on a steady diet of foreign films. But a fire ravaged the joint in the 1960s and the owners changed it into the type of theater where you were more likely to see “Muffy the Vampire Layer” than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Said another way, the Cinema Kings would sooner show “Good Will Humping” than “Good Will Hunting.”

But now the moviehouse shows the pornography in two 15-seat theaters downstairs, while real cinemaphiles head to the 200-seat theater upstairs to watch the classics.

And that’s the key to keeping this operation running in a residential area, as Giuliani-era rules don’t classify businesses as adult establishments unless at least 60 percent of the space is set aside for “legitimate” offerings.

Such rules helped speed the decline of porno theaters, which of course, were once a staple of the New York streetscape. The ubiquity of free pornography on the Internet also helped.

At Cinema Kings, tickets are $12 and theater-hopping is permitted: patrons are free to roam from one screen to the next or to one of the dozens of private viewing booths, where the theater shows even more pornography on small, 1980s television sets. There is no popcorn nor concessions, but there is free coffee.

There is even a woman’s bathroom — though it is unclear if it has, or ever will be, used by a woman. The theater is typically filled entirely by men, most of whom appeared to be past retirement age.

The place is also a gay cruising spot, according to many websites — though not necessarily a top-notch one.

“The theater itself is gorgeous,” wrote a commentator on the cruising site, ListingsForSex. “Too bad the patrons aren’t.”

Despite the variety of offerings available at the historic theater, residents and workers of the mostly Orthodox Jewish area around the theater said they resented its presence in the neighborhood.

“For more than 35 years, nobody can do anything [about the theater],” said Mike Cohen, the manager of the Rose Bakery down the street. “You don’t know the disgusting things they do in there.”

Whatever they’re doing, they are doing it early: the joint opens at 10 am, seven days a week.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/from_where_isit.

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Reva Cooper from Park Slope says:
The Jewel lives again! In the 1960's I used to go with friends to that place every Friday night, seeing the now-classics of foreign film as they were coming out. It is a magical memory, as it opened up a whole new world of film to me. The place was a total dive, but that was part of its charm. The displays were never changed, we joked that if you put a quarter in the candy machine a rat would come out, the ticket-seller looked like a fortune teller, the ushers looked like House On Haunted Hill, and the smell of pot was very strong. One night a piece of the ceiling fell down, but luckily it was only over the balcony, where no one was sitting. Nevertheless they stopped the film to clean up. I used to wonder who the rest of the audience was, and finally decided it was the high school kids who wanted to smoke, figuring their parents would never look for them in an art house. Once in awhile they had a porn program, and we were always disappointed, we wanted to see the "real" thing. I can't believe it's still going!
Dec. 17, 2011, 1:38 pm

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