Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Neon Valentine

Valentine's Day, thank God, comes only once a year.  Apart from those rare occasions when I am actually dating someone on this grim holiday, my own V.D. ritual usually involves a 40-ounce bottle and a good romance movie - you know, something like Sid and Nancy or Elevator to the Gallows.  This year, however, I thought I'd take it up a notch and tip my hat to those establishments whose dedication to romance is truly above and beyond.

XLent Vibes, at Eighth Avenue and 37th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

I refer, of course, to New York's Smuttiest - the sex shops, porno palaces - "adult book stores," if you prefer.  Sex shops are that proverbial 800-pound gorilla in any discussion of neon's place in the American landscape.  Though neon signs have advertised all forms of businesses and services, the popular psyche long ago seized on neon's association with unseemly businesses to such an extent that the signs eventually came to seem comically incongruous in front of more wholesome establishments like churches or funeral parlors.  

Adult DVD Depot, 725 Eighth Avenue (click on image for animation). (T. Rinaldi)

Once regarded as a pestilence, the relatively few sex shops that survive in New York now seem vulnerable in a world that has passed them by. The Guiliani-era cleanup and the internet porno trade have so effectively emasculated New York's sex shops that they have come to be viewed with a fond nostalgia.  European tourists pose for pictures before the small handful that survive on Eighth Avenue near Times Square.

Peep O-Rama, formerly on 42nd Street between Sixth and Seventh, now stuffed and mounted at the Times Square Visitor Center. (T. Rinaldi)

Like a caged specimen of some once-threatening endangered species, a genuine 42nd Street PEEP O-RAMA sign now hangs in the Times Square Visitors Center, preserved with the help of the Durst Organization and lovingly restored by Let There Be Neon.  Vinyl awnings and standard plexiglas box signs meanwhile have taken the place of neon at some of the few good old fashioned sex shops that survive.

The vanished Pussycat Theater, formerly at 49th and Broadway (top) has been re-enacted at the new Bowlmor Lanes on West 44th Street (bottom). (Time-Life; T. Rinaldi)

To be sure, the glory days of neon-bedecked smut parlors are behind us.  But neon's association with these businesses continues to season our long, tempestuous love affair with this most bewitching artificial light source.  There is something we like about neon's dark side.  Perhaps it is because it reminds us a little bit of ourselves, of our own human weaknesses and shortcomings.  Or maybe it just lends character to an otherwise inanimate street furnishing.

The Grande Dame of New York sex shop neon, at Gotham City Video, 687 Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

Whatever the case may be, these sexy holdouts add much needed relief to New York's increasingly sanitized streetscapes. Long may you run, you naked neon ladies!  Hallmark holidays may come and go, but every day is Valentine's Day where neon hearts glow.

Show World Center, 669 Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

The one and only Playpen was housed in the former Ideal Theatre on Eighth Avenue and West 44th Street. The historic movie house was razed around 2007 to make way for the Intercontinental Hotel, with Shake Shack on the ground floor.  (T. Rinaldi)

A name so nice they gave it to it twice.  Sixth Avenue at 24th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Discount DVD Video, West 40th Street just off of Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

An exciting, scintillating representation of the DVD logo at Eighth Avenue and West 47th Street.  Sadly this sign has gone dark with the eviction of the building's tenants (including the Collins Bar) to make way for an apparent redevelopment scheme. (T. Rinaldi)

Show World Center, 669 Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

The Erotica, on Eighth Avenue at West 27th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Mixed Emotions Video, downstairs from Bare Elegance Gentlemen's Club & Lounge, at 216 West 50th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Xcellent DVD, 515 Sixth Avenue (below 14th Street).  Neon in channel letters over a rather saucy acrylic panel sign, evoking older signs at the Carnegie Deli or the M&G Diner. (T. Rinaldi)

An old standby, on Eighth Ave. at West 38th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Formerly at Eighth Ave. and West 47th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

NY VIP Toys, 610 Eighth Ave.  (T. Rinaldi)

Virhan's Video, 592 Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

XLent Vibes, Eighth Ave. at 37th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Virhan's Video, 592 Eighth Ave. (T. Rinaldi)

The Erotica, Eighth Avenue at 27th Street.  Alas, sex shops too have moved toward plexiglas signs and vinyl awnings in recent years.  (T. Rinaldi)


• Welcome news that the Jade Mountain signs have been preserved and are in storage, a bit worse for wear, awaiting restoration.  More on this in a forthcoming blog post.

• A few new additions to the database at nyneon.org, including:

  - Potter's Men's Shop, on Castle Hill Ave. in the Bronx
  - Kramer's Pharmacy, St. Anne's Ave., Mott Haven, Bronx
  - Fuller Drug Store, Third Ave., also in the south Bronx

1 comment:

  1. "Long may you run, you naked neon ladies." (Hallelujah, Amen!)