New York, New fucking York. It’s a city that’s fascinated me for many years. My intense interest in the city began when I first saw what is now one of my favourite movies: Taxi Driver. A masterpiece of a movie that acts as a time capsule into the bygone days when the pleasure palace NYC was a bastion of street whores and sleaze.
A few years ago, I had the chance to visit New York on holiday. Of course, anybody who’s been can imagine my disappointment. Much like London’s once thriving Red Light District of Soho, the former pleasure palace of NYC is (almost) long gone and replaced by widespread gentrification.
Although the widespread sleaze is long gone and Times Square has a “Disney Makeover”, I was lucky enough to make my own tour of bygone relics that still survive from the era of pleasure palace in NYC. I used a great article by Untapped Cities to seek out the surviving sleazy and gritty remnants of New York’s bygone days.
From abandoned brothels and love hotels to former porn cinemas featured in Taxi Driver, I enjoyed my self-guided city tour. But, to my dear readers, I wanted to share the images of an aesthetic I truly adore. The street whores and sleaze of New York in the 70s and 80s. In this article, I’m going to share my favourite images from the era.
The Era of Pleasure Palace NYC
Ask an average New Yorker their thoughts on Times Square today and they’ll probably tell you that they try to avoid it at all costs. The same thing would have been said back in the 1970s, but the reasons for this avoidance were vastly different. Once a bustling hub of theatre in New York back in the 20s and 30s, Times Square was the former haunt of icons from Charlie Chaplin to Fred Astaire. But by the latter period, the Great Depression took a serious toll on the area.
Theatres were soon replaced by saloons, brothels, burlesque halls, and dime houses. With this transformation came a reputation of danger and sleaze. This would only explode in the later decades as these early sex institutions revolutionized into go-go bars, sex stores, peep shows, and porn theatres. All of this was combined with street whores, pimps, and drug dealers.
Movies like Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver captured the danger, sleaze, and lawlessness of Times Square in the 60s and 70s. Their depictions were by no means sensational. By the mid 80s, the area broke a crime record when it recorded 2,300 in one year. Out of these crimes, over 460 were classed as serious felonies such as murder and rape.
“I kind of miss the old sleazy Times Square, in a way. And yet I don’t mind not being accosted by all sorts of strange people.”– Malachy McCourt
The infamous era of Times Square came to an end in the 1990s when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led a ‘crusade’ to clean up the area. Police presence was bolstered, porn cinemas shit down, and so-called ‘undesirables’ pushed out of the area. The sex institutions were replaced with tourist attractions and today, Times Square is one of the city’s main attractions.
The CBGB Club
On a dirty staircase in New York’s CBGB, two young women pose for a photo backstage, 1977. One wears a torn vest that reads ‘Beat Me, Bite Me, Whip, Fuck Me’ and the other girl with her legs spread is topless under an unbuttoned leather jacket. (Photo credit: Allan Tannenbaum / Getty Images.)
Previously a dive bar frequented by bikers, CBGB stood for Country, BlueGrass, and Blues and was an iconic music club of the era. It played host to music icons from the Ramones to Blondie. It was closed in 2006 after a rent dispute. Patti Smith held a final concert here before it shut down.
A MILF Tumblr on NYC Streets
Times Square back in the day was home to an array of prostitutes amongst the thousands of working girls. In this candid shot captured by Leland Bobbe, three middle-aged women form a MILF Tumblr on the streets of New York City. Passers-by largely ignore them, such sights of groups of hookers was a common one.
Sex Store in Times Square
Across the blocks around Times Square, adult video stores, sex shops, and peepshows were nestled between mainstream cinemas and theatres. Inside the ‘peepes’ as they were called, horny clientele would enter a private booth and pay a quarter to watch a porno. But there was also a far more fruity option.
Peep Show Pleasure-Palace Club in New York City
These peep shows were a very popular pastime in the sleazy era of Times Square. They would often feature a nude model on a revolving stage. She would either be nude and performing a sex act on herself or with a sexual partner who would fuck her for the audience. In another covert shot captured by Leland Bobbe, this scene was captured inside a peep show during the era.
Negotiations Outside a Pleasure Palace in New York
Negotiationsbetween Johns and Hooers on the street duringdaylight hours were not an uncommon sight. This guy is conversing with a working girl likely aligned with the so-called ‘House of Pradise’ brothel and sex club behind her. The area was teeming with such cathouses back in the day.
These Times Square brothels were often advertised by sleazy salesmen and salewomen on the streets by dishing out handbilsl with the details off the brothel on it. They set up was largely the same, you would take the handbill and walk up to wherever the brothel was located.
Inside, the system worked in classic fashion. The John would take a seat and a parade of scantily clad women would line up in front of him. After some erotic poses and ”fuck me looks”, the guy would choose his hooker and go into a private room with the girl. Luckily for both parties, the escorts would often wear an outfit resembling a ”onesie” that was very simple to strip out of.
In the room, fitted with a sink and paper towels similar to modern brothels in Amsterdam and Germany, was where the negotiations took place. The girl would assert what exactly the guy wanted and if he had any kinks before telling him the price. Prices for average sex in the 70s and 80s were around $10 for a standard fuck and $15 for a suck and fuck, or half and half as it was known then.
Prostitute on an NYPD Car
A prostitute with her breasts protruding through a mesh top leans playfully on an NYPD squad car on 42nd Street Times Square in 1980. A photo captured by the iconic Jean-Pierre Laffont who captured the darkest and fascinating aspects in this era of American history.
At the height of Times Square’s sleaziest era, there was estimated to be around 40,000 prostitutes at work on the streets. Naturally, the NYPD were unable to keep up with the crimewave across the area. Photos like this demonstrate them playing a friendly game of cat and mouse Times Square prostitutes.
Street Preacher Outside a Porn Cinema
With thousands of so-called ‘undesirables’ stalking the streets of Times Square, it was a prime place for street preachers who were keen on making an attempt to save them. In this late-1970s image, we see a street preacher with a sandwich board message passing a porn cinema advertising the 1978 porn movie of ‘The Senators Daughter.’
The Senators Daughter is a retro porn movie featuring John Holmes and Leslie Bovee. The storyline of this vintage porn movie was classic. It was about a secret service agent who, after a car accident, undergoes an experimental operation and is fitted with bionic limbs and a 12-inch bionic cock. He is then tasked with tracking down a kidnapped senator’s teenage daughter. You rest of the gripping story you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Burlesque Show Palace NYC
Popular in the early days of Times Square, the Burlesque scene continued to perervere through the decades. Although a lot smaller than their heyday, the jewel in the crown of the survivng bulresque clubs was arguably ‘Follies Burlesque’. The difference between the old and new burlesque was that the dancers were now fully nude.
The Follies club was a burlesque show palace of NYC and consisted of a large stage made from wooden floorboards. It was surrounded by standard cinema seats for horny clientele to relax and take in the show of nude women dancing exotically in front of them.
Hooker and John Outside Sleaze Palace NYC
By the start of the 1970s, NYPD had made a futile attempt to clean up Times Square for domestic tourists. They gathered all street whores onto East 47th Street. On an average day, the street boasted over two hundred prostitutes all vying for trade from passing clients.
According to witness reports at the time, many of the hookers on Times Square would packhouse bricks into their handbags for self-defence. They also were not afraid to use them on threats to themselves or people who dissed them, as this unfortunate non-working girl found out when she announced that she had better legs than the hookers on the street.
Farewell, Pleasure Palace NYC
Aside from the horrific crimewave that tore through the city through these decades, a whore like myself can’t help but look back on this era of New York with a hint of nostalgia. These photographs are truly an incredible insight into a bygone era of American sexual history.
Today, the sleaze of the brothels, peep shows, sex stores, strip clubs, and street whores have been replaced by the sleaze of McDonald’s, the Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Burger King, and the Disney Store. The panhandlers and scammers have been replaced by socially acceptable ones in the form of overpriced photo opportunities, card sharks, and the like.
Although Times Square does retain some remnants of its sleazy past, they are indeed an endangered species. In 2018, the city lost a surviving icon in the form of the Show World Center. Known as ”The McDonald’s of Sex”, it was run in 1977 by Richard Basciano who lived in a penthouse above his enormous store like a porn king over a seedy castle. There plans to turn it into office space.
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To see an active remnant of this era of NYC, then check out the Playpen. Home to the last peep show in Times Square and a chance to experience a watered-down slice of the sleaze that once defined this wild place. See it while you still can. Farewell, pleasure palace NYC. You’ll forever be missed.