Keep Them Coming: The Strand Theater on Troost

Illustration by Shelby Phelps

It feels like my duty to visit anything related to erotic art and human sexuality in this city. Not every place has a shiny veneer, and from simply driving by The Strand Theater on Troost, I knew that some of the paint might be chipped in this long-running cinema before ever stepping inside. That wasn’t going to stop me, but I needed intel first.

“What is The Strand like?” I asked a sex-positive friend who’s been a few times.

He described a place that was seedy enough to pique my interest, yet not scare me away from going. He described a debaucherous time warp I wanted to experience firsthand. I’ll try almost anything twice. He agreed to escort me for my first foray to The Strand, so long as I call him My Date for the purpose of this story.

Walking into The Strand felt like I was challenging myself to do something extreme to get a thrill. As someone who had a conservative upbringing, I’ve never had the gumption to walk into the theater portion of an adult store. I went to college at Mizzou, but I skipped the back rooms of the Olde Un Theater, favoring the dildo section out front.

The gentleman behind the counter, Michael, asked if we were first-timers after looking us up and down a few times. I confirmed I was while he checked my ID. He asked if we wanted to look around or go into the theater, but we opted to start off easy by browsing around the front room. Michael was amiable enough; he just seemed surprised I was there.

The nostalgia of the ‘90s video store I worked in during high school hit me quickly as I turned the corner and saw the slats on the walls and metal racks. The last update this section had was probably when they switched the inventory from VHS to DVD.

There were one to two pornos of nearly every genre I could have imagined. A few classics were in there from some ‘00s porn stars.

“Hey, did you ever watch stuff with Samantha Ryan back in the day?” I asked My Date.

“Hmmm, oh yeah, I remember her! She was pretty popular there for a while,” he recalled.

“I had that wild weekend with her in Hollywood a few years ago where she taught my classmates how to spank using my butt and then we smoked weed at Woody Harrelson’s brother’s house a couple days later.”

He cackled and said, “I forgot you have some wild stories.”

After assessing the rental situation, I scanned over the very basic sex toy selection in one corner. The section felt like an afterthought to this sex toy aficionado. There are places to get good sex toys in town. This is not one of them.

As we popped out and looked back and forth between the back of the place—which has the theaters and arcades—and the counter, Michael reminded us there’s a fee to go in the theater.

“I close at 9 (it’s 8:15), so I’ll give you a deal—$10,” he said.

I handed it over. In exchange, he handed me a tiny red ticket, like the kind you get at a festival, and said, “Enjoy.”

We headed to the lower theater first. Heterosexual porn was projected on the screen of the small theater, and once my eyes adjusted, I could see men with hats dotting the rows.

My Date and I chose a spot in the back row where we could talk. I was a bit apprehensive to sit, admittedly, but I sat down on the edge of a seat and began to interview My Date about his past experiences at the theater.

One visit was with a girlfriend, and one was with a girl he was fooling around with. My Date is a kinky guy, and I was not surprised that his visits here involved some hands, some mouths, and some strangers doing some things. After talking a while, I was slightly horny, finally.

By then, I felt the strangers in the room had taken notice of us—of me—and some were getting restless and starting to hover at the back of the room. “Come on, let’s go upstairs,” My Date said, leading us out to a staircase.

Here comes the gay porn! Smaller theater, more men in that one for the night. I have no problem watching gay porn, but we didn’t stay long—I think I was kinda killing the vibe.

Last stop—the arcades! 20-something Kristen was naive enough to think that places along I-70 that advertised “arcades” had pinball machines. Sex Coach Kristen knows that it means its a booth with a chair, a video screen, and a money slot.

These booths are simple wooden stalls with no doors thanks to state law. You walk around a half wall and there’s your semi-private seat. I fed the machine a dollar, and My Date rolled through the selections.

Again, there was a wide range of proclivities to choose from. As we scrolled, I heard footsteps outside our booth. A man who’d been eyeing us upstairs peaked in.

Whether he was hoping for a show or he was part of the KCPD vice squad hoping to catch a couple in a sex act, he was sorely disappointed. We just scrolled until our time expired. My Date and I were lovers once upon a time, and while I was a little horny for him at this point, exhibitionism is only hot for me when I don’t fear getting arrested or being interrupted with non-consensual touch. Now that’s a vibe killer!

Talking to Michael again was my last stop. He said he’s 68 years old, and has been a regular since he was 18. Having worked at The Strand for the last 20 years, he said it’s just not like it used to be.

Between the male and female strippers, doors on the arcade booths, and glory holes (which may or may not have been advertised in The Pitch back in the day), this place was essentially HBO’s The Deuce in its heyday.

“Sometimes people come from out of town like Florida and they are shocked there’s no doors on the arcades,” Michael told me.

“Do you get many women in here?” I asked. With a slight chuckle, Michael replied, “No, no not really.” He said they go to Bazooka’s, a strip club owned by the same people as The Strand.

Between the Missouri State Legislature slowly chipping away at latitudes like privacy in the name of ending sex work and “saving peoples’ souls” since the ‘80s, and the lack of updates by the owner, this place was seriously outdated. It did little to arouse my lady boner on its own. It feels like the owners have given up.

I get the need to make a return on your investment, and using up capital for renovations is hard to justify when the future is uncertain.

“We won’t be around much longer. Troost redevelopment plans don’t include us,” Michael pointed out. I got the sense that he saw an impending end to an era of his life.

Councilman Eric Bunch confirmed that nothing specific has been slated for the structure, and no sales appear to be pending. Troost is changing, and part of me really hopes that The Strand can revamp itself and survive. As long as there are men who grew up consuming porn in analog ways, places like this will remain, even if they are a bit shabby.

You can find Kristen

@OpenTheDoorsKC on Twitter or Check out her podcast Keep Them Coming.

Categories: Culture