Gather round, children, while I tell you a tale of long ago. The year was 1998, the month was July, and the only decent multiplex in San Francisco was the Kabuki. Sure, there was (and is) Opera Plaza, with its teeny tiny screens, but if you wanted more than three choices it was the (not yet Sundance, and often a bit downmarket) Kabuki.
And then on July 10, the 14-screen AMC 1000 Van Ness opened. It was a big day -- they passed out free small popcorns to all comers. My roommate Eric and I saw Small Soldiers, about which I remember nothing, but I do remember that free popcorn! I also remember walking home with Eric because the 5 had crapped out that day (some things never change) and as we passed Alamo Square, Eric mused "I think that's the nicest movie theater I've ever been in." Having moved to SF from small-town Indiana with Eric a year before, I agreed.
A lot can change in nineteen years! Eric now lives with his husband in the Mission, while I live near mine by the beach. As his husband works in the film industry, he sees movies at special screenings in even fancier theaters than our Toy Soldiers date. I, however, still go to 1000 Van Ness, though I rarely pay for a ticket, as SFist film critic Rain Jokinen is often kind enough to allow me to accompany her to press screenings. At press screenings, if you wondered, there is not free popcorn.
However, if a tipster to Hoodline is correct, there are free bedbugs.
"I know for a fact," tipster "Jon C" tells Hoodline, that he was bitten in the multiplex's theater number 2.
It's likely other people around me did not get bit, because they had long-sleeved clothing on or just that one chair was infested ...
I know I got it from the theater, because those are fresh bites. I am familiar with bedbugs; I do not have them in my home but I have gotten bitten at other locations. Evidence of the bites go away in about a half an hour unless you scratch them or you get bit in an area that has very tender skin. I counted 13 bites.
I reported it to the manager, who gave me a free movie pass for my trouble and apologized. He also took a photograph of my arm.
Hoodline found other bedbug reports on The Bedbug Registry, dating as far back as 2010. Here's a selection:
1/13/2015: I went there a year ago in 2014 and came out with welts on my arm. Thought it was random so went back on 1/6/15 and came back with welts along my collarbone and neck. They have cloth seats that look really worn. Never going back!!!!!
6/19/2012: This summer has been a big one for movies, saw Rock of Ages in theater 4 and came out with the "breakfast, lunch and dinner" triple bite around my ankle. This follows up being bitten there years ago during the Dark Knight. I'm pretty sure this place is infested.
1/05/2012: Went to this theater on Monday 1/2 to watch the Muppets. I came out with a cluster of 7 welts on the back of my right arm (I was wearing a short sleeve shirt)They really look a lot like bed bugs. I'm really freaked out. Going to call theater and go home and wash everything in my apt.
1/17/2011: My husband and I have been to this movie theater twice in the last 3 weeks - both times I was bitten on my legs and arms and left with several welts! We will not go there again, I am not sure what it is but they do have a serious problem there!
11/06/2011: Twice I've come out of this theater with welts. Never going again
When I told Rain I was working on this story and asked if she'd ever seen (or felt any bedbugs) at the theater, her initial response was "OH NOOOOOOOOOOO!," a reasonable one for anyone who has to go to an allegedly bedbug-infested place as part of her job. She's never seen any bedbugs there, she says, but suggested that it might be time for the venue to get a remodel, bugs or no bugs.
Barring a remodel, however, there's some evidence (if one can call a Yelp writeup "evidence") that management is aware of the alleged problem. In a review from February of 2016, Lou "Wolf" S., who says he's a longtime 1000 Van Ness staffer, claims that they did "pest control" following some bedbug complaints last year.
Been working here part time for about 5 years and it's a great work environment with a manager who helps me out a lot by working around my other job's schedule. it's a bargain going to the first show at almost half price regular ticket sales. Great location and budget friendly for older folks if you sneak in your sugar free cookies ^^. We just did pest control after a few bedbug complaints, so that problem should be over. Please do bring it to our attention immediately as it is a big problem in SF and elsewhere.
Well, Lou, if you're still working there, might be time for another treatment...or maybe we should send in the real Wolf.