Another tidbit from the Long-Lost Archives: a couple of vintage photos from Plato’s Retreat, the ne plus ultra of swingers’ clubs in the 1970s.
Though the conventional wisdom holds swinging to be an outre form of sexual expression from the ’70s, in the course of my book research it became clear that swinging was actually quite a tame enterprise. First, swinging (or “Westport Roulette,” one of my favorite euphemisms I found in a 1974 swingers’ handbook in the New York Public Library) was exclusively a heterosexual pastime, with the exception of temporary bisexuality on the part of the female swinger. Second, the majority of swingers were married couples, not singles–in fact, single men were never allowed into swingers’ clubs, but single women were always in short supply. Third, most swingers were suburban, middle class white couples. In many cases, the only radical thing about swingers was the fact that they swung. And they may have smoked a little “grass” when the mood struck.
Plato’s Retreat was the epicenter of the lifestyle in New York. Plato’s was located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel on 74th and Broadway, in the space previously occupied by the fabulously gay Continental Baths until 1975. Plato’s proprietor, Larry Levenson, didn’t have the smoking-jacketed panache of Hugh Hefner or the appetite for utter sleaze like Screw publisher Al Goldstein. But Levenson genuinely loved swinging, and hoped that Plato’s would let swingin’ gals meet swingin’ guys. He thought that would be “dynamite,” according to a contemporary Washington Post article.
I haven’t yet seen the new documentary “American Swing,” which looks at the swinging phenomenon and Plato’s Retreat, but I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, the film’s distributor Magnolia Pictures unearthed these rare images of Larry Levenson (with wife Mary) and the famous sign posted at the entrance of Plato’s. As I was researching my book, it was rather difficult to find factual accounts of Plato’s that weren’t sensationalized or dismissive of the lifestyle; locating images of Plato’s was even more difficult.
Even more exciting, the photo of the zebra-print mattress room was taken by Annie Sprinkle, the legendary 1970s porn star, “post-porn” performance artist and holder of a doctorate in human sexuality. She got her cinematic start in amateur stag reels in New York, and clearly spent some time at Plato’s. I was ecstatic to come across these images!