Yesterday’s posting of a TV commercial advertising the 70s swingers club ‘Plato’s Retreat’ has provoked a good deal of controversy in the…oh, I can’t lie. It provoked no controversy whatsoever. And so I will double down with more on the infamous sex club. Above is a 1985 local New York City news channel report on the closing of the club, as ordered by then Mayor Ed Koch. The club’s owner, Larry Levinson, is interviewed, spitting vituperation into the mic and vowing to fight the closing of his club (which was predicated on the presence of prostitutes which Levinson fervently denied) in the courts.
Who was this shlub, Larry Levinson? In 1976 he was a former fast-food manager who was selling ice cream at Coney Island and was introduced to the swinging lifestyle by a woman he met at a bar. After organizing swinging parties himself for a time, he opened a club “for swingers” in 1977, in the basement of the Kenmore Hotel on East 23rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenue (145 E 23rd St), and called it “Plato’s Retreat.” The same year, he moved it to the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, an early 20th-century building on 2109 Broadway between West 73rd and West 74th Streets on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The hotel used to house the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse where singer Bette Midler, often accompanied by Barry Manilow on a baby grand piano, first became a national figure.
Eventually the Feds got involved and, after the closing of the club, brought Levinson up on tax evasion charges. When asked why he didn’t have his financial books on the premises of the club, Levinson replied “Where would I have kept them–the swimming pool?” He wound up doing eight years on the tax wrap and wound up in Florida (where people who don’t know where else to go tend to wind up) driving a cab. A heart attack killed him in 1999. Can it be said that Levinson’s was a ‘life well led’? On what planet??? He was a sleaze. His club was a sewage pit. His contribution to our culture was a meaningless disgrace.
So then why am I writing about him twenty-plus years after his ignoble exit? For that matter, why are you reading what I’m writing?