Bintel Blog

New York's 'Heymishe' King of Swing

By Gabrielle Birkner

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Donna Ferrato
‘A Wild Coed Shvitz: Larry Levenson, an owner of the notorious New York sex club Plato’s Retreat, with his longtime girlfriend, Mary.

Ever since the Loehmann’s opened its doors there in 2007, the basement of the Ansonia apartment tower on Manhattan’s Upper West Side has become a destination for bargain hunters. A generation ago, the building’s basement was destination of another sort: It housed the wildly popular heterosexual sex club Plato’s Retreat, over which New York’s “King of Swing” Larry Levenson — the Bronx-reared son of a kosher butcher — presided.

A new documentary, “American Swing,” takes viewers inside Levenson’s orgiastic palace — home to an Olympic-size swimming pool, hot tubs, an almost-anything-goes “mattress room” and private stalls for the club’s more discreet swingers. The film documents the synchronized rise and fall of the storied club, shuttered in 1985 and its charismatic owner. Levenson is pictured above with his longtime girlfriend, Mary.

“American Swing” is peppered with Jewish references: There are multiple comparisons of the club scene to a raucous bar mitzvah — filmmaker Mathew Kaufman, in an interview with the Forward, referred to in as a “wild, coed shvitz” — and descriptions of swingers discussing Hebrew school carpool. On camera, Howard Smith, the journalist who wrote the first story about Plato’s Retreat back in 1975, called Levenson, who died in 1999, “heymishe.”

Kaufman, together with Jon Hart — a freelance journalist and filmmaker who wrote about Levenson in The New York Times — made the unrated film, with funding billionaire businessman Mark Cuban. “American Swing,” now playing at the Quad Cinema in New York, opens at Sunset 5 in West Hollywood on Friday.


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