The second-story amphitheater of the Xchange swingers club in Hollywood was as busy as it was going to get just past 3 a.m. on a recent Sunday. The amphitheater is the club's inner sanctum, a high-ceilinged room of subdued light and faux-Roman décor.
There weren't enough people for an all-out orgy but four couples were having sex on the couches and beds. While the couples (at least the men) displayed steady curiosity about one another, they didn't mix or try anything particularly kinky.
Given the low-key goings-on this night, the Xchange, a.k.a. Hollywood Catering, hardly seems the neighborhood plague described in recent newspaper accounts. The club, located at 1308 S. Federal Highway, gained notoriety in November when a few officious Hollywooders urged city commissioners to put an end to the sinful acts that were alleged to go on there. Then, in early December, Hollywood police chief James Scarberry found himself in the awkward position of having to explain why some off-duty officers provided parking-lot security for the club.
Swing clubs are common in South Florida; at least four others are located in Broward County. But you'd never guess that after reading the eleven stories and two columns published by the Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel about Hollywood Catering in recent weeks. "Hollywood neighbors aghast" read a drop head atop one front-page Herald story. Fred Grimm, the newspaper's Broward columnist, wagged a reproachful finger at Hollywood's finest under the headline "Cops, Here's a Clue: Sex." Sun-Sentinel columnist Rekha Basu waxed particularly priggish on December 11, concluding, "On the streets, customers pay pimps or prostitutes. In a sex club, they pay the owner."
On December 10, the city put the kibosh on an occupational-license request by Hollywood Catering, and city manager Sam Finz has made it known he'd prefer the club move elsewhere. Forgotten, it seems, is the cautionary tale of the 1999 raids by Broward sheriff's deputies on two swing clubs, Trapeze II and Athena's Forum. About 50 people were charged with lewdness, including two Broward teachers, but in July 2000, embarrassed prosecutors dropped the charges after several judges ruled that no law had been broken.
No police would raid the Hollywood club this particular Sunday. Two "host couples" reclined in the club's foyer, just itching to give newbies a tour if they agreed to pay the $50 membership fee. The club's owner, Richard Wilson, dressed in a dark suit that nicely set off his shock of white hair, also welcomed certain neophytes. In one case, as if to apologize for the dearth of guests that night, Wilson issued a rain check for one-time free admission to the club, which is open only on Fridays and Saturdays.
(There's normally a $50-per-couple admittance charge in addition to membership. Single women get in free; single men aren't allowed, presumably to curb the predaciousness that attends lopsided men-to-women ratios.)
Except for the upstairs, Xchange has the look of a trendy nightclub. The 5000-square-foot club is cavernous and seemed particularly more so this night because no one was on the dance floor. Only three couples were visible in the 300-seat ballroom. Three women and two men clustered beside the bar in the adjoining room, but they didn't welcome other couples. The club is BYOB, and Corrie, an all-smiles bartender wearing pink pants, a funky droopy belt, and a black top, handed guests their bottles as needed.
In the Silver Room, a tranquil enclave just off the dance floor, erotic films flickered on several soundless televisions. A woman diddled herself on one screen. Wilson sank back into one of the room's plush red sofas. He had tried to allay visitors' anxieties earlier in the week with a message on the club's Website: "[T]here is no risk of arrest of our members and guests, nor will there be any police raids. We noticed this week that some individuals in chat rooms were telling everyone who would listen that we were going to be raided this past Friday night. Some brave couples joined us Friday night, a fun-filled night, and there were no raids. Rest assured those same rumor-mongers will certainly be back in the chat rooms again this week."
"Before all this happened we were getting 100, 130 people a night," he lamented from the sofa. "Then this hit the papers, and everybody disappeared. Know how many we got last Saturday? Four." Wilson held up four bony fingers. There appeared to be fewer than 20 people in the club this night. It will be a long climb to three-digit attendance.
The locker room on the ground floor is the portal to the amphitheater. With showers and 200 television-size lockers, it's similar to facilities at upscale mega-health clubs. Melissa, a 23-year-old reading a hefty tome titled Asimov's Chronology of the World, was overseeing the changing room and issuing keys and robes. She used to be a waitress, she said, and guys hit on her routinely every shift. That hasn't happened here, she asserted. She has a boyfriend but isn't into the "lifestyle," as swingers refer to the activities upstairs.
The steps up to the amphitheater lead first to eight semiprivate chambers with full-size beds and glass doors. Just past these, the room widens for the orgy bed, which is actually four king-size and four queen-size beds pushed together. A glow emanates from the brilliant white sheets. Padded leather sofas are scattered throughout the amphitheater, which is about the size of a McDonald's restaurant. Beside the bed is a gallery of sorts in which three rows of sofas are arranged in an upward incline á la arena seating.
One couple occupied the summit of the arena couches and spent a goodly amount of time on mutual oral sex. While on the receiving end, the man frequently craned his neck, gazing around like a gopher. Behind them, another couple availed themselves of a contraption that's half child's swing and half gynecological table.
A sole couple (let's call them Jack and Diane) was atop the orgy bed, engaged in restrained coitus. Diane's face was obscured by a wild mane of brown hair. Jack had short hair, a cropped beard, and a sizable gut, though he appeared to be youngish, perhaps early 30s. He was behind her, sometimes bending over her, other times bolt upright on his knees scanning the amphitheater. Jack chewed gum slowly.
New Age-type music softly played, and the sound of moans from the other couples waxed and waned. Decidedly unsexy was the crackling of plastic that underlies the sheets of the orgy bed. Occasionally Jack slapped Diane's backside, and the whack echoed through the room.
At one point, Jack and Diane took a break from the big bed and left the amphitheater for a few minutes. Upon their return they noticed the couple on the swing. "Hey, he's just the right height for that," proclaimed Jack, a tall man who probably had less success with the gadget.
Near closing time, the couples from upstairs congregated in the locker room. There was a certain camaraderie in the air, a kind of post-game endorphin high. Jack and Diane have been married a year, he said. "I just kind of brought up the subject of going to a swing club, and she didn't protest," he explained while seated on a wooden bench. They've been visiting the club for months and as yet haven't had sex with others, but he offered, "I like to watch other people having sex. I guess they watch us too."
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