Not long ago, I sat at a cocktail lounge in the East Village with a realtor friend as she extolled the virtues of Le Trapeze, a swinger’s club in midtown. The experience, she swore, had cured her of “body image issues.” Which I took to mean that everyone else there looked worse. It didn’t really sound like my scene, to be honest, until she mentioned the buffet.
Now this was interesting. The scent of sterno mingling with lustful ardor. Ziti. Potato skins. Prime rib …
When she added that proper swinger etiquette requires all attendees to wear tube socks, I was officially intrigued. The fanciful vision of naked swingers wandering around in tube socks while gnawing on buffalo wings captured my imagination.
I resolved to write a restaurant review of Le Trapeze, picturing myself describing in florid detail the hint of dill in the green beans, the spicy chipotle sauce, the subtle saffron aroma of the rice pilaf. Rushing home to check out the website, I learned that tube socks are required at all times (whether for reasons of hygiene or aesthetics was not made clear) and that the club doesn’t serve alcohol, though a variety of mixers are on hand and patrons may bring their own booze. Which is how I came to be dashing out for footwear and vodka.
My bag bulging with swingers club supplies, I enlisted a friend and headed over to 17 East 27th street on Saturday night. Club rules stipulate that single men are not allowed inside, so as we neared the door, a guy stepped over to us.
“Do you want any company?” he asked.
“No,” I replied as we were buzzed in. “We’re just here for the hot buffet.”
We each paid our $30, and then the cashier delivered some bad news: “No hot buffet tonight.” When I expressed dismay, the bastard just chuckled, counting my money. Crestfallen, we decided to go in anyway. After all, we’d bought the socks. The cashier then issued us locker-room passes with names on them. My friend was thrilled with her trashy new name, “Krystal.” I was stuck with Sara. (It didn’t seem like an occasion to insist on the proper Finnish spelling.)
The lounge itself was a low-rent libertine paradise. There was a sign proudly proclaiming that Le Trapeze was established in 1980, which may well have been the last time it was decorated. There were plastic lamps in the shape of nude female torsos that flashed green and pink, dusty fake plants, mirrored erotica and wall-to-wall raspberry colored carpet. Why anyone would elect to have carpet in a place like this is a mystery.
Turning the corner, we spied the dance area, which consisted of a smudged, brass stripper’s pole, a disco ball and a pasty-white naked couple (in a moment of transgression, they’d even doffed their tube socks) rolling around on a black vinyl couch. The sight shocked me. For some reason, I’d expected the actual sexual activity to be separated from general view, quarantined in what is referred to as the Mat Room. Discombobulated, Krystal and I headed for the bathroom. Big mistake. The bathroom is connected to the locker room, which is next to the Mat Room, all of which were separated only by a few scraggly curtains, giving us a sudden glimpse of some muscle-bound champ enthusiastically pounding away at an unseen partner.
So we scrambled off toward the dining area, a collection of tables and vinyl chairs. The empty hot buffet bins sat sadly in the corner, near a wooden counter festooned with red curtains and fake flowers. Above the counter someone had placed a sign: PLEASE COVER LOWER TORSO AT FOOD BAR. I guess that sounds more official than KEEP YOUR DICK OUT OF THE TATER TOTS.
It turned out, there were a few meager food offerings after all. A bespectacled bald man in saggy white underpants was piling his Styrofoam plate high with potato chips.
Perhaps all was not lost! I’ll just put on my tube socks, I thought, and review the food that is available. As “Krystal” loaded up her plate with everything on offer, I made way for the coffee, sidestepping the Decaffeinated Folgers Crystals for the hard stuff. Then I grabbed a plate of my own and sat down to eat my way though entire menu, scribbling the following assessment:
REVIEW OF THE BUFFET AT LE TRAPEZE SWINGER CLUB
TOSTITOS CORN CHIP: Arriba! The Mexican flavor transports me to Tijuana. Muy bueno!
RUFFLES POTATO CHIP: The hearty crunch and salty deliciousness is evocative of a lazy summer afternoon.
BBQ CHIP: The delicate BBQ flavor dances on my tongue like a Southern belle at a county fair.
OREO: This sublime medley of crispy chocolate cookie and soft vanilla filling is a delightful juxtaposition of textures and flavors.
WINT-O-GREEN LIFE SAVER: A refreshing, breath-enhancing conclusion to the meal. Minty; chalky.
As I was conducting my review, I noticed a guy on a nearby couch playing with his limp penis with one hand while eating Tostitos with the other. A sleepy nude woman next to him was gazing at the hard-core porn on the monitors like she was home watching a Law and Order rerun, munching on a bowl of Ruffles. Another woman was sitting with her legs splayed open, as if airing herself out.
None of them were wearing tube socks.
The club manager walked over. We probably looked a little down: slumped at our table, fully clothed, sipping warm Kool-Aid mixed with vodka. (KOOL-AID: Cloyingly sweet, artificial strawberry overtones, unpleasant aftertaste.)
Eyeing the white tube socks that I’d pulled up to my knees, he spoke in a professional tone: “Would you ladies like some fresh popped popcorn?”