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Can You Still Live the Swingers Lifestyle in LA?

It's been 20 years since the movie Swingers perfectly encapsulated a very specific time and place in Los Angeles

The Doug Liman film Swingers was released in 1996, introducing movie audiences to the world of the struggling Los Angeles actor, desperately poor yet somehow making rent, possessing nothing, but projecting everything. It was Entourage without the mansions, sexist, but in an innocent and fun mid-nineties kind of way. And absolutely nothing took place west of Vine Street.


For those not in the know (under 30), Swingers is the story of Mike (played by Jon Favreau), a New York City transplant wallowing in the agony of a traumatic breakup while living in LA as a struggling comedian/actor. His friend Trent (Vince Vaughn) is the yin to Mike's insecure yang, oozing charisma with bravado to spare. The two friends, with a collection of other "swingers," roam mid-nineties Los Angeles like a then-modern-day Rat Pack, their style and attitudes firmly rooted in the mid-20th century. Their nights are spent in old school LA haunts, drowned in cigarette smoke and prowling for phone numbers.

It's hard to believe 20 years has already passed since the film's release, but one look at the baby faces of Favreau (Iron Man director and Chef star) and Vaughn (of The Wedding Crashers and True Detective season two) confirms two long decades have indeed gone by. And a lot has changed since 1996. "Sinatra Night" at Lava Lounge is a thing of the past, the Club is no longer a ubiquitous car theft deterrent, and voicemail allows the option to rerecord embarrassing phone messages.

But for all the changes in the past 20 years, much of the LA shown in Swingers remains the same. That raises the question: how well could Mike, Trent, and the rest of the gang navigate 2016 Los Angeles? Are they still money? Do they know it?

Nightlife (Swinging and post-swinging activities)

In 2016, being a Swinger is not only still possible, but with the boom of craft cocktail joints all over town, it's probably easier than ever to grab a whiskey and mingle under dim bar lights. The Edison, Clifton's, and Now Boarding all specialize in paying homage to a bygone era while dispensing elaborate liquors. Pop some Dean Martin on the jukebox and have a go (consensually) flirting with all the "beautiful babies."

Sometimes the night will take our Swingers out of the bar and into an industry party in the Hollywood Hills. There's no shortage of partying going on in the hills these days, though now it's probably a crazy blingy Yotta gathering at a Danny Fitzgerald-owned megamansion. The parties themselves might be a bit different than in '96. There will be the networking, of course, but also bikini babes, a German millionaire spouting obscure lifecoaching mantras, and, for some reason, a caged live lion. These are simply the times we live in.

Elayne Roberts still plays the Dresden five nights a week with her husband Marty
Abby / Creative Commons

After the party in the hills is declared "dead anyways," Mike and his friends can always grab a booth at the Dresden for some live music. Marty and Elayne, the lounge singers from the film, still play there every Tuesday through Saturday as they have for the past 35 years.

The 101 Coffee Shop remains the perfect place to tell friends they're "all growns up"
Loren Javier / Creative Commons

When it's time to soak up all that booze with some diner food, the 101 Coffee Shop is still the go-to spot to let out your inner film geek over pancakes and coffee. Though they won't let customers chain smoke while discussing Scorsese movies anymore, Mike might be able to get away with a discreet vape or two.

Transportation

When it comes to getting to the party each night, Mike and his friends need to adapt to 2016 Los Angeles. Their MO back then was driving five separate cars to each nightlife destination, and that's just embarrassing. Car culture is so 1996, fellas! Split a Lyft five ways and drink as many Scotches as you want.

Also, let's face facts: they're unemployed actors. If Swingers took place in 2016, they'd all drive for Lyft on weekdays.

Downtime (when you're not swinging)

Life can't be all Count Basie and Old Fashioneds. When all those beautiful babies have gone home, a Swinger needs a little time to himself (Or herself?? It's 2016!). There's a lot of hours in the day to fill for an out-of-work actor, and spending every day at the bar is not advisable. Luckily, some of Mike's favorite low-key activities remain in business.

Google Maps

The Los Feliz Municipal Golf Course is still a fixture for amateur LA golfers. For $5 to $7 a game, Mike can get some exercise and bitch about pilot season while playing on the finest 3-par golf course LA has to offer.

Cole Martin / Curbed LA Flickr Pool

One of the few splashes of color in Mike's blank-walled studio apartment is the New Beverly Cinema calendar that adorns his refrigerator. Twenty years later, the theater is still operating, and aside from some minor cosmetic upgrades, not much has changed since 1996. Sure, Mike might be displeased to know that Quentin Tarantino ("he bites everything from Scorsese") now owns and programs the theater, but it's hard to argue with the T-man's movie curation and the price can't be beat. At eight bucks a double feature and popcorn for under five, there will be money to spare for the blackjack table in Vegas (baby!).

But if the plan is to stay home, order some beers from Pink Dot, and play NHL Hockey '94 on Sega Genesis, that can be arranged as well.

Living situation

Mike's apartment building at Franklin and Bronson
Google Maps

The big hit for any aspiring Swinger is going to be the cost of living. Mike hosts the Monday night open mic at the "HaHa Hole on Pico," so he's certainly not pulling in much (any) money from that, and acting gigs are few and far between. Unfortunately, his apartment building is in Franklin Village, right across the street from the Scientology Celebrity Centre. A cursory glance at Craiglist shows studios in the neighborhood are now renting for about $1,400. Mike's gonna need to book a TV role and fast if he wants to keep living in his vintage building.

Swing music

The Derby and many other swing venues are long gone
Google Maps

One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is that it acts as a time capsule for a very specific period in LA culture. Swingers captures a booming Los Angeles swing dancing scene just as the rest of the country was beginning to catch on. Released in 1996, the movie came out the same year as Squirrel Nut Zippers' single "Hell" and predates those Gap ads by a full two years.

A lot has changed in the LA music scene since swing was king. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy isn't playing the Derby anytime soon (it closed in 2009) and the closest thing to "swing night" on the El Rey calendar is an upcoming ska show (there will be wallet chains, but the vibe will be decidedly different).

You'd think out of all the activities in the movie, going out swing dancing would be the hardest to replicate in the year 2016. Oddly enough, that is not the case. The venues are different, but the scene seems to be thriving. Twenty years after the fad died down, there's still an active swing dancing calendar in Los Angeles County. Sure, you might not take home a Heather Graham, Vince Vaughn, or even a Ron Livingston, but lindys can still be hopped in Southern California.

It doesn't really matter where one falls geographically, there's no shortage of places to swing dance, with regular events at Clifton's in Downtown, Joe's Bar in Burbank, and Rusty's Rhythm Club in Playa Del Rey just to name a few. For those who prefer to dance in period wardrobe, the Cicada Club offers an Art Deco venue and a strict dress code. Want to get into swing dancing for the first time? No problem. The Lindy Loft Downtown throws regular ballroom parties with a quick dance lesson beforehand for those who haven't done the Charleston since Clinton was in the White House.

The Verdict

Living a retro life remains remarkably easy in Los Angeles. Relics of the city's midcentury glory years remain all over town, allowing anyone to pretend it's still 1942 or perhaps 1962. Just cherry pick the fun aspects of those eras (wardrobe, booze, music) and ditch the rest (World War II, racism, sexism, most "isms"). Now you're all set for a night of cocktails, Martin Denny music, and Cold War paranoia.

As for the characters in the movie, with just a few small adjustments, Mike, Trent, and the rest of the Swingers could easily hang in 2016 LA. Though they might have to settle for a new title. Hipsters.

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