Swingers closed on Beverly Boulevard after a 27 year run tucked into the ground floor of the Beverly Laurel Motel, blaming the global coronavirus pandemic for the shutter. The Googie “coffee shop” sign and prime corner placement made it one of the most visible and iconic restaurant locations in the city. Its sister location closed last year in Santa Monica, but had a key scene with Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. Both restaurants had a similar look: classic midcentury coffee shop vibes and a wide menu that people mostly forgot about. But there was something about Swingers that resonated with Angelenos, especially people who can remember the 90s in LA. Here now, Eater editors and some friends of the site chime in on what made Swingers so special.
Lesley Suter, Eater travel editor
For a while there in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Swingers was THE after-hours hangout. I think it was open till at least 4 a.m.,and so as soon as the Hollywood bars let out there’d be a wave of people heading down to continue the party in one of the big tartan-printed booths over a plate of challa french toast. The food was admittedly just-fine — it was diner fare, really — but you were there for the scene, which was unrelenting, and comprised a joyous cross-section of every LA stereotype. It eventually fell out of favor with the “it” crew as the LA nightlife scene moved out of Hollywood toward areas like Echo Park and downtown LA, but thanks to its frequent cameos in movies like Romy & Michelle (it inspired the 1996 movie of the same name, but didn’t actually appear in it), the classic LA diner won’t quickly be forgotten.
Farley Elliott, Eater LA senior editor
I’ll be honest, I never had much of an affinity for Swingers, the colorful Beverly Boulevard diner that closed this month after 27 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love diners in general — the hard surfaces and bright colors, the funky shapes (particularly during the Googie era) and comfort food and staff and late hours... They’re magical places. It’s just that, for me, Swingers was never that spot, in the way that it seems to have been for an entire generation or two of Angelenos.
Maybe it’s because I only moved here 14 years ago, or because I found my own places to love (CJ’s Cafe on Pico, Cindy’s in Eagle Rock, the Norm’s on La Cienega). I admit that the outpouring of love for Swingers was perplexing to me at first, until I realized something that I did love about the place: The fact that it was still there, an anchor for those who held it close, in a city so rapidly changing. I hope that when this whole pandemic comes to close (or, at the least, we all find a new normal) that old, beloved restaurants like Swingers can come back, better than ever before. Because no matter the name on the sign outside, we’ll need them.
Caroline Pardilla, Eater contributor and cocktail maven
I moved to LA in the ‘90s when I was in my 20s and back then, diners were hotspots. See: Swingers the movie and Pulp Fiction. But Swingers the diner was hipper than Rock n’ Roll Denny’s on Sunset and Ed Debevic’s on La Cienega. Being a sheltered kid from NorCal, I knew nothing about nightlife, and Swingers (both the Beverly and Santa Monica locations) eased me into that scene. It was a perfect environment because I actually didn’t drink or frequent bars back then. And at Swingers I could enjoy an All-American breakfast while observing the post-club crowds. No drinking necessary. The diner became my go-to for brunch dates and late-night hangs with friends. Eventually, I outgrew it as I actually started going to bars. But I’ll always look fondly back on it as one of my first favorite places in LA.
Mona Holmes, Eater LA reporter
I was a regular fixture at Swingers in the 1990s, when I actually went to bars and clubs. Those days are long gone, but my fond memories of this retro diner and how it was a crucial part of Los Angeles’ nightlife.
For me, Swingers is a time capsule to that era. The 90s was a gritty time in LA. Swinger’s opened the year after the city had a record number of homicides and violent crime. Underground clubs were plentiful and took place in abandoned Downtown buildings. LAPD restricted cruising on Sunset Boulevard to quell gang violence. One customer had her car stolen from the Swingers parking lot across the street.
The food wasn’t consistent. The coffee wasn’t great. But for me, I always had fantastic experiences with the servers. Back then, many were underground types working shifts to supplement their other gigs, or for tips that could easily pay for a nice apartment.
People forget that outside of taco trucks, Thai, and Chinese food, LA’s solid late night options are still limited. Swinger’s at 3 a.m. could either be magical or tragic, from just about every walk of life. It could get loud and a little crazy. You might’ve even witnessed a celebrity doing illegal drugs on a table. But it was always interesting to eavesdrop while people ordered the tuna melt, tofu chilaquiles, or that rich, espresso-filled rocket shake.
Swingers had nothing to do with Jon Favreau’s movie with the same name, it stood on its own. The rear dining area was even a location for Issa Rae’s HBO show Insecure. One thing was for sure, this diner was a vibe no matter what time you visited.
Mike Metz, TV writer and food enthusiast
Swingers was fun, man. Was the food top notch? Nah. But... will I miss the late night buzzed buzz and eclectic characters and occasional fist fights and overdone omelettes and the couple talking too loud about their sex lives in the booth over and a part of LA that dies with the place? Yeah.
Matthew Kang, Eater LA editor
I remember going to Swingers for the last time in 2018 with one of my oldest friends, a guy who essentially got me into the dining scene in Los Angeles. We tried to get one of the coveted booths up front with its open windows looking out the cars buzzing past on Beverly Boulevard, but got relegated the back dining room, still a nice place to sit. We met up late on a weeknight and the place was packed. We each looked at the huge plastic-covered menu and couldn’t decide what we wanted for about 20 minutes. Perplexed, we ordered what seemed like two dishes each. I think I remember getting a patty melt while my friend got onion rings and something else. It doesn’t matter. Swingers wasn’t about the food, which seemed to have gotten worse over the years.
But at 1 a.m., with both of our families fast asleep, Swingers was the perfect place to hang out and waste away the night. We sat in the back room felt like we were in our 20s again, without a wife asking us when we’d come home, without kids to wake him up at 6:30 a.m., without bills or responsibilities or long term worries. Without a global pandemic changing life as we know it.
It seems almost absurd to lament the closure of a restaurant that, by all accounts, had a great run. Perhaps Swingers represents, to many people who lived in LA since the 90s or since the aughts, that the days of lounging around with friends, soaking up a hangover after hitting the bars, sitting in a diner with some eccentric characters — all things we can’t do right now because of social distancing.
Something so casual as a plate of old fries and a piece of pie at a diner seems like a luxury when everyone must stay home. There are thousands sick with a dangerous and highly contagious disease, many of whom did not, and will not, make it out alive. It’s devastating to hear the toll COVID-19 has taken on many families around the country and the world. I think part of what gives us hope is looking back at memorable times we spent at places like Swingers, and longing for the day when we can enjoy something so simple again. Only, we won’t be meeting at Swingers anymore.