PANTS BACK ON

Iconic Clothing-Optional Bar In New Orleans Ends Its Nude Policy After A Customer Gets Raped

country-club
The Country Club, located at 634 Louisa St in New Orleans.

Say it ain’t so!

Located in the heart of New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, the iconic Country Club is ending it’s clothing-optional policy.

The nude pool and bar is (or at least was) an absolute must for any gay traveler. It first opened in 1977 and boasts a large saline pool, hot tub, sauna, deck, garden, two bars, and a restaurant.

Despite allowing nudity, the business has maintained a strict “no sex” policy, with signs posted all around the property.

The club was a not-so-secret oasis for gay men for many years. Over time, particularly after Hurricane Katrina, it started to attract a more mixed crowd, but it still held onto it’s gay-friendly identity. Then last summer, a woman was drugged and sexually and assaulted while relaxing there.

31-year-old NOLA native Maria Treme visited the bar on June 30. She spent several hours sipping margaritas and sunbathing by the pool. At some point, she blacked out. Hours passed. And the next thing she knew, she was back at her house, naked in bed and next to a strange bottle of lube she didn’t recognize. She was bruised and her car was gone.

Sounds like a bit of a nightmare.

She contacted the Country Club to see if it might be able to help her figure out what the hell happened. The concerned owner showed her surveillance videos of herself having sex with a man in the pool, then having sex with a different man in the sauna, then leaving the bar wrapped in just a towel with a third man, who she presumably had sex with back at her house.

Treme was horrified.

She decided to go to the media and release her identity, she said, to empower other victims.

“You’re always told you need to talk about your feelings,” she told Vice. “You’re told that talking is the only thing that will make you feel better—except in cases of sexual assault, then people shame you into silence.”

Conservative groups and neighbors who were morally opposed to the bar had been campaigning for it to end its clothing-optional policy for years. Seizing the opportunity, they used the Treme’s assault to lobby the city’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Board, which offered the Country Club an ultimatum: Make its patrons cover up or lose its liquor license.

Rather than put up a fight, the Country Club caved to the request.

One of the fliers showing Treme's face that was distributed around the Bywater.
One of the fliers showing Treme’s face that was distributed around the Bywater.

As a result, Treme has found herself the target of a smear campaign. At least one person began hanging posters around the Bywater with the woman’s face and the words “No evidence of rape!”

“They’re upset that they can’t nude sunbathe and so they decide to attack a rape victim and that’s disgusting,” Treme’s attorney, Aubrey Harris, told The Times-Picayune.

The Country Club was quick to denounce the fliers.

“We’re very upset and oppose the fliers,” it said in statement. “Under no circumstances do we support personal attacks and hateful language. Never. Especially in this circumstance. Those actions violate the very spirit of The Country Club and the people here.”

Treme says she never intended for the bar to end its clothing-optional policy by going public with her story. In fact, she wishes it hadn’t.

“Rape has nothing to do with being naked or the clothes you wear,” she told  The Times-Picayune. “I feel like them going after the nudity policy is further sending out a bad message.”

Of course, there are many County Club patrons and supporters who don’t blame Treme, but who are still sad about what they see as an end of an era.

Otis Fennel told Vice, “These gay spaces are important … One of the greatest benefits you could offer to a visitor to this community is something different, something unusual, colorful. People loved that it was a little risqué. Now, I feel there is a void there.”

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Graham Gremore is a columnist and contributor for Queerty and Life of the Law. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.