But the appeal of the club, tucked inside a 19th-century Italianate mansion on a quiet residential block, was not purely symbolic. Its parties were wild, its bartenders were affable, and it reliably provided the Authentic New Orleans Experience, for just $10 at the door. The Club was a testament to the reasons transplants had moved to New Orleans. It was on savvy tourists’ list of must-dos. And when a woman reported being drugged and raped there in July, it became a flashpoint for a debate about whether the newcomers’ arrival threatens the same Bywater culture that drew them there.
Two weeks earlier, in October, a consent judgment handed down by the New Orleans Alcohol Beverage Control Board abruptly ended the club’s clothing-optional policy, forbidding patrons from swimming, tanning and drinking in the nude for the first time in its 37-year history. The policy had been New Orleans’s worst-kept secret, often touted as proof that nonconformity lived on in the Bywater neighborhood, even as the rest of the city Disneyfied.