NEW ORLEANS -- The Country Club, a popular restaurant, bar and pool club in the Bywater, has agreed to end its controversial clothing-option policy after a series of WWL-TV stories detailed the allegations of a woman who said she was drugged and raped while sunbathing nude there.
The city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board announced the consent judgment Tuesday. The judgment said the Country Club agreed to require swimsuits at its pool, to hire commissioned law enforcement for weekend security details and to stop using outside loudspeakers that raised noise complaints by neighbors.
The club announced the clothing policy change on its Facebook page, to which dozens of people reacted with disappointment or even anger at city officials over what one commenter called a "witch hunt."
But 14 of the club's neighbors filed sworn statements with the city alcohol permitting board complaining that patrons did not "leave the purported clothing optional policy at the door." They asked the board to revoke or suspend the club's permit to sell liquor.
Alicia Heard, who lives directly across Louisa Street from the club, said it used to be a good neighbor and responsive to noise complaints, but seemed to lose control in recent years. During that time, Heard said club patrons would sometimes appear on her and other neighbors' property engaging in sexual activity.
At the same time, the club's popularity soared, capped by a surprise visit from music superstars Beyonce and Jay-Z in July.
But July was also when a Mid-City woman, Maria Treme, was allegedly raped by multiple men at the club. WWL-TV doesn't normally name victims, but Treme wanted to share her story openly to warn others about "roofies," drugs that can be slipped into drinks and can make people act open to having sex without realizing it.
She also came forward to expose several missteps by the New Orleans Police Department in handling her case.
Treme said the Country Club management was very responsive and helped her piece together what happened when she awoke the next morning and realized she had had sex. But she also said she was angry that the club had failed to enforce its no-sex policy when she learned at least three men had sex with her there.
Ironically, she shared the frustrations of some of the Facebook commenters.
"I had no problem with the nudity; I was naked, I wanted to be naked, and a sicko took that away from me," she said. "My issue was with the security doing their jobs and watching out for the patrons, which was not happening obviously. Making it about the nudity is kind of like blaming the victim for how she dresses; it feeds into this victim-blaming mentality that has to stop."
Treme did say she was happy to see the club would be adding security details on weekends, calling it a "step in the right direction."
Treme did not take any action against the Country Club, but the City Attorney's Office responded to the WWL-TV reports by charging the club with permitting "lewd" behavior and causing a public nuisance, including the police report of Treme's rape allegation as supporting evidence.
It was also not the only recent evidence of sexual activity associated with the club. A former security guard at the club also posted a video online of two club patrons having sex on the sidewalk outside. The club fired the security guard for posting the video.
Sarah Ney, the club's attorney and vice president, said the club had not received any nuisance complaints recently and cooperated fully to help Treme and police solve her case. The Bywater Neighborhood Association also came out in defense of the club, saying it had always been a good neighbor.
The new clothing-only policy went into effect immediately.
"Please help spread the word, so that guests who do not see this posting are notified that they need to come with a swimsuit to be allowed out to the pool area!" the club said on its Facebook page.
"Thanks to all our guests and neighbors who have offered their support and patronage -- we will continue to bring you the fabulous experience that only the Country Club can!"