Naked Dining in Manhattan

Once a month in New York, a particular group of friends gathers to dine at various restaurants around Manhattan. Nude. Gwen Macsai brings us this report from her first Clothing Optional Dinner at a restaurant called Dorian's.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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But, first, anyone who's ever lived in New York or visited New York or even changed buses in New York knows you can find just about anything you could ever want and much that you never knew you wanted. For example, there's a restaurant that sells nothing but macaroni and cheese. There's another restaurant that sells nothing but peanut butter and jelly. There's a dessert shop that sells nothing but rice pudding. Reporter Gwen Macsai found yet another restaurant that offers another unusual feature.

GWEN MACSAI reporting:

This story starts out like a typical NPR story.

Unidentified Woman: I've been eating this for a few years.

MACSAI: On a beautiful evening on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, diners at Dorian's restaurant are enjoying a buffet dinner of salmon, grilled vegetables and skin-on mashed potatoes. There's much convivial chatting as some patrons sit and eat while others roam around the room greeting old friends.

(Soundbite of restaurant activity)

MACSAI: But now the story takes a sharp turn from the typical NPR fare which usually might be about a chef who uses only ingredients grown in vacant lots in rundown neighborhoods that have been converted to organic community gardens. Where this story is different, where this restaurant is different, where these patrons are different from any other patrons in any other restaurant in any other part of the city is that each and every diner is naked.

Unidentified Man #1: It's kind of hard to describe except that I can honestly say that when I'm naked with other naked people, I really feel good. I feel comfortable. I feel confident. I'm totally relaxed. One of the other people put it that, `I've never been naked with other naked people when I did not feel good.'

MACSAI: Welcome to the Clothing Optional Dinner, a monthly gathering of nudists or naturists--we'll define our terms in a minute--at various restaurants around Manhattan for a good meal and an evening out with friends. Their preference: nudity. Their price: about 30 bucks. Their motto: No hot soup. Now the mere mention to, say, family and friends that such a gathering exists can raise a few eyebrows, but the mention of actually attending such a gathering is sure to elicit the exact same look on everyone's face. Let's call it horror. But any nudist will tell you, and having stripped for the occasion myself, I have to agree that those fears disappear within about...

Mr. JOHN ORDOVER (Founder): Five minutes. It takes about five minutes.

MACSAI: John Ordover is the founder of the Clothing Optional Dinners.

Mr. ORDOVER: Because what's sexual is inappropriate nudity or risque nudity. You get no sense of inappropriateness for being dressed the same way as everybody else in the place. Also, my wife found that for the first time in her life men were actually talking to her eyes instead of to her chest and she found that a tremendously refreshing change.

MACSAI: While everyone admits to sneaking a peek now and then, they also agree that naked bodies get real boring real fast, especially the ones with a lot of mileage on them, which on this night were out in force. Besides, everyone knows the unspoken golden rule.

Unidentified Man #2: It's OK to look but don't stare.

MACSAI: Then, of course, there is the fear that everyone in the room will look better than you, and trust me, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, after my own nude dining experience, I would have to say that contrary to popular belief there is really nothing beautiful about the human body.

How long does it take before you stop sucking in your gut?

Unidentified Man #3: Ah, well, I've never--I'll tell you the truth. There aren't that many body beautifuls. You know, I--you really don't feel self-conscious, you know?

MACSAI: Now let's talk logistics. First, sanitation. Each patron has to bring a towel to sit on. Second, temperature. Ordover always brings space heaters if it's cold, and, of course, there's air conditioning in warmer weather. Third, other problems that you fear might arise? It rarely ever happens. Why? Because it really is not a sexual environment. Really, really.

(Soundbite of restaurant activity)

MACSAI: As people arrive at the restaurants, they can disrobe in the dining room or the restroom. Most choose the restroom. Being naked in a roomful of naked people is not nearly as uncomfortable as dressing and undressing is. Once naked, however, everyone agreed that when the clothes go out the window, so do the pretenses.

Unidentified Man #4: It may just be a coincidence, but it seems that when people are in the nude, a lot of facades are dropped, and personalities come out and you make fast friends in a matter of moments.

MACSAI: Now to the terminology. People who prefer not to wear clothes refer to themselves as nudists or naturists. According to founder John Ordover, the nudists basically just like to be naked while the naturists equate nudity with being outdoors.

Mr. ORDOVER: Now people say, `Well, what do you do when it's cold?' Well, when it's cold, we put on clothes. The phrase is we're nudists, not idiots. One of the nudist phrases is clothes when necessary; nude when practical.

MACSAI: Of course, for the clothes-minded, as nudists like to call them, this might be a hard concept to grasp.

Mr. ORDOVER: Pretty much everyone who goes to a nudist resort goes to it so that they will be permitted not to wear clothes. And what I really like most about it is that it's like living the life of a pet. Get up. You do not have to get dressed. Get in the shower and walk right out the front door.

MACSAI: Naked, free, unfettered, except even a pet doesn't go anywhere without a fur coat.

I'm Gwen Macsai.

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