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Guess who's coming to dinner naked?
Updated: 2005-02-20 09:03

The diners arrived at a nice Manhattan restaurant on a cold February night and stripped off coats, hats, gloves and scarves. They didn't stop there.

A group of nudists socialize at the bar before dining together at a 'Clothing Optional Dinner' at a New York City restaurant, February 17, 2005. [Reuters]
Skirts, shirts, pants, underwear and stockings all ended up stashed in plastic bags by the bar as the patrons got naked for the monthly "Clothing Optional Dinner."

"It's exciting to be in a restaurant nude," said George Keyes, 65, a retired junior high school English teacher.

Nude yes, but not unadorned.

Keyes, a lifelong nudist, wore a necklace, earrings and a black leather "genital bracelet" with red studs. And white sneakers.

The dinner was started by a group of New York nudists who wanted something a bit more elegant than the wilderness getaways and beach resorts they generally frequent.

"When you go away on holiday it's more you're roughing it in the woods, whereas this is a really nice restaurant," said Keyes, a member of gay nudist group Males Au Naturel, or MAN.

John Ordover set up the dining club about a year ago, recruiting members through word of mouth and the Internet.

"Next month is our Easter bonnet event, where everybody has to come wearing an Easter bonnet," said Ordover, a heavyset man with a jovial smile and glasses.


Around 30 people arrived for the buffet dinner -- organizers specified no hot soup on the menu -- most of them middle-aged, several married couples, some singles, the youngest perhaps in their 30s.

"They're a good class of people, they're no different to you or I," said John Bussi, owner of the midtown restaurant. "They're not hurting anybody, it's not a wild Roman orgy."

Health regulations mean staff must remain clothed even if they wanted to join in. And diners must bring something to sit on -- a towel or, for discerning women, an elegant silk scarf.

A group of nudists eat together at a monthly 'Clothing Optional Dinner' at a New York City restaurant, Feb. 17, 2005. About 30 people arrived for the buffet dinner -- no hot soup on the menu -- most of them middle-aged, several married couples, some singles, the youngest perhaps in their 30s. [Reuters]
The restaurant's manager covered the windows to maintain privacy at the strictly private party. Extra heaters kept the temperature at a comfortable level for nudity.

Ordover's wife, Carol, said they first went on a naturist holiday five years ago and she found the experience empowering. But, she explained, it's "the least sexual thing you can possibly imagine."

"Men in nudist resorts are striking a bargain. They get to see as many naked women as they like as long as they are polite and look them straight in the eye," she said.

Sherry Stafford, a petite and elegant 51-year-old with blond hair and high heels, brought brochures and videos advertising her travel business, Internaturally Travel.

One of the flyers was for a resort called "Hedonism II" whose slogan is "Be wicked for a week." But she said nudists should not be confused with swingers.

"Wearing clothes and going to church does not protect you from moral evil," Stafford said, lamenting what she saw as a tendency to demonize people just because they like to be naked.

Sandy, a slim woman in her 40s, said she never felt self-conscious about her body and was comfortable dining in the nude. But she did admit to being a bit more nervous before a recent naked yoga class attended by around 25 people.

"Everyone was a little concerned there would be people looking around but the good thing is nobody really was," she said, standing at the restaurant's bar before dinner.

"If you try to maintain a yoga position you're going to fall if you start looking around -- and that's more embarrassing than anything else."

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