Feb 6th, 2018, 11:16 AM

Leave Your Clothes at the Door

By Charnice Goldsborough
Image Credit: Unsplash/Every Aydin
Paris's first nudist restaurant

Most of us get dressed up to go out for dinner at a chic restaurant. This was the first time I got undressed. Billed as Paris' first nudist restaurant, O'Naturel opened in the 12th arrondissement last October. The concept alone has attracted a lot of press coverage but would the food live up to the hype? I decided to throw inhibition (and clothes) to the wind and go along to find out. 

Accompanied by two friends who, understandably, wish to remain anonymous, we visited the restaurant on a Thursday night, which turned out to be a novelty evening: a buffet and upbeat DJ had replaced the sedate dining experience the website had led me to expect. My friends and I were warmly greeted by a man at the register who told us the guidelines of the restaurant. He gave us each a pair of white slippers and keys for the changing room lockers. In the changing room and dining area, the room temperature was around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) for maximum naked comfort. When I first walked into the dining room I instinctively covered my body out of unease, being surrounded by so many naked strangers.

All the people in the room turned their heads and looked at us as we walked in. Though happily only for a brief moment before resuming their conversations. Due to the set up of the restaurant that night, the space felt less like a restaurant and more like a medium-sized room full of about fifteen people standing in their birthday suits. The food, arrangement of furniture, and ambiance were completely different from what I had seen on their website. Instead of separate rows of dining tables and chairs, they were all pushed against the wall for the buffet display, which left a large empty space in the middle of the room, so it could presumably become a dance floor. The gender ratio was weirdly disproportionate since there were only two other women in the room. But a lot of things that night were not what I expected: clothed staff, unclothed customers, the lack of women, a naked DJ playing mid-2000's pop music. Strangely nobody danced, although I did see two guys having a push-up contest at some point during the evening. Unfortunately, the food was another surprise. 

"I instinctively covered my body out of unease, being surrounded by so many naked strangers."

From what I saw on the menu and what I got at the buffet was a huge letdown. There were sandwiches, chopped vegetables, some baguettes and slices of meat. It felt very similar to catering at a student-led AUP event, and to have to pay €29 for somewhat mediocre finger sandwiches kind of annoyed me. I still enjoyed the experience overall, all except the food. When I was asked to write a review I gave my honest opinion. I received a response back from the owner explaining, "It was a special evening. The goal was to create a different atmosphere around a buffet that reflected the hard work of our chef. Come back to the classic restaurant formula and you will see the quality of the menu. However, the menu starter/main course or main course/dessert is 39€." I would not mind paying an extra €10 for a professionally prepared three-course meal. 

Since autumn of last year, there has been an increase in activity and recognition of the nudist, or naturist, community here in Paris. Between August and October, the city hall of Paris had authorized a six-week experiment at Bois de Vincennes to give a designated space (7.300m2) for nudists, which the community took advantage of for the first time outdoor practice of nudism in Paris. At the end of the experiment, the assessment was positive for the Association of the Naturists of Paris (ANP) who worked with the local government to obtain the space. The association hopes to see the space reopening for summer 2018, and wishes for the creation of another place in the West of Paris.

"Naturism is the ultimate expression of freedom and equality."

Though visiting the restaurant was a unique experience for my friends and me, it is a way of life for nudists. According to the Association of the Naturists of Paris' webpage, "Naturism is the ultimate expression of freedom and equality; when naked, we are all equal. The inequalities and prejudices of the textile world (social class, physical defaults) vanish in the naturist world."

Later this year there will be the first edition of Journée Parisienne du Naturisme. On Sunday, June 24, 2018, the Day of the Naturism will be held at Bois de Vincennes, where a large picnic will be organized. This new day will take place on every last Sunday of June for future years to come.

If you want to try for yourself, O'Naturel is located at 9 Rue de Gravelle, 75012 and is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 7:30 p.m to 11 p.m. So, if you're looking for a different kind of dining experience, be sure to make a reservation.