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A Look Back at 40 Years of The Country Club



This month, the famed Country Club celebrates 40 years of wet, weird, and wild fun in the Bywater. Read on for the story how this neighborhood gem evolved from a hidden backyard hideaway to become the pool of choice for celebs like Beyoncé and one of the top culinary experiences in town. 

 

The Club's story officially began in July 1977 when three friends bought the property at 634 Louisa Street, but the cottage that stands there had a life dating back a near century prior. Built in 1884, the residence first served as a historic Italianate Raised Center Hall Cottage for Anne McAvoy and her husband George B. Canby, according to the Club's website. In the ensuing decades, the property changed hands a number of times before its eventual purchase by friends Douglas Williams, Daniel Wilson, and Gary Clay. Shortly after purchasing the property, the friends installed a pool in the backyard and set up an outdoor bar. Thus, The Country Club was born. 

 

"At the time we first opened, I believe The Country Club was intended to be a safe space for men to come and enjoy the bohemian culture of the Bywater and socialize with friends," said Bert McComas, General Manager of The Country Club. Though the Bywater fave has undergone extensive renovations over the years, "I don’t think we are too far off our original vision even though we have changed with the times to have an updated look. [...] We are welcoming to everyone and enjoy meeting new friends."

 

Indeed, whether looking to sip on a cocktail in the upscale bar area, grab a bite in the exquisitely flora-focused dining room, or take a soak in the lushly landscaped hot tub area, any visitor is sure to find like-minded patrons to share their experience. A mainstay over the last four decades has been its welcoming atmosphere, as the Club has functioned as a go-to destination in the city for everything from professional networking events like the Hobnobber Happy Hour to unofficial parties for Southern Decadence and Mirliton Festival, among other local non-profit organizations. Their popular, long-running culinary event is the weekly Drag Brunch, which occurs every Saturday and features bottomless mimosas and some of the top drag talent in town. 

 

 

It's no surprise, however, that the most enduring appeal of The Country Club is the saline pool (chilled in the summer, heated in the winter), which visitors can dive into seven days a week for 15 dollars a pop. Just ask Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Solange — all known to take a dip in the backyard pool. 

 

The Country Club has seen many changes over the years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Club was forced to make extensive restorations as the storm demolished the wooden pool deck, cabana bar, and some of the original framework of the 1884 house. After returning the historic cottage to its original glory, the team has added several small additions to improve the flow of The Country Club experience. One of the most notable recent changes came in 2014, when the watering hole eliminated its clothing-optional policy in the aftermath of an alleged assault on the premises and campaign from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABO). 

 

Though nudity is no longer permitted poolside, the Club is still a haven for those with a bohemian temperament (albeit fully dressed), and the number of daily visitors and yearlong members has steadily risen over the years. The Country Club counts about 300 annual subscribers, with between 250-300 additional visitors to the pool and 300 guests to the dining area every weekend. During the weekdays, daily drop-ins run around 75 people in the pool area and approximately 55 people in the restaurant each day.

 

Sure Queen Bey is great, but some of the team's fondest memories are not when A-list celebs drop by for a visit, but when New Orleanians come together to celebrate the Crescent City at the Club. One of McComas's favorite nights was the unofficial afterparty following the Saints win at the Super Bowl 2010. "The city was so alive and The Country Club was packed with hundreds of fans that [had] love for each other and our city," he remembered. "There was drinking, of course, and dancing on the bar and in the halls all night long. The energy here and all over the city was amazing." 

 

The Club is celebrating its 40th anniversary with its newest set of offerings, debuting a new wine program (complete with over 140 bottle selections from 13 countries) and new cocktail menu in June, as well as some changes to the interior and exterior. In a sea of new boutique pool experiences in the city, these updates do not disturb what New Orleanians have come to know and love about The Country Club over the last four decades. Truly, The Country Club remains unique thanks to the team's steadfast attention to "the newly well-appointed interior and lush tropical landscaping out back," explained McComas. Nestled in a hip and historic area of the Bywater, "You feel like you are on vacation. Even if you only have one day off from your hustle and bustle life, you can have a daycation." 

 

Part of the most recent update included a revamp to the Club's restaurant, which now boasts a "fun and a little eclectic" take on traditional Louisiana fare, with old favorites like crabmeat beignets and upscale burgers served alongside more innovative dishes like saffron mussels and bourbon lacquered quail.

 

Executive Chef Chris Barbato brings his culinary expertise honed at NOLA favorites like Commanders Palace, Revista, and Café Adelaide since being selected for the position in August of last year. The Country Club restaurant's skill, said McComas, is "finding the balance between capturing the neighborhood as a place to eat on regular occasions and pushing the menu far enough to attact diners from across the city and out of state." Indeed, the elevated-yet-affordable offerings are fully at home in the bohemian Bywater, but offer a comprehensive dining experience hard to find outside of the Quarter. 

 

 

Looking to the future, McComas said, “In the next 40 years we will continue to be a fun and relaxing oasis for all people of every walk of life. Somewhere that you can meet up with friends and make new ones while enjoying a great meal and sipping a drink in the sun.” 

 

In honor of their ruby anniversary, The Club's kitchen is running a specialty Coolinary menu that offers a three-course dinner for two for $40 all month long. September 11-17, the team will also participate in the citywide Restaurant Week with a special edition menu. Be sure to check out the Country Club's website, and make your reservations here

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor

Alexis Manrodt

Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

B. E. Mintz

Editor Emeritus

Stephen Babcock

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